[SXSWEdu 2016] The Power of Storytelling to Ignite Student Passion

Monday, March 28, 2016 -- Shannon LaBree

Attending SXSWedu earlier this month was an opportunity to explore all the facets of education and take in the perspectives of those in a wide variety of positions within the field. Every session I attended offered thought provoking information and valuable takeaways in some form or another, which makes it difficult to pinpoint one or two that really stood out to me. However, I have found that one session in particular has been on my mind since leaving the conference–Austin Dannhaus’ presentation on Rewriting the Story of Education.

Dannhaus focused his session on the ability to change the way students learn through stories. Educators have the key to ignite the flame of interest within their students and help them write the stories of their education journeys. To illustrate this point, Dannhaus shared a personal experience about one of his students. This student was sent out of the classroom often, struggled to engage in classroom activities, and was generally uninterested in what he was being taught. Most educators can relate this student to one they have had in past. However, this particular student’s attitude changed completely when Dannhaus shared a story with his class about children across the world who have little to no access to clean, fresh water on a daily basis. This story sparked genuine passion for the student! The very next day, this same student who had been uninterested in most things related to the classroom suddenly became excited and motivated to make a change in his world. He even went so far as presenting Dannhaus with a plan to help these children get fresh water, outlining what he wanted to do and how he was going to accomplish those goals.

This is a powerful example of how one small story changed the trajectory of a disengaged student’s education journey. Walking away from Dannhaus’ session, my wheel of ideas started to turn. It dawned on me that a single story can be all it takes for a student to find the thing they are truly passionate about. One story or experience can illicit countless new ideas and big plans to change the world.

So, how can we, as teachers, administrators, mentors, parents, and all others with a stake in education, help to ignite the flame of passion in each child? Education is about empowering, inspiring, and working with students to be the best they can be. While it can sometimes seem like an uphill climb with all of the requirements, standards, and expectations placed on educators, we must remember that the lessons our students are learning and the stories they are hearing really do inspire and motivate. Knowledge and information is power, skills and habits are the tools, and beliefs and imagination will be the fire to ignite the mind.

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