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Teaching Narrative: Learning to Lead, Follow, Listen, & Reflect

How do I teach (lead) and inspire the leadership potential and academic engagement in my students? How do I create an environment where my students can share their past and their stories?  How can I help them reflect on those experiences, putting them on paper?

 

Narrative.

 

Narrative writing encourages reflection and  gives them a voice to frame their past, build upon these experiences, and envision the future.

 

Narrative is often overlooked as an element of writing, but is the most utilized in their careers and life post-college.  I spend 3 weeks teaching narrative because I see the value of learning the elements, the process of written narrative, and how reflection (and re-writing their experiences) can help process, reflect, and better understand their experiences, perspectives, and what they now must do with the information.  It also creates a pause for me. While I role model reflective storytelling and narrative, I often spend a great deal of this unit listening.  In leadership, this process of stepping back is called followership (Northouse). I lead in the classroom. But in the narrative unit, each student leads their own stories.  And it’s my job to step back, listen, watch, reflect, and process with them as they develop themselves (both in their narratives and in life).

 

Narrative is a skill students will use again and again in their careers. Business reports, maintenance requests, employee evaluations, and more — they all use the elements of narrative.  We have to reiterate background information, relevant information and actions, and resolutions. Students also need to capture their stories and learn to share them in succinct and appropriate ways. Students share elements of their own narratives in a business plan, an elevator pitch, a cover letter, and more.

 

It’s framing.  We all have backstories.  We all have taken paths that have led us to NMC and this moment in a class together.  How we choose to share and describe that path is ours alone. And how we FRAME our story has a lot to do we how we view our vision of our futures.  One of my student lessons in narrative deals with answering the questions posed in the NMC scholarship application. In essence, I ask my students to tell me (and the scholarship committee) why we should consider investing in them? What dividends will they pay out in the future?  They must frame their past experiences to describe how those have led them to this path that they are on now – and where they see this path leading to in the future.

 

Let’s not sugar coat it.  Metaphorically, our students have traveled on some pretty rough roads.  They face challenges even today that often pale in comparison to our own experiences.  They could have stopped long ago, quitting. But they didn’t. They are here. And they are resilient.  When it comes to the narrative unit, it’s now my job to listen. It’s hard to give content feedback on these essays – because it is their experience – their lives – and I don’t have a right to rewrite their past.  But I do talk about framing. Our students are here because they don’t want to live in the past – they want a better tomorrow and a better future. In our narrative unit, I spend a good deal of time working through how we frame our past to describe how we envision our future.

 

Learning how to frame and share our narratives is an important skill. And this skill isn’t just for a scholarship essay.  It is the elevator pitch they will use in kismet meeting with an employer. It is the blurb found on a cover letter or resume.  It is the business social verbal bit we can share as we meet and network with others. This exercise in writing pays many dividends.

 

As a teacher, leader, and listener, this is the most fulfilling unit of my semester.  I get to lead students to a position where they can become a confident leader in charge of their own stories and future pathways. I share elements of my own paths that have led me to NMC.  I give them a framework, then they step up and lead from there. I believe in my students. I empathize with their stories. I feel their struggles. And I see them persevere. I see their resilience. I see not only a lesson that helps them reflect and understand the past, but envision a future plan and goals.  They can begin to iterate their paths of the past – and the future. My students give me so much hope for the future.

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