Using Personal Stories
in Teaching

Jenning Prevatte, M. Ed.

What qualities or themes characterize your life story? This question was recently asked in a workshop that I attended. The facilitators gave participants 5 minutes to reflect on this question. The theme of my life is collaboration. I have always enjoyed being a part of a team. I value teamwork and being a contributing factor to a team's success.

When I was young, I was drawn to supporting other people's efforts whenever I could. My friends, the softball teams I played on, and my family would be more vital if we worked together. This belief has helped me in my professional career, where I have had the opportunity to teach and be an instructional coach. I draw on my qualities of listening, observation, compassion, empathy, and an ability to see a situation from multiple perspectives. These qualities are an asset to me as an educator, instructional coach, and leader. They guide me in the work I do with students and colleagues. I am also naturally curious, looking for solutions to challenges and seeking to understand people at a deep level.

Why are personal stories important in teaching and learning? 

Personal stories have a variety of importance in teaching and learning. They can help students connect with the material in a more meaningful way. They can help teachers build connections with students and understand the perspective they bring to the classroom. They can also inspire and motivate students to engage with the subject matter and provide real-world examples that make abstract concepts more concrete, helping students transfer their learning to their life. Additionally, personal stories can foster empathy and understanding among students as they learn about different perspectives and experiences. Knowing a person's story enables you to be a more compassionate educator.

I strongly advocate integrating personal stories and intrapersonal reflection into teaching practice. In my college classes, I combine multiple opportunities for students to reflect on their experiences and learning and tell their stories. This enhances the metacognitive process of learning. Metacognition is the awareness and understanding of one's thought processes. Creating learning opportunities that enhance students' awareness and understanding of their thoughts, perspectives, values, and experiences is critical to the learning process.

One of my favorite learning activities that I have my students complete is an I Believe statement. This writing strategy comes from I learned about this strategy in a Gardner Institute course in the Teaching & Learning Academy. Overall, the activity is an opportunity for students to tell their stories around a belief they have. Since I teach future educators, I ask them to reflect on and share their experiences and opinions about education. This is a robust learning activity to get to know my students and begin building a positive learning community.

Even better about this strategy is that it can be adapted to every discipline and every educational level—even the youngest students in preschool. Instead of writing, they could draw. Stories are told in many ways, and art is as influential as words. I would even recommend offering language learners the chance to write this essay in their native language. Being flexible in how students engage in storytelling activities empowers them but also provides the opportunity for educators to hear their authentic voices. Which ultimately makes integrating personal stories into teaching and learning an effective strategy.

Always remember!
You are talented! You are brilliant!
You connect, engage, and inspire the future!