Schools are full of difficult students.
The disengaged, the uninterested, and the downright defiant. And every teacher knows that dealing with them is draining.
But does it have to be?
We recently conducted a Customer Service SHSM workshop for a class of 50 “disengaged” students. At least, we were told they’d be disengaged when our well-meaning teacher-host led us into the classroom.
To be honest, I got the same first impression when I entered the room. The students were sitting in small clusters but they were each in their own world. Their eyes glued to their phones and their minds scurrying away from the room.
To the pleasant surprise of our host, however, they didn’t stay that way for long.
Our customer service workshop is based in storytelling. I asked the students to share their experiences being a customer - the good, the bad, and the deliciously ugly. Since misery loves company, these students jumped at the chance to gossip a little. Within minutes, most of their phones were out of mind.
Storytelling is the bread-and-butter of our ability to make sense of the world.
When someone starts sharing a story, we lean a little closer to catch all the details. When we can relate, we want to respond with stories of our own! There’s never a dull moment!
Our teacher host even got in on the action and shared a few stories of his own. The students were right there with him, gasping in disbelief as he described the time he was chased out of a store after asking to speak with the manager. And then he had the class in stitches when he told how he once managed to finagle four extra scoops of ice cream for free (which resulted in an extreme ice-cream headache). After the workshop, this teacher shared that he’d felt really connected to the students that morning. Sharing stories is powerful stuff.
A journalist once lamented to me: “The 3-bullet powerpoint slide has killed people’s interest in learning! Our brains think in stories, not bullet points!” Sadly, many teachers haven’t yet got the message.
Every little kid loves storybooks. Movies, TV, Netflix. Even social media lets you create stories. The best videogames - they create narratives and journeys for the players. It’s all stories!
In our opinion, one of the best investments a teacher can make is to mine your past for stories. Find the connections to your subjects. Search the internet for interesting examples and applications if need be!
Don’t be afraid to tell a bold story - even one that’s a little provocative, perhaps. After all, Hollywood doesn’t make blockbusters about “moderately ho hum” events - they go big! Find a story that’s relevant to your subject, and you’ll have people hooked. Get THEM sharing a story about your subject, and they’ll be engaging each other without even realizing it!
The Beanstalk Project is a group of entertainers-turned-educators with unconventional ideas about how to make education better.