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Storytelling Built to Engage Community Stakeholders

Ross Sellers profile photo

Ross Sellers

mindSpark Learning

Most schools and districts have a specific communications strategy built-in to their yearly calendar; however, many of these schools and districts need to work on the storytelling they use in order to leverage communication strategies more efficiently.

You’ve built a communication plan, you’ve committed to getting your entire community to collaborate with you on ensuring the success of the plan and you’ve even identified audiences you want to reach, both internally and externally.

There’s one thing you’re missing though: a compelling narrative that is specifically constructed to engage community stakeholders with a story that tells them how you are going to transform their community through education.

Storytelling is imperative. It’s how you build your school’s brand. It’s how you market to your community and influence stakeholders to take action. Most importantly, storytelling is how you push the needle on innovation and ensure your message is effectively conveyed to those who believe in your mission.

Luckily, storytelling is not as difficult as it may seem, and there are many ways in which it overlaps with both the short-term and long-term communication plan you have established.

At mindSpark Learning, we’ve identified three keys to successful storytelling, and sculpted them to align specifically with how they can be used to better engage the stakeholders in your community.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Identify the Intent of Your Narrative

What is the Purpose of Your Story?

Purpose/intent is the framework of any story -- the foundation to the bustling life that takes place in your building. In other words, it is not the soul of your story--we’ll get to that in a bit--but what keeps the soul grounded and direction-oriented. You must be clear about the intent of your story in order to engross people with the soul that will make it engaging.

Imagine you have identified a certain initiative that you believe will lead not only to students who are better prepared for their future careers, but also a more dynamic talent pipeline that communities can leverage for economic development, and you want to communicate this initiative to your community stakeholders.

It is clear to you that for the initiative to be successful, the implementation process must include the voice and involvement of community members and organizations because they will be critical to providing students and educators with authentic work-based learning experiences. As such, that means the intent behind the story you’re telling is to convince community influencers to work with you, and be directly involved with how you roll out the initiative.

By starting with the intent, you will be able to identify the key cogs in your story with more ease, and distribute said story to the correct audiences more successfully. What kind of story do you need to tell in order to ensure that it resonates with the people you are trying to reach? What characters do you need to feature in your story so that it is engaging? What proof points do you need to mention in order to ground your story in reality?

These are the questions that intent will help you to answer.

What is the Problem/Resolution Model You are Proposing?

Set the Stage for the Characters in Your Narrative

All good stories are grounded in reality, which means you have a head start because the story you are telling is based in reality. This means you should already have plenty of fodder to use when setting the stage in a compelling and engaging way. The best way to do so is by establishing the problem you’re trying to solve, while simultaneously providing a potential solution to that problem.

Why is education not working for students currently? Why are educators not staying in the profession? What are some of the seemingly insurmountable problems students will face as they enter the workforce if they are inadequately prepared for these future careers? What are some of the problems the current and future workforce face as technology and automation continue to make their stamp on the world?

How are you solving these problems in your community? That’s what everyone who has a voice in education wants to know. So, how is your school specifically designed to answer these problems for your community?

Answering these questions takes some skill, to be sure; however, the process can be simplified by keeping three key points in mind when setting the stage:

  1. As Shakespeare once said (which was also said more recently in Westworld), “brevity is the soul of wit.” In other words, be as clear and concise as possible when telling your story; adjust the length of your story to fit the different mediums you will be using to tell it.
  2. Be simple and direct. Tell a simple story, one that can be understood and disseminated very easily. Be direct with what your story is about, and how it is uniquely designed to place education at the center of your community and shape the future for your students.
  3. Define a protagonist. Who is your story about? Who is the main character? Is it your students, your teachers or your school? Your story should reflect the audience you are targeting and focus its narrative on that character and how it connects to the initiative.

These rules aren’t hard and fast, but they are a good starting point to consider, especially when setting the stage for your narrative, and putting your story within the context of the problem you’re trying to solve. Define the problem -- either on a large scale (like the entire education system), or on a scale confined to your community -- provide the solution that your school is committed to and tell the story of how this solution is going to work to change the life of your protagonist.

Leverage Emotional Appeal

The Soul of Your Narrative

Your story will fail if there is no emotional appeal, plain and simple. Organizations try and fail to tell compelling stories all the time, and fail because they don’t include an emotional appeal. They tell a story about what their product does, without appealing to why their product is so valuable to their clientele.

There is a great TED Talk on the necessity for emotional appeal from Simon Sinek, if you want to go into more detail; essentially, you cannot compel someone with a narrative that is only designed to mention what you are doing in your initiative. You must compel your community stakeholders to join you in taking action by convincing them of why this initiative is so important.

That doesn’t mean you have to pull on people’s heartstrings. It just means that the story has to sound real, be connected to real emotions and feature the stories of the real people who are thriving thanks to your initiative, or because of initiatives that are similar to yours.

The soul of your narrative is the same “soul,” or “heart,” that each and every human possesses. This soul/heart is the means by which we connect to people, and empathize with them. A story without this essential quality is a story devoid of feeling, and it cannot hope to reach anyone.

Remember, all good stories are grounded in reality and bring a human connection. This is what’s “real,” about even the most fictional stories.


First, know this: storytelling takes time, development and good questions with even better answers. Crafting the story of your school will take this same commitment to the narrative. This is especially true if you’re trying to get your community stakeholders to get involved with your school. They need to believe in the story of your school, and need to believe in the “why,” before they will invest time, money and resources.

After you have crafted your story, your next steps are to leverage as many mediums as possible to disseminate the story. The mediums that you should consider, are your website, social media and any sort of content generation, from email marketing, to blogs, to guides and ebooks.

You should also ensure that your story permeates every part of your messaging across your communication channels -- and be mindful that different audiences will have different communication needs (language, access, etc.) -- so that you stay consistent.

Continually capture the short vignettes of the narrative, like amazing feats your students have accomplished, or inspiring initiatives your teachers have committed to in their classroom, and share them across all channels of communication. In essence, the narrative of your school will always be evolving; you need to track these developments, and share the progress with not only the people who believe in your mission, but also those you have yet to reach.

Creating a compelling narrative can be challenging, but it is imperative for your communication strategy. Even if you have developed a strategy for communicating with community stakeholders, you need to be sure you have a narrative they want to follow.

Thanks for stopping by!

Opinions presented in the Insights are those of the author and do not necessarily represent TLA's opinion, nor should be considered an endorsement by TLA of any organization or product.

Ross Sellers profile photo

Ross Sellers

mindSpark Learning

Ross Sellers is the Director of Marketing at mindSpark Learning, an organization that helps to evolve education through educators with unique professional learning experiences for both school leaders and teachers.