Exchanging Stories: Learning from Each Others Lived Experiences

by Abby Wills, MA
Shanti Generation

Every person has a story.

In our stories live countless lessons and possibilities for learning. Stories are living bridges between our past and future; our ancestors and our descendants.

The act of telling our stories opens the way for us to shape them. As we see our own experiences reflected through the listening eyes and ears of others, we gain new perspectives. Likewise, when we listen to another person share their story, we become mirrors reflecting back to them an understanding, a validation, or perhaps another angle, or question. During the exchange of stories, both teller and listener are affected.

The exchange of personal stories has been utilized as a tool for learning throughout history, and has a current presence in diverse learning environments.

I came to value story sharing during my studies at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena where I was required to write stories from my early years and other stages of my own life cycle. Rather than sending me to research the works of theorists right away, my professors first asked me to reflect on my life experience. This allowed me to locate myself in the theoretical information I would subsequently engage with.

The Human Development curriculum at Pacific Oaks introduced me to educators masterful in utilizing students’ stories as the “stuff of learning.”

“Education is not a preparation for life itself. Education is life itself.” John Dewey

The oft-quoted words of Dewey point to the essence of storytelling in education. Our stories are our lives. Our lives themselves contain the context through which we will learn best. In Dewey’s style of democratic education, the story is written in real time and is a shared experience of discovery. In this sense, each students experience enters the learning environment as vital content.

Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, utilized peoples lived experiences to help them learn to read, thereby empowering them with the tools to vote. Inviting someone to share their story provokes agency in that person. Bringing students personal stories alive in the classroom means that we make a space for learners to enter into the learning as subjects.

As our stories are told and heard, they come alive. In telling our stories, we gain a new view of our lives. Listening to other peoples stories reveals just how interconnected our paths really are. The context of my hardships may be very different from yours, yet we have all overcome many obstacles to be able to share our stories today.

Pacific Oaks College



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5 responses to “Exchanging Stories: Learning from Each Others Lived Experiences

  1. Dawn

    This article is very interesting. I fully agree that learning from other people’s stories and experiences can be very rich and magical. After all, that is exactly what we are doing every time we pick up a history book. Knowing someone who has actually been through events can make these events even richer. I used to love listening to my grandmother talking about driving trucks during WWII and my grandfather telling me about my heritage…Choctaw Culture. Great-great grandpa talked about how it was to go from horse and buggy to man on the moon. Amazing learning experiences.

    • Thanks for sharing a bit of your story, Dawn. It’s a real treasure to know about your own heritage. And you will never forget those stories because you have an emotional connection to them. It’s true, the content of history books may or may not be retained, depending on how well students are able to locate themselves in the stories.

      Check out Llano Grande Center:
      They engage in community-based research through dialogue and storytelling from elders.

  2. Rod Kenyon


    I am grateful for your post. I use storytelling in teaching my public speaking classes as a way for students to break the ice while engaging each other. I plan to use many of your comments to further encourage my students. Thank you also for the Palo Freire clip.

    Rod Kenyon
    Butte Community College, Oroville, CA

    • Thanks for your comment, Rod. Seems like the Community College circuit has rich potential for transforming education. I wonder how much autonomy you feel as a teacher in your institute?

      • Rod Kenyon

        You ask an interesting question. I am adjunct at three schools: one state university and two community colleges. At the university I have very little autonomy (next to none: I am told what to cover) and at one community college a bit more autonomy (they choose my textbook for me but the rest is up to me). The other community offers me carte blanche: I order my own textbooks and can teach anything I want within guidelines for the discipline. It is interesting to experience different academic freedom philosophies. (I apologize for taking so long to reply – I am just getting the hang of this blogging thing.)

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