The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing

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The Power of Storytelling

Karen A Lindesmith, MA, RN; Mae McWeeny, MA, RN

Abstract

ABSTRACT

Storytelling is an intrinsic part of most cultures. For nurses, the telling of stories is a way of sharing nursing's history, tacit knowledge, critical thinking, and creativity. It provides the opportunity to learn from each other and to dialogue about the deeper issues surrounding professional practice. Using storytelling as a formal activity in education programs sanctions the sharing of stories as a meaningful experience that can be replicated in day-to-day practice. The value of connecting and sharing expertise through storytelling with colleagues becomes a powerful experience for nursing staff.

Abstract

ABSTRACT

Storytelling is an intrinsic part of most cultures. For nurses, the telling of stories is a way of sharing nursing's history, tacit knowledge, critical thinking, and creativity. It provides the opportunity to learn from each other and to dialogue about the deeper issues surrounding professional practice. Using storytelling as a formal activity in education programs sanctions the sharing of stories as a meaningful experience that can be replicated in day-to-day practice. The value of connecting and sharing expertise through storytelling with colleagues becomes a powerful experience for nursing staff.

Nurses have always told stories - about their patients, themselves, and their profession. Informal storytelling has always been a part of the nursing culture. As part of formalized educational programs, sharing stories encourages a new level of storytelling. Using storytelling as a learning activity can be a powerful addition to orientation, seminars, workshops, or caring rounds.

Like storytelling, nursing relies heavily on relationships and communication. As a result, sharing stories is not an unusual activity for nurses. Nurses may instinctively sense why storytelling is an mtrinsic part of many cultures - it establishes connections between people and creates a shared history. Storytelling also promotes critical thinking between expert practitioners and novices, strengthens collegiality and collaboration, builds self-esteem and rapport, and extends care and support to nursing colleagues.

The applications for storytelling in an educational program are as varied as the stories themselves. Storytelling gives learners permission to tap into the tacit knowledge embedded in their professional nursing experiences and to learn from each other. It also serves as a springboard to dialogue about the deeper issues of professional practice that may not be easily explored through other methods. Experienced nurses tend to devalue the amount of information they bring to their practice. Validation of this knowledge by peers during storytelling provides heightened awareness and a new affirmation for practice.

Storytelling should be planned so that it is an enlightening and meaningful experience for participants. The facilitator needs to create an environment conducive to the sharing of stories. Because the telling of stories should be unhurried, group size will be determined by the amount of time allowed for the activity. Allowing three to five persons in a group usually provides time to share and reflect on stories within an hour time frame. The chairs should be in close proximity so storytellers can attend to each other, but far enough from other groups to allow privacy. Darken the room slightly and eliminate overhead pagers, public address announcements, and other interruptions as much as possible.

A few guidelines will help participants engage fully in a storytelling session. Directions can be given orally or on a written handout. Invite participants to share their stories around the theme of the program. Participation in storytelling should be voluntary. If someone chooses not to tell a story, a simple hand motion or an "I pass" is adequate to move the telling along to the next speaker. Ask them to respect and maintain confidentiality about the stories that will be shared. Some general time parameters for this experience can be suggested to the tellers, but flexibility is key for each story length varies.

Ask listeners to use their best listening skills, with good eye contact and attentive facial expressions and body language. Tomatis (1991) describes attentive listening as listening with the bones and thinking of the whole body as an ear. The intensity demonstrated by listeners is a major factor in creating a sense of community within the group. This sense is enhanced by inviting participants to move from one story to another without interpretation, exploration, or judgment between the stories (Sarosi & O'Connor, 1993). The first few times the participants engage in storytelling, it is difficult for participants to honor this request, but ultimately, this attentiveness enriches the experience.

The facilitator first tells a story of his or her own to help set the tone and demonstrate the process. This removes subtle barriers, provides encouragement, and sanctions the activity for participants. The facilitator's storytelling helps create a setting conducive to the overall effectiveness of the learning activity.

When all stories have been shared, the facilitator initiates a group discussion about the process oí storytelling, not about the stories that were shared. Some questions that may assist in the debriefing about the experience include:

* How did the storytelling experience go for you?

* How did it feel to be so listened to?

* Did you discover anything you would like to share?

* What are other applications for storytelling in your practice?

Table

Helpful Hints for Storytelling

Helpful Hints for Storytelling

After discussing the process of storytelling, focus the discussion on the power of the stories that were shared. In this way, the discoveries made from the storytelling are related to expected learning outcomes. As groups become more comfortable with storytelling, it is not necessary to discuss the process itself. At that point, discussions can focus on individual and group discoveries from shared storytelling.

Formal storytelling activities give learners permission to share their wealth of knowledge. The innate creativity of nurses is valued and reawakened as the process unfolds. The power of stories validates the rich experiences of nurses and the value of connections with colleagues. Storytelling is a rewarding teaching/ learning experience for learners and facilitators alike.

REFERENCES

  • Sarosi, G.M., & O'Connor, R (1993). The microstory pathway of executive nursing rounds: Tales of living caring. Nursing Administration Quarterly, 17, 30-37.
  • Tomatis, A. (1991). The conscious ear. Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill Press.

Helpful Hints for Storytelling

10.3928/0022-0124-19940701-13

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