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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

Experiences of Our Storytellers

In November, we came up with a plan. While another part of the Assessment for Learning team was helping educators from Tucson Unified School District and Sunnyside Unified School District create ten expeditions for the 220-ish conference attendees to visit, the storytelling wing of AfL recruited a group of 26 storyfinders, attendees of the conference who would find the stories that emerged and tell them in the blog. This week, we reflected on the experience of the project and its inception. Here are some reflections by the storytellers themselves. Nicole Ramirez—CRPI mentor teacher, TUSD In the ALP Storyteller experience I was challenged to look at my own educational experience as an elementary student and as a culturally responsive educator, talk about surprising as well. To me it was fate and a full circle experience to look at the childhood halls and see the wonders of students' lived experiences, accomplishments, thinking and creativity. I believe the way to truly keep the storyteller experience authentic and relevant is to have the people who are from the communities and areas be the storytellers, their unique perspectives speak volumes through a lens in education that otherwise might be missed. Read Nicole’s story here. Adam Sparks—Learning Designer What surprised you? How did being in the storytelling group change your experience of the conference?

I combined these questions because the response is related: I was surprised by how much the storytelling work changed my experience at the conference. It felt similar to the experience of learning something vs. teaching it. When you teach it, you gain such a deeper, more nuanced understanding of it. Storytelling was akin to this. By being tasked with documenting the experience, and (more importantly) being entrusted to tell the stories of other people, I felt a heightened sense of focus and reflection throughout the entire conference. It made me more present, more aware, and frankly a little bit nervous (but nervous in a good way). I wanted to get it “right”. In the process, it made my conference a little bit more “right.” Read Adam’s stories here and here. Cheryl Ka’uhane Lupenui—President, Kohala Center I really enjoyed the experience of being in the storytellers group more than I thought I would, so thank you not only for the invitation to join but the trust in us and the process! The process moved me from just being an individual participant to holding responsibility as story catcher and story teller for our field trip group as well as our group at the conference! I found my perspective shifted from just observing or experiencing to also finding relationships among the different moments and weaving them to reveal a story, or two or more. All this was daunting before we started and overwhelming in the midst of it all but quite rewarding in the end! Read Cheryl’s story here. Jillian Kuhlmann—Senior Manager for Communications, KnowledgeWorks

What surprised you?

The most surprising thing for me was seeing story valued so highly as part of the convening experience. How we tell stories and how we hear stories is such a huge part of how we experience living and learning, and I was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of that. How did being in the storytelling group change your experience of the conference? I truly enjoyed having a cohort of like-minded folks to connect with and was especially grateful for the sensemaking session we did at the end, where we created something to share for the gallery walk. I would have loved to get a sense from other conference attendees how useful that walk was for them, as it was a really powerful creation experience for me. Read Jillian’s stories here and here. Ruth Hellams—consultant, retired Principal and Curriculum Coordinator, Escondido,CA The storytelling process felt like it does when I wrap myself in a comfy blanket. I was surrounded by like-minded people who just wanted to talk and share their truth. It was an incredible experience. I met new people, reconnected with old friends, and developed a renewed understanding of the energy that happens when people come together. I wasn’t certain as to how I might approach the writing. I loved the creative freedom of jotting down quotes, drawing little pictures (images), etc. It was a wonderful creative process that gave each writer freedom to experience the conversations happening around them and to write about them in the most authentic and personal way. I feel as though the stories told were like getting a personal glimpse into the backstory of a conference/convening that isn’t typically shared. It was very rewarding. Read Ruth’s story here. ———

With the Tucson event done, and the AFL journey continuing towards other frontiers, this particular group of storytelling humans will most likely disperse—possibly to reassemble in different agglomerations in the field, but maybe not. That’s okay, because the storytelling project—in the philosophical sense of a “project”—will continue. Each of the 26 storytellers will take their experience, learning, and reflection and pay it forward somehow. There is no way you can go through what we went through and not have it leave a mark. Reiterating my gratitude, thanks to all the storytellers, the support team, and everyone in Tucson. Come and talk story at our upcoming AFL events.


About the Storyteller

Gary is the co-author of 126 Falsehoods We Believe About Education (2021). He has been working in education since 2000, first as a teacher, then as a curriculum director, then as a Dept. of Ed. researcher, and most recently as an advocate and supporter of equity based practices such as competency-based learning, performance assessment, adaptive leadership, and collaborative cultures. He is deeply fascinated by questions like: What should kids learn? How do we decide what kids should learn? How do we learn what they learned? How can learning what they learned help them learn more? Also: systems!

Gary has provided support to schools and districts trying to work with performance-based practices, competency-based cultures, fundamental assumptions, portrait of a graduate, assessment audits, competency development, change management, teacher-leader sanity, etc. He’s especially proud of his ability to bring comfort to teachers by easing their stress around rubrics.

He has written dozens of articles and blog posts over the years and presented at many education conferences around the nation. To see his resume, click here.

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