Let me tell you a story... Are you sitting uncomfortably? Then I’ll begin!
Everyone loves a good story. In fact, if you think about it almost everything we do in our lives is made sense of through stories.
We read newspapers and books, tell jokes and anecdotes, watch soaps and films and documentaries. We gossip.
We walk past people in the street and we overhear someone saying, “You’ll never guess what happened next….” Or, “Then she said,…………….” And we are tempted to slow down a little.
We read stories to our children and give books to our friends. We especially like stories about people.
FE teems with people with amazing stories to be told.
We have some wonderful stories to tell, but so often we seem to get it wrong.
We should never underestimate the compelling power of the human interest story, yet we miss so many opportunities.
Let me tell you a story...
I worked at a college a couple of years ago where they used student stories. There were boards on the walls with nice pictures of students and some text.
But all the text described was their experiences of their course. “I love my BTEC at x college, they have such good equipment and the tutors are so helpful etc. etc.” Admit it, we’ve all seen them.
The trouble is, and I got some death stares once for saying it to a room full of curriculum managers, no one wants to do a course.
No one! A course is a sort of necessary evil. My son is studying Drama at university. He doesn’t want to do a Drama degree, he just wants to be an actor. I’m sure he’s enjoying it, but he’s looking to what happens when it’s finished.
A course is just a route from A to B. To be fair, some colleges get it. “I came from X school and learnt all about Motor Vehicle Engineering at Y College and now I am a mechanic for the Mercedes racing team and travel all over the world.” Wow!
“I studied A levels at Z College, got into Oxford and now I work in publishing in London.” Wow.
We tend to like tales of adversity overcome, or of people who surprise themselves. They are more dramatic.
We also miss a huge trick with stories about our teaching staff.
Let me tell you a story...
About 4 years ago I was working in a college and sent out an all staff e mail asking the question, “How interesting are you?” with an invitation to come and tell me about their experience and expertise.
What happened next was extraordinary.
First through the door was Val.
Val was in charge of animal care and approaching retirement. She had had a varied career, including a spell as a Customs Officer searching boats for contraband, but she had got into FE and changed career.
Every summer, and I think she still does it, she went to Texas for 6 weeks and turned into a cowgirl, rounding up cattle on horseback and branding them. Wow!
Then came Jim.
He taught computing. It turned out he had honed his computer skills in the RAF when he was seconded to the USAF Top Gun high performance jet fighter school in Nevada.
Then there was Sue, who taught airline cabin crew.
She had worked for a private charter airline and had a fund of tales about William and Harry, Alan Sugar, George Harrison, King Hussein of Jordan and Paul Gascoigne, several of them unrepeatable. She hadn’t learnt it from books, she’d lived it.
Yet no one knew these things about them. We told their stories in a campaign, and the stories of many others too.
We used the strap line, “You could learn a thing or two from him/her”.
The message was that college staff were experienced experts in their fields. Who’d have thought it?
I tried it again in a different college about a year or so ago. Guess what happened next. Yup, amazing people with amazing stories which they had never been given the chance to tell.
Powerful stories can have a big impact on prospective students. Here’s an idea. Put out an all staff e mail. Ask for their stories. You will be delighted by what happens next.
Nick Warren, Interim Manager, Consultant and Author.
Nick is a member of the Policy Consortium