The story behind the telling

Gauri Kaulgud

While discussing storytelling, the focus has usually been on technique, content and form, depending on what we want to deliver to the participants. Therefore, to bring in another aspect of it I would like to share with you what happens to the storyteller every time a story is told or a session is facilitated. I love to tell stories and am fascinated by how wonderfully they work with any group.

Purpose of using storytelling in schools
A story is a simple narrative with a beginning, a development, and an end. Factors such as adding details, building characters, giving it a little personal touch can contribute to creating a very good story. Personal touch represents those factors relatable to the group, which help to make the whole story believable or imaginative. All these factors turn the story created into a metaphor with a subtle underlying message, giving the storyteller the liberty to use it wherever required.

gouri For instance, I use storytelling to bring about sexuality awareness, to get parents to open up at parent-teacher meetings, to make children aware of their bullying nature or simply as time fillers in substitution classes. There are numerous such applications. Wherever one senses the possibility of disconnect within the group, one can try to establish that connect by sharing an appropriate story with the group. Story situations, settings, people or the group may be different each time but what remains constant is the underlying human connection along with an exchange of energies, thoughts, ideas, and joy.

As a storyteller what happens to you
Initially, my sessions were planned and structured from the beginning to end. If the smallest thing went out of plan, it would make me furious and anxious. My tendency to have things under control was taking a toll on my sessions. I would get anxious when children spontaneously added elements that did not go with the story I had in mind.

At this point, I had to pause and reflect on what was happening to me in the process. A lot was happening; I tried to look at it clearly. Here are some points that I learnt are part of the process.

Improvisation: The need to improvise arises due to different individual circumstances. These could be because of personal limitations such as the inability to sing well or speak in front of a big group. Storytelling mirrors who we are and how we are with others. In short, storytelling sessions help us overcome our limitations and help us grow into better versions of ourselves.

Getting over fear: Telling stories to a group has helped me tremendously to get over my personal anxieties about my expression, articulation, communication, and ability to keep things under control. Slowly, as I realized and accepted these fears, I did learn to get over them while accommodating spontaneous and unplanned elements in my sessions, with a clear purpose. Realizing the beauty and usefulness of spontaneity came in handy whenever I went blank during the process. The fear factor turned into my most useful tool.

Personal touch: Stories do the magic when a little personal touch is added to them either by the storyteller or the listener. If it’s both ways, then even better! As a facilitator, sharing some personal facts or information helps to keep the process genuine. It also gives one the opportunity to convey to the group that it’s ok to be vulnerable as we all have our vulnerable moments that can be shared in a safe space. The process begins when the storyteller’s actions and thoughts make participants think about their own inner worlds of craziness!

Respecting personal opinions and space is another important thing taught by the process. Accepting ourselves as we are and accepting our peers, colleagues, the children we are working with exactly as they are. Being accepted by them adds something to us too, irrespective of how old we are. While telling stories, we may hear various opinions about the same story. Remembering to respect the opinions of others helps keep one grounded and accepting during the process.

Telling stories allows you to make mistakes and learn how to gracefully accept them. It’s absolutely fine if you make a mistake even in front of a large group. Because, if you are aware that you did something off track, then you can come back on track in creative ways too, and keep the story going.

education-design Stories help us understand behaviour from a child’s perspective. Embodying values such as working in a group, being prepared for the unexpected, problem solving, being empathetic and patient, especially during the session make us realize sometimes how difficult it may get for children to maintain the same. Thus I became more and more mindful of my speech and thoughts while interacting with children. I started questioning the expectations and assumptions I tended to have of them.

We, as teachers, often focus on how to deliver our best to the children, not realizing that the learning is bi-directional and enriching for us as well. Storytelling is hence a powerful tool that can be used for the benefit of others and the self, magically at the same time.

Children experiencing storytelling

Storytelling gives children a sense of unconditional acceptance devoid of judgment.
While listening to or creating a story, children feel accepted and not judged. This helps in developing a relationship with them. At any point, if a teacher feels lost or disconnected with her/his children, one of the best ways to get to know what is lacking, is through storytelling.

Storytelling take-away: Though we can’t measure what children learn from a story, be assured, they will take away something new every time you make a genuine effort to tell them a story. It could be creativity, vocabulary, a new experience, or sheer entertainment.

Things to remember when telling stories

  • Be mindful while telling a story.
  • Keeping the gist of the story in mind improvise as much as you like. Remember that there are no mistakes only opportunities to improvise in creative ways.
  • Relate the story to yourself and reflect on your experience. Storytelling is a beautiful opportunity for us to know more about ourselves and to grow out of our fears in most creative ways.
  • Engage the energy of the group and allow them to add to the story.

I think every story has many small stories hidden within it. Each of us tends to interpret and remember different stories within the same one. I have found that it’s a magical space that changes those who enter it. And the chances are you will keep meeting better versions of yourself as you go along in the process. That’s what I love the most about storytelling.

Storytelling group activity

Get a bag full of things that you see around you everyday. You can also add a few rare items to the bag. Make sure that the number of participants and the number of objects is proportionate. (It could be one per person or one shared between two). Pass along the bag in the circle; everyone pulls out one object from the bag without peeping into it. Whichever object(s) they get, they build a story around that object and pass the bag on. The next person will pull out another object and weave that into the ongoing story. The facilitator can have a few ‘magical powers’, which can be used wherever needed to bring in a twist to the story (especially in cases where the story becomes repetitive and linear.)

A few guiding questions, while reflecting on this activity are –
a. How did the children respond?
b. How many times did I have to jump to change the track of the story?
c. Was it really necessary?
d. What would have happened, if I wouldn’t have jumped in?

The author is an arts based therapy practitioner, currently working with children from KG to grade 10. She also has experience of working with special needs children. She can be reached at gaurikaulgud@gmail.com.