Well, this week has already gotten away from me and it’s only Tuesday. Luckily, I can find past versions to re-share. This is a favorite from a while back about something I think we all need to remember – not only are stories important in their own right, the ones we choose to retellt help define us as individuals and help define and create our organization’s culture. Stories aren’t only for fun.
(From the UTSA SA Staff Newsletter, 2009)
Many visitors to my office are surprised to see that I have a shelf full of children’s books. I began collecting them because children’s books tell meaningful stories simply and clearly. And they have pictures! A few weeks ago in the Student Affairs Staff Newsletter I wrote about the importance of sharing our stories and our students’ stories.
Last month as part of the Student Affairs Council meeting we asked department groups to write a story using Aesop’s fables as a model. The fables written that day were wonderful. They were ingenious, thoughtful, vibrant, insightful, fun, and funny. Such creativity and inspiration. These stories helped us reach to the heart of our work and talk about what we do in ways that help ourselves and each other understand our work more deeply.
At the end of this article, I will share one of the stories written that day. It is the story written by the members of the Student Affairs Executive Council. I share it because our task was to write broadly rather than departmentally and I’d like you to have a sense of what we did that day.
It seems that stories are all around me these days. Last week, I was reminded again about the importance of stories when I read these words by Parker Palmer on the Courage and Renewal Blog.
“I think a lot about the fact that our real connections are found not at the level of our convictions, but at the level of the life experiences, the stories, that brought us to what we believe. For example, I’ve been very impressed by retreats involving people who disagree vehemently about certain issues (like abortion) where the ground rule is that we spend the first day or two not arguing about our positions on the issues, but telling the stories of the experiences that took us to those positions. Time after time, people who disagree on issues find that very similar experiences took them to different places — and once they see that, a new and more generative kind of conversation emerges. Differences do not disappear, but there is an emergent sense that maybe we can create the kind of community that can hold our differences.”
Our stories, our experiences are what make us unique. However, the paradox is that telling our stories, our unique stories, helps us find common ground. In the previous article I asked the questions, ‘what stories do you share?’ and ‘who gets to hear your stories?’ Of course, no one sent me the answer to those questions and I really didn’t expect anyone would.
Today, however, I’m inviting you to tell me your stories. It can be about anything, work, home, childhood, whatever you would like to share. It’s difficult for me to know everyone in our division. Will you help me learn more so that together we can enjoy our differences and find our common ground? If you find the blank page difficult, remember “once upon a time” is a great beginning.
THE SCHOOL OF DREAMS
STUDENT AFFAIRS COUNCIL MEETING
Story Telling – Fable
Once upon a time there was a little-known commuter school in the Hill Country on the outskirts of San Antonio.
There was a group of students that had dreams of achieving a four-year degree, who had not had a place to go. But now, they can go to the little college in the Hill Country. So many students came and participated that it is no longer the little school in the Hill Country. These students were so excited that they demanded a full service experience. So the little school in the Hill Country responded by valuing and respecting people, transforming lives, creating campus life, taking risks, building buildings, developing programs, creating excellent services, and working as a team.
So now the little school in the Hill Country is The Big University in San Antonio– a university that transforms students, staff, community, and beyond. One of the reasons it became big was because it embraced and celebrated diversity in all its facets. It opened its arms to students who wanted to learn and become citizen leaders for the global environment.
The Big University in San Antonio now wants to be known nationally for: enriching educational experiences; serving society through creativity, expanding research and innovations; promoting access and affordability; serving the public through community engagement; and expanding resources and infrastructure (and be in Conference USA)!
The Division of Student Affairs at the Big University in the Hill Country will achieve this by communicating effectively with students and each other; by making positive and memorable connections with others; by collaborating with others; and by being creative. By achieving these goals we will not only be the biggest university in San Antonio, but also the best.
The moral of this story is: “If you build it – they will come!”