The Importance of Story and Deep Listening

As a teacher and as an instructional coach, I’ve tried to improve my listening skills. It is such a gift when one feels deeply listened to and I strive to provide this for others. Deep listening continues to be a goal for me. I have always been intrigued by the power of telling stories. In classrooms making space for, and deeply listening to students’ stories, insight, and feedback is critical. In this blog I want to highlight some of the ideas in Chapter 4 of Street Data as they relate to listening.

Humans are wired to respond to stories. We learn by listening to stories, we connect with others through sitting together in story, we tell ourselves stories constantly, and we can envision stories of courage as we face challenging situations. When we expose students to a variety of types of stories, we normalize the human experience and that we all face obstacles. Funny stories, stories of a growing awareness of biases, sad stories, stories of using strategies to problem solve, stories where one learns more about themself or others, the possibilities of types of stories are endless.

Stories are a source of data for teachers. When we slow down and listen to stories of students’ experiences, we gain insight into their strengths and their genius. When we listen to feedback from students, we are exploring the story of their experience in our classrooms. When we act on feedback, we can change our practices to better meet the needs of students, especially students on the margins. Our lesson and unit design become more engaging and relevant for students. We empower students.

To transform our schools… we need mechanisms for listening to students at the margin who can collaborate with us to reimagine outdated approaches.”
Street Data


When teachers slow down and reflect on the stories we tell ourselves, we can become more aware of biases and assumptions. We can also be aware of when we tell ourselves “rut stories” which are stories where we see ourselves as the victim or where we take on only the negative view of a situation (The Power of Flipping Your Script). By being aware of deficit stories we can reframe them in order to be fully present for our students and provide a safe and loving classroom. We can also teach our students how to do this. In The Onward Workbook, Aguilar offers this advice for “rut stories:”

  1. Interrupt yourself. Say to yourself, Hold on, that’s a rut story.
  2. Dig down. Explore the assumptions you’re making.
  3. Zoom out: Consider other ways to view what happened or other data that you might not be considering.
  4. Make a new story. Craft a new interpretation that is more inspiring, empowering, or accurate.


Street Data  describes radical inclusion which is necessary for equity work. Radical inclusion is:

“The intentional act of interrupting inequity where it lives… Recognizing the multiplicity of stories, truths, their proximities, their intersections, and the people who own the stories.”
– Ortiz Guzman in Street Data


I continue to explore the ways to use stories in my own teaching and leadership, while I continue to explore the power of stories in the classroom. How can we slow down to listen to each other’s stories? How can we reflect on what our and others’ stories tell us about the world and our systems? How can we use stories to highlight strength, problem solving, and genius? And how can we use stories to transform, starting with 1:1 relationships and rippling to a classroom community, a school, the larger community, and the world?


Street Data: A Next-Generation Model for Equity, Pedagogy, and School Transformation, Safir and Dugan
The Power of Flipping Your Script, The Onward Team
The Onward Workbook, Aguilar