Developing the school strategic plan can be a real drag. You and your colleagues spend hours producing it, but does it get real traction…?
It’s often seen as a bunch of numbers and remote goals that don’t tell the story of the work you do each day to improve student learning and wellbeing. We should put faces to the data. Why not take a story approach?
ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR PLAN, HONESTLY:
Do the people who need to care most actually see the value and support it?
Can anyone remember it?
Does it inspire action and guide day-to-day tasks?
Can you quickly explain why you made your strategic choices?
Are your leaders on the same page and aligned behind your school’s strategy?
Does it drive actual innovation or just remain words on a page?
Whether the audience is your supervisor or your Board, staff, families, students or the broader community—answering ‘yes’ to each of these questions means you can articulate and share your strategy effectively.
Did you answer no?
There are probably quite a few ‘no’s.
This is unsurprising because developing a strategic plan is a rational process, but communicating it calls for different skills that help make a human connection…
You need to convey how your school helps improve each and every student in a way your audience can think and feel it.
If you did answer ‘no’ to any of the questions above, you might like to apply to attend Anecdote’s School Story Lab.
Work with your team to craft and tell your school’s strategy story.
Story Lab is an engaging, interactive program for you and your colleagues to jointly craft your school’s strategy storyand sharpen your story-powered communication skills.
The Lab occurs over 4 x 2-hour online sessions over one month, with focused bridging activities between, to refine your story and learn how to tell it. It’s designed and facilitated by Anecdote’s world-leading communications experts.
We provide story structures and tools that allow you to take your rational plan and translate it into a compelling story that you can tailor for different audiences. You will also surface concrete examples (anecdotes) to make your strategy tangible and relatable.
We will work with you to craft the over-arching school narrative, but we will also help you find anecdotes to bring your strategy to life.
A story helps clarify what you mean
In July 2020, we worked with a principal on her school plan that in one part read, “Our educators provide personalised learning opportunities that maximise individual attention and combine academic rigour with student-centred development”. No doubt the principal understood the nuances of these words, but as an audience it left everyone cold. So, we pressed the principal for a story. Soon examples flowed including that of Year 10 student Lydia.
A couple of years ago, Lydia’s English teacher, Mr Kimber, spotted her writing talent but noticed she was very self-conscious and never shared her work in front of the class. So, Mr Kimber actively found an essay competition that students could enter anonymously. Before class one day, he suggested Lydia enter the contest. She was naturally wary but took on the challenge—perhaps because it was anonymous but also thanks to Mr Kimber’s encouragement. He spent the next few weeks giving Lydia rigorous tools and practice activities to build up her confidence.
Lydia didn’t win, but they did publish highly commended essays, and one of them was hers. When they next had the opportunity to share a piece of writing in Mr Kimber’s class, Lydia surprised him by reading out her ‘anonymous’ essay—she had found her voice.
When the principal shared this anecdote, the nuanced words of providing personalised learning opportunities now had a lot more meaning.
Through the Story Lab, you will acquire story-powered communication skills that you can use day-to-day and throughout your career. You’ll be using both small stories like this one, along with story structures and relevant tools that help you keep an audience engaged.
Build your skills
Anecdote coaches will lead you through a proven Story Lab process to:
Translate your school plan into a compelling story that gets audiences on board and emotionally connected to your plan
Surface concrete examples that make your story tangible and relevant
Learn how to share and tailor the story for audiences—your Board, your supervisors, staff, parents, students and your wider community
Learn influential story-based skills for use in all your school (and life) communications.
What goes into the Story Lab?
A month of focused attention to articulate and learn to share your strategic plan as a story.
Here are the inputs
SENIOR LEADERS: Anyone who developed the strategy and will need to advocate for it (principals, deputy principals, assistant principals, curriculum leaders, head teachers, senior administrators, board members and P&C representatives).
YOUR STRATEGIC PLAN: Typically, this is a formal document or at least a series of ideas and reflections, so when you join the Story Lab you have reasonable clarity on your plan. The story process we will teach you also helps you clarify your strategy.
AN ENGAGING LAB PROCESS: The Story Lab process is highly efficient but also a creative, fun experience. The sessions combine tools and concepts with practical activities and prompts to shape your school’s story. They include videos, activities, polls and examples of story-in-action. The Story Lab continues offline too as you and the other leaders meet between sessions to develop your school’s narrative.
A SCHOOL STORY COMMUNITY: There will be several other leadership teams going through the process with you, which provides an opportunity to spark ideas, share experiences and tips on what works, and to become part of a story-powered community. This community will grow, and graduates will continue to meet after the Story Lab.
HIGH-QUALITY MATERIALS: All participants are provided with a high-quality workbook to guide the story development process during the Story Lab and beyond.
What comes out of the Story Lab?
A school strategy story changes the way everyone engages with the school and its leaders.
For almost a decade, Angela had given a speech at the beginning of the school year setting out the school’s direction. Hundreds of people attended—students, teachers, parents—but nothing remarkable ever happened. Everyone listened and then just filed out of the auditorium when it was over.
Then, four years ago, Angela learned a different approach. Instead of the usual speech, the next school year she turned the strategy into a story, including a bunch of anecdotes that brought it to life. This time she didn’t get polite applause. Instead, at the end of her address, she was mobbed by excited parents and teachers, asking questions and sharing opinions. A significant shift in understanding and engagement had occurred.
After the School Story Lab you will emerge with the following:
A straightforward, compelling strategy story and rich examples to bring it to life
The ability to share the story in a personalised way that connects
Content and approaches to tailor your story to target different audiences
Ways to win over sceptics and demonstrate success as the strategy unfolds
Story patterns and tools to better communicate when you’re back on school grounds
Substantial ownership and momentum for delivering on the school’s strategy
The beginnings of a story culture that can spread throughout the school
The ability to do it yourself next time!
How to apply for a School Story Lab
Any school can apply to attend the School Story Lab.
A minimum of 4 participants per school must attend each lab but more are also welcome. We have designed the Lab for leaders to work on their school strategy story between the online sessions.
A one-month immersive learning experience for you and your team.
Prepare your school’s strategic plan
Submit in advance for review by story coaches
Reading material on Story-Powered Strategy.
School Story Lab 1: Get Clarity
Story-powered communication skills
Structuring your school narrative (using Anecdote’s Clarity Story pattern)
Surfacing the narrative elements
Pulling together a first draft.
BRIDGING ACTIVITY 1: Refine your initial draft, receiving feedback from an Anecdote Coach.
School Story Lab 2: Make it real
Practise sharing your story and sharpening it
Spotting tangible examples and future-state scenarios
Dealing with anti-stories (objections or scepticism)
Identify responses to the anti-stories.
BRIDGING ACTIVITY 2: Find more concrete examples and refine your story, receiving feedback from an Anecdote Coach.
School Story Lab 3: Tailor the story
Practise sharing your story with examples
Demonstrate value to your key audiences (use the Success Story pattern)
Tailoring your narrative by audience, length, purpose
Identify narrative threads for different audiences.
BRIDGING ACTIVITY 3: Flesh out the different threads of your story and examples. Submit your final story for review and receive feedback from Anecdote.
School Story Lab 4: Embed storytelling
Presenting your story
Building a Success Story Library to show progress
Embedding a storytelling culture throughout your school
Evolving your story over time
Next steps and resources.
Story-Powered Schools community: Four times a year, any Lab attendees are welcome to join 60-minute virtual sessions of the Story-Powered Schools community. Here we will recap concepts, show examples, hear your story successes and challenges, and provide an opportunity to get practical advice.
The School Story Lab will give you confidence:
To tell your strategic story in a range of settings
To use stories in your day-to-day communications to engage, influence and inspire
To share clear examples of the chosen key improvement strategies
To further develop storytelling skills to put faces to the data.
WHAT SOME SCHOOL LEADERS ARE ALREADY SAYING:
In the past, I used to give speeches and my audiences would always listen in a courteous manner, but I didn’t think I was connecting as well as I could. Then three years ago, I attended Anecdote’s storytelling workshop for leaders and to my amazement the very next speech I gave after this training, I received so many positive comments. I had many teachers come and ask me questions and some thanking me as what I had said had resonated with them.
I even had one of my close colleagues say, “Stacey, that is the best address that I have heard you give”. I was amazed at how the changes I had learned from Anecdote made such a difference, and now I continually use these strategies in my repertoire of leadership skills.
—Stacey Exner, NSW Principal for nine years
Shawn Callahan is the award-winning author of Putting Stories to Work and the Founder at Anecdote, the world’s largest business storytelling enterprise. Anecdote delivers its programs in 22 countries and 11 languages.
Shawn has worked with aspiring principals at Victoria’s Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership, helping them craft and tell their school stories. He has also coached senior school leaders in the Australia School Plus program. His wife and sister both work as senior educators, so helping schools is close to his heart.
Paul Ichilcik is an expert facilitator and story consultant. He’s worked with leaders in education, government and business across the globe to bring strategic plans to life. Paul has led hundreds of workshops and crafted numerous narratives to help leaders better connect.
Recent education clients include a range of schools in New South Wales, and national universities. Paul has written speeches for school principals and board members, designed staff engagement programs, and worked with communications teams to build school ‘story libraries’.