You don’t know what it’s like to lead a school through a global pandemic unless you’ve led a school through a global pandemic.
– a statement to which many of the leaders with whom I work will relate. And it speaks a wider truth: everyone on Earth has a unique pandemic story to tell. Tales of tragedy and transformation; of reflection, resilience or resignation; of anger, of loneliness; of division and unity; selfishness, cruelty and, thankfully, of kindness.
How to Tell a Story
Look to stories that have already been told to find the kind of narrative you need. Booker’s Seven Basic Plots (2004) is one of many frameworks that makes this easier. Booker analyses thousands of tales and argues for a meta-narrative that describes ‘story’ per se, together with 7 plots that keep on cropping up. Your story will be a combination of these seven motifs:
- Overcoming the monster – defeating an evil force.
- Rags to riches – gaining power, wealth, success; loosing it; getting it back.
- Quest – setting out to acquire an important object; facing challenges and temptations.
- Voyage and return – visiting a strange land; overcoming threats; returning changed.
- Tragedy – a personal undoing because of a flaw or a mistake.
- Comedy – concluding happily after twists, turns and misunderstandings.
- Rebirth – changing ways (for the better) because of a significant event.
And these themes tell our shared, global story of the last 18 months as well: the quest for vaccines to overcome the devastation of COVID-19; the plot twists and muddles as politics, media, social media and science intertwine; and our rebirths as we return to a world changed forever.
How to Hear a Story
I joked recently with a group of specialist teachers I’m training in coaching skills that there are 5 different kinds of listening:
- Active Listening – paying full attention to meaning.
- Dialogic Listening – learning through conversation.
- Discerning listening – gathering specific information.
- Pub Listening – waiting for the other person to finish speaking so you can say the thing you wanted to say before they started.
- Family Listening – two or more simultaneous monologues.
They all have their place but the first three offer real value to the speaker. If you’ve ever been able to just talk freely, confidentially, without judgement and without expectation; if you’ve been heard, really heard, by another person then you’ll know the power of that kind of exchange.
Telling your story and having it authentically heard can be affirming, healing and empowering.
Whose story will you hear? And to whom will you tell yours?