What is Your Story?

I’m happy share a guest post today from Jason Finley, Work-Based Learning Coordinator Randolph Technical Career Center and 2009 Rowland Fellow (Inaugural Cohort)

This was originally posted on the Rowland Foundation blog.


While the Rowland Blog is a piece of our Professional Learning Community, the following is largely a personal take on our individual and collective work. It is part of my story.

What is your story?

You’ve heard me say this before, and I’m sure that you’ll hear me say it again, “Collectively we are our own best resource.”

What does this mean for our work as Fellows? I’ve tried more than a few ways and have searched ad nauseam for the best means to gather, curate, and share the tremendous amount of collective wisdom and resources that our group holds. I’ve done this, however, while ignoring a basic tenet of education.

You know it and practice it as the new “3 R’s” of Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. What’s known in principle, however, is only valid if used in practice. Let me begin this post with a sincere mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Rigorous content and academic concepts can only be addressed after we have determined how to connect these in ways that are purposeful and Relevant to an individual or group. And, we are unable to adequately determine what is Relevant to an individual or a group without first developing a strong and meaningful Relationship.

It’s common best practice in our classrooms, isn’t it? We all know that community building is paramount to a successful year. Regardless of who the group of learners is, it is necessary to first spend the time necessary to develop relationships.

It’s always about putting people first. It’s about taking the time to learn someone’s story to understand who they are and why it is that they do the things that they do. Beyond statistically significant data points, beyond what the research tells us, beyond studies in current best practices, what experiences led each of us to where we are at today? That’s what is really important. Right?

So, how did you forge your past experiences in shaping your work as a Rowland Fellow? What is the story of why you do what you do?

Dr. Uri Hasson with the Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University gives us some insight into the importance of this when he shares, “A story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.” Stories connect ideas. Stories connect experiences. Stories connect us.

Stories allow us to make mental associations with, find relevance in, and give context to the ideas and experiences of others. They address an intellectual need to make meaning while providing opportunities for deeply emotional connections. This gives stories the powerful ability to inspire us to take action.

Rodger Dean Duncan says this better than I can. Here are his thoughts, slightly abridged and modified, on storytelling.

“Stories have enormous potential to inspire and connect, to open eyes and to affirm. For too long, schools have relied on offering ideas of improvement, change, and reform only by supplying data, numbers, and statistics. There is, however, a recent revival of the use of simple images and one line concepts to support verbal storytelling. TED Talks have carried this practice forward and with world-class speakers who speak in simple narratives, using stories and powerful imagery to convey their message.

This is because stories powerfully connect us to each other. When we share our own real-life stories or the stories of others it provides the opportunity to get to know one another as authentic people – real people who have struggled within the traditional paradigms of education and figured out how to overcome them.”

This fall and winter we will be sharing the stories that have led us individually to where we are today in an attempt to better inform each us of the stories we will write tomorrow. It will be an opportunity to come out of our silos and lean across the fence for a while to share some time and ideas with friends.

I strongly believe that through the simple act of storytelling, relationships will be developed in ways which allow for a deeper discovery of shared relevance. And, through exploring those common areas of knowledge and interests, we will ultimately develop more rigorously defined, researched, and developed processes which lead to even greater outcomes for our work.

Collectively we are our own best resource. Knowing each other’s stories will help us to write a better version of our own.

What is your story?

Jason Finley, a 2009 Fellow, is the Work-Based Learning Coordinator at Randolph Technical Career Center and Co-Chair of the Vermont Work-Based Learning Coordinators Association.
“At the Randolph Technical Career Center (RTCC) I help students to become both career and college ready through work-based learning experiences which build confidence through competence, promote a sense of pride in work well done, and teach students the perseverance and grit necessary to manage obstacles while valuing the effort it takes to turn challenges into opportunities.”


Sometimes Learning is found not in Individual Experience, but in Common Reflection. Photo & Quote ~ Jason Finley

Rodger Dean Duncan quote from “Tap the Power of Storytelling”


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