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The Power of Stories

Mr Jones reflects on how narratives can help us in many different ways.


This week in assembly I am talking to all students about the power and value of narratives.

Narratives, or stories as many of us would call them, can be so many things to so many people: real, imagined, emotional, instructive, humorous, serious, personal, public, fantastical or believable. I could go on.

I’ll lay my cards on the table straight away – I love stories. I think they are absolutely invaluable to us, no matter what phase of our lives we may be in. I not only make it clear that I think good stories can help us reach our core school values of excellence, respect and aspiration, I spend my assembly trying to rationalise in what ways they provide value to us:

  • They teach us moral values and attitudes
  • They educate us about society (both our own and others, past and present)
  • They allow us to develop our understanding of emotions and feelings, both of characters and – as a result – of ourselves
  • They help us to understand real life events and situations
  • They give us enjoyment and entertainment

And finally, they help us to learn and remember things.

I am also speaking to students about how narrative structure (in its simplest form: beginning, middle, end) can allow us to remember many, many things. I cited the examples of the water cycle, or displacement theory, or the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in the early twentieth century. By putting events in order, understanding how they link and how one thing can precipitate the next, it helps our brains retain information and learn things more effectively. In fact, some people who attempt incredible feats of memory insist that they can remember hundreds of disconnected things (for example, lists of playing cards) by creating a narrative or journey in their heads that helps them to organise all the information more meaningfully.

For the teachers here at school, this idea that stories help us learn and remember is something that quite a few of us examined in our own training last year. It is outlined really nicely by Tom Sherrington in this blog. And it is not just good advice for teachers, but for students too. Try putting things in an order, creating a narrative for them, and it can help you learn them more quickly and more accurately. Suddenly, a list of facts and dates can come to life and you will really understand what they are all about.

But the most important type of story I talk about is not one by Charles Dickens, or Margaret Atwood, or Salman Rushdie, or Toni Morrison, it is the one each of us is writing at the moment about ourselves.

In every interview I have ever had, from my sixth form interview when I was in Y11, to the interview I had with Mr Haigh for my current job, I have had to talk about myself and try to explain the narrative of ‘How did I get to this point?’. I have had to tell my own story. It is a tough thing to do, but we all have to do it, both in writing when applying for post-16 courses and for university, or in spoken form when being interviewed. And what better way to write a story than to plan it out first – don’t let your story guide you, take control of the narrative and make the best choices for you.

Be the author of your own story. You’ll learn a lot along the way.

And in the meantime, why not enjoy the stories of others and learn from them too. Robert Louis Stevenson once said, ‘I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.’

Great advice I think, as long as you have large enough pockets.

NJ, 22.01.20

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