Of story telling, coaching, and teaching in HE

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis

I had a storyteller as coach

Remember a while back my peer reviewer said that PowerPoint doesn’t work well for me because I am a storyteller? The problem with being a storyteller who has to rely on a linearly structured aid is that sometimes it works very well and sometimes not at all.

So I decided to ask a professional storyteller, the lovely Wendy Woolfson for help. Trying to find strategies that would afford me more consistency in my storytelling. Here are some of the insights.

Storytelling and teaching

One of the key issues that emerged from the session is trust. Trust in what I give the students. Confidence to acknowledge, if something is not working, the story doesn’t ring through, and change it on the spot. Similar to storytelling, teaching as performing, is aesthetic responsibility. The responsibility to engage the learner in an active negotiation of identities, to encourage aesthetic experience (Fuchs, 2011). And the responsibility to create drama.

Have trust in your story.

Storytelling, Teaching and Drama

In the great opening key-note at this year’s ‘University of Glasgow Learning and Teaching Conference’ Prof Duke highlighted the significance of friction—drama: within the frame of thinking about teaching as storytelling—in the learning process. A point also made by Fuchs (2011) when discussing the characteristics and significance of aesthetics in education, he points out that learning and negativity belong together (p.16). So there is some confirmation for my approach of throwing the students into the proverbial cold water.

There is space for failure and struggle.

Storytellers have Paraphernalia

Another thing I learned was that story tellers carry their paraphernalia with them at all times. While, I do have the boxes with Playdough, and cups, and sticky notes, and balloons, it is not feasible to drag those along to sessions with more than a hundred students. So I began to create my digital portmanteau on Prezi. It is very limited as of yet, and part of my growing list of summer projects. However, this way I can react easily to a group, when topics emerge that were not planned for the session. I can then confidently change direction on the spot, change the story to one that has meaning to the students.

Stories are told eye to eye,
mind to mind,
and heart to heart.

Scottish Travelers Proverb

Storytelling and PowerPoint

One of the things I never did with presenting with PowerPoint was to give time to let the students acknowledge that a slide had changed. Mainly, because I was always fighting too hard against the restrictive linearity, that pushing through it, had become my defense mechanism. So consciously acknowledging the change, and taking a break is becoming part of my newly formed habits now—well, let’s say I try to make it so.

Embrace the tools.

Bottom Line

My somewhat disjointed insights from a coaching session with a professional storyteller, and slightly deliberated reflections on it (we are talking about months here), demonstrate how complex and multi-layered the ideas of performance in teaching, aesthetics, and storytelling are. I hardly scratched the surface of any of those. Nevertheless, I thought sharing might give you some ideas or incentives to explore.

It is fine to repeat stories.


  1. Lina sometimes it’s that one point or observation that rings through, making all the difference 🙂
    Laurence glad you got a tip out of it. Initially wondered if the post was too disjointed.


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