The Story Exchange Model: Nurturing Emotional And Social Connections In Schools with Sean McGrath

The Story Exchange Model: Nurturing Emotional And Social Connections In Schools with Sean McGrath

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Are you looking for solutions to help you develop stronger social and emotional connections between the pupils in your school? Do you want to develop a sense of community and belonging?

Join us in this episode with Sam McGrath, a leading expert in narrative alchemy, as we explore the transformative power of the Story Exchange Model. Learn how this structured approach allows students to connect on a deeper level, promoting empathy and understanding, fostering genuine relationships.

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To visit the Narrative Alchemy website

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Show notes / transcription

Emma Shackleton  0:00  

Do you want to build stronger social connections between the students in your classroom so that they can come together as a group rather than acting like a set of 30 individuals. Want to build empathy in your students or help them understand difficult emotions? Then this podcast is perfect for you. Because in just a moment, you're going to learn a proven step by step method for making this happen in your school and in your classroom.

Simon Currigan  0:28  

Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course, students when classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural Special Needs, whole school strategy and more all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear their latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast. 

Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan. And welcome to another jam packed episode of school behaviour secrets. Not quite sure why you'd want jam in it. But there you are. It's full of jam whether you like it or not. And if this podcast focused on SEMH is actually full of jam doesn't make you wonder what jam focus podcasts are full of as well. Maybe they pack their podcasts full of SEMH strategies. Who knows? Anyway, welcome to the show. I'm joined here today as always by my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:32  

Hi, Simon.

Simon Currigan  1:33  

And before we get any further in today's podcast, I just wanted to ask you a very quick question. 

Emma Shackleton  1:39  

Go on then. 

Simon Currigan  1:40  

What's your favourite story from childhood could be a book or film, whatever?

Emma Shackleton  1:44  

Oh, okay, from childhood. That's quite a long time ago. Thinking back I did always love Goldilocks and the Three Bears. And when I got older, I distinctly remember reading my first proper book, you know, with chapters and that was Watership Down, which, spoiler alert, if anybody hasn't read it, it's a real tear jerker. But why are you asking about my childhood stories?

Simon Currigan  2:11  

Well, stories are a great way for us to explore the world, learn about other people form connections and develop empathy. And today we've got Sean McGrath on the show, who's going to share an approach called the story exchange model, which is a structure or a method for doing just that in the classroom. It's a very specific activity that helps bond the group together, help them learn about emotions, build trust, and more works with kids of all ages. And it gives us step by step explanations for doing that with the children that we work with.

Emma Shackleton  2:45  

Perfect. But before we press play on that interview, can I quickly remind everyone that if you're enjoying this podcast or finding the strategies that we share valuable, make sure you like and subscribe to us in your app, so that you never miss another episode? In fact, if it's safe to do so, why not do that right now.

Simon Currigan  3:05  

So if you work as a knife juggler, or a high wire artist, or a hostage negotiator...

Emma Shackleton  3:10  

Feel free to leave your phone in your pocket. Yes, yes. And also, if you're working with pupils that have difficulty managing strong emotions, we've got a download that can help. It's called How to help children manage anger and other strong emotions. It's a completely free download, and you can get it from our website, we'll put a direct link in the episode description. All you've got to do is open your podcast app, and you'll see the link in the text that goes with the episode. Just tap and click right through and get your copy today. Absolutely no charge 

Simon Currigan  3:44  

It couldn't be easier. 

Emma Shackleton  3:46  

And now here's Simon's conversation with Sean from Narrative Alchemy, explaining how to use the story exchange process in your classroom.

Simon Currigan  3:54  

It is my absolute pleasure to welcome Shawn McGrath to the show today. Sean is the Co-Artistic director of narrative alchemy limited, which focuses on using storytelling, theatre, film and training to explore using stories, myths and folklore as a tool for building connection to self, place and community and for nurturing creativity. He was formerly the creative director of Alter Ego creative solutions, who specialised in running theatre projects in schools around the UK covering issues such as county lines hate crime, ie safety, resilience and mental health. He is also an associate director for the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the Writers Guild of Great Britain. Sean, welcome to the podcast.

Sean McGrath  4:38  

Hi, how you doing?

Simon Currigan  4:39  

So we're going to look today at using a specific teaching model called story exchange that was developed in the US to support students with their mental health to develop better empathy, more grit and integrity. But first, why do you feel this work is so important right now?

Sean McGrath  4:55  

Well, for me, I sort of trained in the story exchange model in 2019 out in the States and came back thinking it was important then. But in this sort of post COVID era, it seems so much more important. Now we've got student absences, a major issue of student behaviour is a major problem. levels of anxiety and mental health are high among students and staff alike. And for us, it's vital everyone in schools feel safe, secure and seen. Now we can force children to attend school and impose draconian rules and tough sanctions to improve behaviour. Or we can create safe environments where and make those are regulated, everyone feels connected, and it feels like they're part of a community. There's a lovely quote that I like everyone knows a quote takes a village to raise a child. But the addition to that is, if the child doesn't feel part of the village or doesn't feel seen by it, they will burn it down to feel the heat. And for me, the story exchanges are a way of making young people and stuff like feel part of something bigger, feel safe, secure, and seen. And we've been telling stories for 30,000 years, we're hardwired for story.

Simon Currigan  5:55  

I really liked what you said, I love that quote, because I think you're right, what we can do is we can say to kids, the expectation is you've got to come to school, despite your anxieties or you've got to engage in certain lessons, despite your anxieties, but if they're there, but they're dysregulated, or they don't feel connection with the adults, then the result can be chaos.

Sean McGrath  6:13  

We're building a house on sand. 

Simon Currigan  6:14  


Sean McGrath  6:14  

it's about building those foundations and foundations is community. Now everyone, you know, the forced social isolation and physical isolation of the pandemic, has thrown, it's broken so many things, it's broken people's sense of identity, it's broken that sense of connection, the social contracts that are in place, that connection to the Communities in Schools and the buildings of the school as well. Everything's in turmoil, and sort of, I was trying to desperately get it back. But we're not building those foundations of community. And I'll always refer back to safe, secure and seen we need people feel that so they're regulated so that we can move forward and get things back to near where they were before.

Simon Currigan  6:52  

And we really can't gloss past this, can we because if kids are dysregulated, and just trying to forgr on with the way we used to do things in the past, forge on with the learning, it's just not going to work. It's the emotional cart before the horse.

Sean McGrath  7:03  

It would become self perpetuating. Yeah, so it becomes, you know, one of the you know, the pandemic gave everyone the threat. So amygdala firing left, right and centre that they're pretty much stuck on we lots of people we got used to having heightened amygdalas. If we try and push rules and the draconian measures in schools to force children back in without building that community, it's just adding threat was more threat there, which, which just again, keeps everyone dysregulated. So we need to, you know, what's the quote about going up river river to stop people jumping in rather than fishing out the bodies? 

Simon Currigan  7:32  

Absolutely. And I think we work with a lot of schools. And I think if you're trying the approach of expectations and rules, and it hasn't worked yet, in the last 18 months, and it's probably not going to work, we need to look for something new, if it's gonna work, it would have worked already.

Sean McGrath  7:46  

What's the definition of madness, doing the same thing, even though the result does not change. And it's a shame, it's not school's fault. They've been pressured to do this. I'm not blaming schools at all, there's been so much pressure on them to get things back to how they were. And the core solution system seems to be imposed all these things, it's time to stop, reflect and think, actually, this isn't necessarily working, we need to try a different method, we need to go back, we need to regulate our young people, we need to make them feel safe and feel secure, and seen. And for us story changes are not the only method to do that. But they're a good weapon in the arsenal.

Simon Currigan  8:16  

Yeah, absolutely. And I think we need to look at that work, not as last time when they could have been learning because they weren't learning anyway. It's about investing in, unlocking the rest of the time, they haven't stopped. So you've touched on human beings being hardwired for stories. What is it specifically about stories that is so powerful at helping to reach young people and helping them work through the wide range of topics that are linked to their emotions and social interaction? And helps them make sense of their experiences? That's a big question!

Sean McGrath  8:44  

It is a good question. I'll break it down into two parts of it. Okay, firstly, why are stories important? And then how do the story exchanges work? So firstly, when I rant about this at talks and conferences and stuff all the time, we are storytelling machines. And we're not only storytelling machines, we are story hearing machines, and we are story carrying machines. As I said, we've been telling stories for over 30,000 years way before PowerPoints were invented. And we you know, we're hardwired to sit around, telling stories and listening to stories and solving the world. We are stories. We love stories so much that when we go to bed at night, we don't stop telling them to ourselves in our sleep, that we've solved the world through story. We think we're rational. But we're not, we're emotional beings that live and solve the world through various different stories, the story that we're telling ourselves in certain situations. So for me, you know, again, I think we're storytelling machines store hearing machines. The story exchange is a sort of evolution of sort of circle time I was at school down in Ealing on Wednesday, and they're doing some phenomenal work down there. And they're saying that each week, they will have circle time and each of the kids tell us just a really short story about something that's happening that week or something that's concerning. I mean, that's phenomenal. I love that. But the evolution of it is to then exchange those stories. Just take it one little step further. I'm explaining a bit how the story exchanges work what the format is, but for me they are a triple threat, the story exchange model where you're telling someone else's story, hear someone else's story and tell it the very act of sharing that story creates empathy, compassion, connection, community relationship, a shared sense of our common humanity and understanding of one's own identity, that question Who am I? They help with the ability to cope with change and cope with the ability to cope with conflict and to bridge divides as well. So one aspect of it. 

The second aspect is that the content that you choose for the story prompts that you use to share those stories can be targeted to tackle whatever issues you want to be tackling, you know, for year seven when they've just arrived in these humongous schools, from these lovely little primary schools, you can base a story exchanges around community to tell a story about a time when you felt like you were part of a community where community mattered to you, you can get into share stories in your race around peer pressure, you align around identity, you can explore issues such as integrity, resilience, grit, risk assessment, delayed gratification, all those wonderful, wonderful, what are called soft skills, which always gets me annoyed because it makes them feel like that we've wonderful things that help young people successfully navigate a whole host of critical life moments. You can introduce them through that sort of shared experience and the story exchange. 

And the third element for me, which I think is the most interesting, I've only really noticed this running them post COVID, where we will separate out buildings and we're finding it hard to get back into buildings and absence is bad. We do these in workplaces, for charities, NHS and for businesses as well. And it's the it's a strange one on the connection to fellow story exchanges, the vulnerability of sharing your story. And the power of having your story borne witness to and bearing witness to others creates a real sense of that safe, secure and seen which creates a really strong connection to the environment where you did the actual story exchange, the room, and the building that you did it in, you suddenly feel part of it, makes it feel safe, and you feel secure on the scene within it. So it has a real connection to actually getting people reconnected to the building, as well. So I think it's a great tool for tackling this absence problem that we have at the moment because kids are scared of schools, they're scared of the buildings. So for me, it's this sort of triple threat.

Simon Currigan  12:09  

So it makes the location of school feels safer?

Sean McGrath  12:12  

Safe. Yeah, because you feel part of that community. You know, again, I'll go into a bit how we actually run them. But you can, when running these things we would recommend targeting, first of all, start off with classes and tutor groups. And then you can go mixing kids and having an exchange with different people in that year group. And when they're feeling safe, you can then go vertical and start exchanging with different year groups. And they can exchange with different schools and different organisations within your community as well. So it's a slow, strategic way of building that safety building that sense of safe communities. So they feel part of the village. 

Simon Currigan  12:46  

I think there will be school leaders listening to this thinking actually, yeah, it's very easy to create cohesion. And that sense of community within a single classroom in a primary school, say, but it's harder than to create that connection up and down with different year groups. And in secondary schools, it's even more difficult because you're not in a consistent ...

Sean McGrath  13:03  


Simon Currigan  13:03  

taught group across the day. So this can be really, really powerful. 

Sean McGrath  13:06  


Simon Currigan  13:06  

Okay, so we've teased enough, what is the story exchange model? And should we start talking through the four steps of the model? What does it look like? So we've got four steps. The first one is preparing? 

Preparing, so a week or two before the actual story exchange is planned, the young people or the participants because it can be a mixture of staff and teachers as well, you know, I mean, a lot of people, a lot schools really like bridging that gap. Sometimes teachers don't like reading their stories to young people. But again, to make them feel that part of that community all share together, they'll be given a prompt, so you decide what you want that prompt to be, it can be fairly general, it really can be a general one, we can bring any story and give a few ideas for that, or you can start targeting very specific issues.

Can you give me a couple of specific examples of the kinds of prompts that might work? 

Sean McGrath  13:47  

Yeah. So if we're looking at Integrity, so come with a story about time where you did the right thing, even though no one was watching, or grit in endurance come with a story about time when you stuck at something even though you felt like giving up, come with a story about something you doubted yourself, but overcame it come with a story where you spotted something was dangerous or risky, and you did something about it. So you can tackle all of those sort of soft noncognitive skills and introduce them into young people's schemas in this really supportive communal way.

Simon Currigan  14:15  

And just to be clear, we're not putting them on the spot for the story, then we're saying start thinking about this. 

Sean McGrath  14:20  

Absolutely not. It's a week before and the important thing as well is bringing, you know, in our life, we've got our private we've got our personal and we've got our professional for adults, we don't want anything private, you know, this isn't therapy, what we want your stories that are personal and that resonate with young people and have an emotional connection to them, but not anything you don't want to share when you share with with the group. We do not want to go into anything that's unresolved. We don't want to go into anything that's going to trigger or traumatise anybody, but we do want people to be courageous with their story as well, but to be vulnerable and courageous, but not anything private. So they get that brief and asked to come up with a story, one minute, one and a half minutes long from their own life. And then on the day, they'll turn up the story exchange and you want between sort of 12 to 20 people in the room. And we do a few sort of drama based story based things to get people feeling safer with each other. And feeling safe telling stories is a little process that we go through. And then we model it. So the two facilitators will explain that they swapped a story that morning, and then they'll show how to do it, they're not gonna be checking with their partner to make sure they're getting it right. They're not going to be saying he did this, or she did that. And we're saying, I...

Simon Currigan  15:25  

That's hard, isn't it? That's quite hard. 

Sean McGrath  15:27  

It's really hard. Actually, it's really hard not to keep checking your partner, we then give them 20, 25 minutes, well we'll pair them up. And again, you can be absolutely random in how you pair them up, or you can be targeted in how you pair them up. If you are going vertical with your groups, you can make sure that different year groups are partnered up with one another. Or if you're going different tutor groups, different tutor group, you know, this is a great tool for conflict resolution and prevention, you can if there's some conflict somewhere you can partner these people up and get into realise a sense of their common humanity. So they go off, they share their story, and we say letter each other A and B, A is going to tell their story first. B is going to tell their story. Don't interrupt, don't try and write anything down. Don't take any notes, just hear that story. Use real powerful, strong active listening and hear that story. And then B is going to tell their story, then they got about 10 or 15 minutes to actually just check any details, check dates, check any anything they were unclear about or any of the images that were unsure about.

Simon Currigan  16:21  

Can I just jump in or ask a question about that, because I've worked with a lot of children and even quite old pupils, even adults can find active listening difficult, and retaining that information difficult because they're often focused on what they want to say, rather than lists. So I just wondered, like how you would frame and structure that? how you set up that activity for the greatest success?

Sean McGrath  16:40  

Some of the games that we've played earlier on or around active listening. There's three different little games that we play, which also helps start tuning people into listening to other people's stories as well, and what good listening can look like and what bad listening can look like as well. So we do set that up in the preliminary period there as well. But we have some as well, you know, so if you do want to make notes do but actually try not to just see if you can learn with your ears rather than with your hands. And then when they come back to the group, we then go round and we ask them, we sort of get the write down a little post it note, what are you concerned about here? And everybody in the room writes down, suddenly, I'm concerned about doing my partner story justice, I'm concerned, I want to get it wrong. At which point we said, well, everyone's concerned about the same thing, it does not matter if you get this wrong, you're going to tell your best version of it, you've only had 10 minutes each to go through these, you're not going to get it right, we want you to tell the essence of it. But the most important thing is we don't give you the facts or figures, right. We want you to connect to it emotion, we want you to walk in their shoes. And then we go around and we share the stories. And in my experience of this, no matter how scared ever more about getting it right or wrong. Most people get it right. They're astounded at how much they have actually picked up. And sometimes they elaborate on little images as well, that they weren't told, but then their partner says to him afterwards, he's like, how did you know that? How did you know that was coming up for me, you know, I guess she felt fills in the gaps.

Simon Currigan  17:56  

Let's just say one thing here right, there's something about that, that strikes me that could be really, really powerful. And that's that often, if we're asked to tell a story about ourselves, our anxiety goes up. And you know, people might feel reluctant to join in, but telling your story to one other person, and then they tell the story that's not about them. The person who might feel anxious about that is hearing that someone else heard what they were saying. And you know, felt comfortable with that and felt heard and seen. But also, they're actually telling someone else's story. So everyone's stories are getting told. But it kind of overcomes the difficulty of I feel shy talking about my life in front of a group. 

Sean McGrath  18:30  

Yeah, it gives a little bit of aesthetic distance, it gives that safety but it gives that connection as well. So in the reflection period, that's where we sort of discussed that. So we talked about four different things. So you know, the facilitators guide them through this little period of reflection, where you first of all speak about what was it like to have your story told born witness to? And we sort of chat about that. And again, people are sometimes I didn't realise my story was so good. I thought I'd come with a safe one. I really didn't realise how powerful that story was. We asked what was it like to tell someone else's story? And again, you know, the honour of holding someone else's story and the danger and of trying to get it right but realising that you weren't getting it right and doing it justice is incredibly powerful. And and the third one, we say, what was it like, once you've done yours and have yours told watching other members of that group, have their stories borne witness to and see other people tell those other people's stories, and that for me is where the alchemy lives as well. It's incredibly powerful sitting, seeing watching someone have their story told and sort of nodding along to it as they can see the images playing out as well. And then the fourth thing we speak about is whatever the content was, whether we have targeted it around the integrity or resilience or community or or something random we did one recently just lost and found it was quite arbitrary, but the stories came out with a nominal, so we speak about the content there. So if we have done the story prompts, for example, tell us about a story where you did the right thing, even though no one was watching. We haven't mentioned integrity at that point, but in the reflection when they will tell their story. So what we're speaking about here that is integrity when you're doing the right thing. Even if no one is watching, that is integrity. So we're inputting that concept into their schemas into their system one schemas a heuristic thinking is actually going to affect their decision making processes rather than their system to thinking in a safe communal way as well. So it works on so many levels. 

We then ask them to give a wish to their partner based on the story, what do you wish for your partner and the story exchange is over, anyone else can pop anything else in but it's always nice then to have 10 or 15 minutes if there's teas or coffees or drinks or something just for them to have a chat. And you know, when we run these things, when you see people enter the room that the sort of standoffishness and when you see them leave is, it's phenomenal, the sort of the conversations going on, we always notice as well, when one of the questions I always ask at the end is who when are told to come up with a story around that prompt, who was really struggling to think of a story, he was thinking, I haven't got any story, I haven't got a story like that. And it was worth it. I just couldn't think of one. And then when it goes around the circle, and you hear everyone else's stories, how many people were thinking, I've got a story just like that, or I've got a story just like that, or I've got a story just like that you suddenly realise how many stories we hold that we have got all these different things. And that sense of shared humanity, simple, shared humanity, is palpable in the room. So you can get that group working together, and then start strategically working them with other groups and other groups and different year groups in different schools and different organisations in the area. We slowly but surely rebuild this sense of community that COVID destroyed,

Simon Currigan  21:27  

what do you do kind of practically about kids who find it hard to talk in front of the group, because they're carrying someone else's story. And if if they find it hard to sort of stand in front of other people and sort of, you know, talk that story through, then there's two things going on one, they're in a situation where they feel uncomfortable, potentially. But the second part of that is also, the other child story doesn't get told. I'm just wondering how do you coax them, encourage them or what kind of strategies to use for that?

Sean McGrath  21:55  

We'll try our best to get them to do it, because most people will surprise themselves. And actually, we'll be able to do it. That said, we had exactly that situation two weeks ago, we're working in a college near where we live. And there was someone that really did not want to tell the other person story that really wasn't to do with it, literally, they do not like speaking in front of people. So my co facilitator worked with that group. And so the person they want to speak in public shared their story with that partner, and they told their story, when it came to telling the other person's story. They all work together on it. But then the facilitator told that story. 

Simon Currigan  22:26  

And this is being strategic and knowing your kidS?

Sean McGrath  22:29  

 Yeah, yeah. And it's knowing who's in the room. Again, you know, we do the training, we don't tend to run these in schools with the young people, you know, the plan is to train the staff in the schools, we can go in and do them. And that's fine. But it's much, much better if we teach the teachers and the staff how to run this. And they run them with the ultimate aim of teaching the kids how to run them, so that they're self facilitating,

Simon Currigan  22:47  

And it's better for them for the children to form a stronger connection with the adults in school than it is with you who won't be there all the time. 

Yeah, absolutely. And that's what it does. It does, it rebuilds those connections, and it stops it being them and us, you know, so narrative for who developed this process, a company in the states, they're based in the States, but they are a global company. We work in in association with them on this. And you know, they've done it in Detroit with young kids and cops, you know, and they all come out there and go, Oh, my God, you're human. Oh, my God, you're human who knew! Sort of builds those bridges? 

So can you give us a practical example of how you've used this model in schools with real kids? sort of what topic did you cover without kind of breaking any confidences, obviously, how did the kids react? And what kind of results did you see after that session?

Sean McGrath  23:29  

Yeah, so we did one, there's one on our website. Actually, there's a case study if no one's going to look at it, but we did one at Northampton college. And again, we use that simple brief, Lost and Found and and when we go, What do you mean Lost and Found is like, whatever you want, it could be an item you lost and found it could be a pearl, you know, someone told about a wallet that they lost, someone told about a Christmas present that they'd found on a bench and returned to the police station, someone told about a loved one that they'd lost, you know, it really was open, you know, they felt safe telling that and that was okay. And it was incredibly powerful. So we ran that over the course of a couple of days, we worked with 80 students in total. So we're doing all different year groups within all different courses within the college there, the quote from one of the staff members, the reach beyond the workshop was huge. The story exchange facilitated discussions on topics such as toxic masculinity and mental health. If the students were working on play, they could draw on the discussions to inform their performance. I also saw our students who have known each other for years develop a deeper level of understanding and empathy for each other following the workshop. So again, the topics that came out of it just got them used to speaking to each other as well. So these other issues did come out. And it got introduced into that ecology. 

Simon Currigan  24:35  

And what I like about this model as well is I mean, you've talked about some quite complex topics there with older students, but you could use this all the way right down to reception and year one. 

Sean McGrath  24:44  

I know I've been speaking about secondary schools a lot as well as because we tend to work in secondary schools more often. But these work in primary schools, you know, you just get the kids out a 30 second story or you know, targeting teachers know their young people, they know the capacity and capability. But you can be running these absolutely impressive. schools all the way down to reception in a very simplistic form, in fact, are highly recommended. That's where you need to build these communities.

Simon Currigan  25:06  

And I think it's sad actually, you started mentioning circle time, but the opportunity to have these kinds of discussions has really been stripped out of the curriculum in the last 10 years. And, you know, I'm not saying that's the only reason we're the situation we're in, but you know, there's gonna be a contributing,

Unknown Speaker  25:20  

it's a contributing factor. Yeah, you know, I'm a big fan of, you know, the McGilchrist divided brain, you know, we've become a very left brain administrative society and the powers that be have made our curriculum reflect that a little and we need to get back to more creative interventions, more storytime more building connections. 

Simon Currigan  25:35  

So if you're a teacher listening to this, what kind of skills or qualities do you need?  Ive said Teacher, any adult in school really isnt it ? What's what what kind of skills or qualities do they need or need to develop to do this? 

Sean McGrath  25:48  

Well, oh, good listening skills, good listening skills, a good communication skills. So we tend to go in with so we were in a training session is half day training session for schools, where we'll take them through the process in the sort of tried and tested version, okay, it's not rocket science, it's not a hard thing to run. But narrative Alchemy,  in the states have been doing this for some time, they're phenomenal at it. And their system works to sort of teach them their system, and will say, actually, if you need to break it, change it, diversify on it, for what's going to work in your school, knock yourself out, it's just a case of being able to be open and vulnerable themselves in the room with them young people as well, they need to know that the people sitting in there running this are able to do all these exchanges themselves, which is why the facilitators always start that exchange first, who will be showing that we're not gonna ask you to do anything, we have just done ourselves.

Simon Currigan  26:30  

I think having that sort of tested structure to start from is really helpful as an adult in school, isn't it? And I think the other thing you said there was actually really powerful because if we're asking the children to make self disclosures, and we're not reciprocating, then there is something about that doesn't feel right. I'm not saying teachers and adults should be telling kids about every little thing that's happening in their life. But in terms of just everyday relationships, if you're talking to someone and telling them something about yourself, and you get nothing back, I don't think that helps develop a relationship. 

Sean McGrath  26:59  

That's another thing, we've got a bit of a toxic culture that in many aspects of how we work with young people, the co director of the company Gemma is also a trained drama therapist, creative practitioner. And she found it very hard when working within organisations drama therapist that they were sitting with in training, it's never let them know anything about you. Nothing personal, nothing personal, nothing personal. . She never told me anything private never told me that she shouldn't speak but she let them know there was a fellow human in the room with them that had their own stories as well. And we need that humanity, we need to know the people that are trying to guide us through something our fellow humans as well. Okay, as you said, Nothing private, nothing that you don't want to tell them, but show up. Yeah, show up in the room as a human.

Simon Currigan  27:37  

If you're a teacher, a school leader listening to this podcast, and you're interested in this, I can't see why you wouldn't be. What's the first step you can take today, to start using the story exchange approach to supporting the kids that you work with in your school,?

 if you want to do things, you can give it a go, I've explained it a bit there. Or you can contact us and get us to come in and run a half day training session with your staff. And that might be quite a few schools do that with PSAP leads. But you know, the more the merrier. Really, we want about 16 staff in the room, and you can train them and then they can start disseminating it off. But yeah, they can pop to our website, Get in contact with us. And we could start a conversation around how we can train you up to run these things in your schools, and then how you can become self facilitating with that as well.

And I'll put direct link to your website in the in the show notes as well. So if you're listening, all you got to do is open up the podcast app and click directly through, click through with your finger. However you do it nowadays, Sean, it's been really interesting listening to you. We ask this of all of our guests who is the key figure that's influenced you? Or what is the key book that you've read? That's had the biggest impact on your approach to working with kids?

Sean McGrath  28:44  

And it's a tough one because there's so many people like Ian McGilchrist people like Bessel Van der Kolk, The body keeps the score. Again, they're quite academic books. For me, the most important practitioner is a chap called Dr. Martin Shaw, not the actor from Professionals. But he is a mythologist, he's a storyteller. He works all around the world. We're currently doing a scheme of work with him over the next year and looking at ancient myth, mythology and stories. And for me, it was that just understanding of just how powerful stories are and how they, how they connect us

Simon Currigan  29:14  

Sean, I've really enjoyed this, you've not only given our listeners and myself a lot of food for thought, but also you've given us lots of practical strategies, I think we can go out and start using with our kids right away. So thank you very much for being on the podcast. 

Sean McGrath  29:25  

Thank you.

Emma Shackleton  29:27  

So that was interesting. And I really liked that this is a structured approach, something that people can follow. And I also really liked the way that the students don't tell their own stories, but they actually have to repeat what their partner said to the group.

Simon Currigan  29:43  

Yeah, there's something that's protective about that, because you're not telling your own story in public. Maybe you'd feel less likely to be judged in that situation. But it also builds empathy and encourages kids to listen actively and deeply to each other. And if you want to know more about this approach, or Sean's work, I put a direct link in the episode description to all his resources, all you have to do is open your podcast app, look at the text that goes with this week's episode, and you'll see a link to tap that takes you directly to his website.

Emma Shackleton  30:11  

Perfect. And while you've got your podcast app open, it would be amazing if you could leave us a rating and review. This is something that really makes a difference to the show because when you leave a review, it tells the algorithm to share school behaviour secrets with other listeners. That will take you 30 seconds, and it will help us to reach other teachers, school leaders and parents who would find this information useful. 

Reviewing the show will make you feel as satisfied as a pedant who's just spotted the misuse of an apostrophe on a sign in a greengrocers and simply can't wait to tell the owner all about it. It's potatoes, plural, not possessive man, way to go grab a pen and chalk that up as another win. And yet strangely, that copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People is on right on your bookcase here.

That's all we've got time for today. Thank you for listening. We hope you have an excellent week and we can't wait to see you next time on school behaviour secrets. Bye for now.

Simon Currigan  31:09  


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)