The Importance of Telling the Story

We’re back from the Gambia again. No volcanoes – at least, not of the physical kind – and the experience was on the whole extremely positive. The conversation over coffee goes something like this:

Colleague: So, how was Africa?

Me: Good: one the best, in fact.

Colleague: How come?

Me: Well, a lower number of students helped, and fewer pressures on my time meant I could be there for them when we met up at the end of the day. 

And then comes the tricky part: do I launch into more detail, praising (justifiably) Gambia-Extra for their skills at organising us a great stay,  into travellers’ tales of bush taxis or pedagogy or a nice dinner at the incredibly swanky Ngala Lodge? Do I go into what I think Eric Berne calls the “Ain’t it Awful?” game of saying how hard it was? And at heart, how do I talk about the students’ learning and achievement (mindful of Jock Coats’ timely and thoughtful piece here), or explore in just a few pencil-sketch strokes the experience of all of the week?

Cora Player

I have to wonder about why I have these conversations. They are part of the social interaction of any workplace, of course, but in some ways they are advocacy. Telling the story of encountering the crocodiles might suggest to a colleague that it would be interesting to come next year; similarly the Cora Player (right) whose music was so enchanting might attract someone. But it is also possible that the challenges of pedagogy, or the conversations I had about additional provision for children on the autistic spectrum might lead a colleague to think about how different school life is in other countries.

This isn’t to say I preach from a position of superiority or even deeper knowledge. I love to hear the stories from others: similarities, differences; ways in which East Africa faces similar challenges; the ways in which a school in the UK supports or links with a school in the Gambia. I like to hear because I realise how little I know or understand. One thing I learn every time I go the Gambia is that my own view is too narrow: Global Citizenship isn’t just something for students; it’s about me as a learner, too.



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