Once Upon a Teacher: A Phenomenological Investigation of Teachers Who Begin to Use Storytelling in Their Classrooms

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It is through our stories that we come to know ourselves, and the world in which we live. For millennia people with no written language have used storytelling to transmit their culture, and to pass on their values, beliefs, and laws to the next generation, in short, to educate. Through recent research we have come to understand that our brains are designed to make meaning through narrative. It is through stories that we shape our personalities and our lives.

This is a phenomenological investigation into the lived experiences of teachers who begin to use storytelling in their classrooms. I draw on the works of numerous storytellers, educators and phenomenologists to provide a ground for this study. The narrative that forms the framework of this quest is the phenomenological methodology of Max van Manen.

I traveled the path of this phenomenon through conversations with five elementary school teachers who began to use storytelling in their classrooms, and I used thematic analysis to transform the themes and insights that came from those conversations into a textual understanding. The performance nature of storytelling revealed the care that lies at the heart of pedagogy, and the ways in which that care is expressed.

By telling stories to their classes, my participants came to understand the richness of their pedagogical knowledge, renewed their confidence in their professional competence and returned them to their authentic teaching selves. Through storytelling my participants expanded their pedagogical horizons. By challenging themselves, they gained a greater awareness of their pedagogical practice, helping them create higher expectations for their teaching. Telling stories creates an understanding of the roles students play in the life of the classroom and an appreciation of the reciprocal nature of teaching.

Teaching as storytelling has possibilities for pedagogical benefits for teachers and students. This study explores the insights this pedagogy might have for teacher retention, connections to diversity, and teacher education. The nature of storytelling fosters care, creates community and nurtures more meaningful relationships. It might open opportunities for teachers and students to allow themselves to see and be seen, hear and be heard in mindful and authentic relationships.