On Thursday and Friday of this last week, I attended the Global Leadership Summit, a leadership conference I've attended for probably the last 10 years or so. The Summit features a diverse faculty of presenters - some I've heard of before, some I've not - and every year I walk away having learned worthwhile lessons that can shape my leadership and ministry. (Check out some of the ways I benefited from last year's Summit by clicking here.)
This year, one of the speakers who grabbed my attention most was a guy by the name of Ed Catmull that I wasn't really familiar with. (Though I am familiar with his body of work. Ed Catmull is the President of Pixar Animation - the studio that brought us Toy Story, Wall-E, The Incredibles, Inside Out, and more.)
I especially resonated with two statements Catmull made. Both statements align closely with what we're trying to through our classes at the Brookside Institute - even if these points seem counterintuitive to how people normally think about classroom and equipping environments.
"Stories are what are going to change the world."
As the guy at the top of a movie-making studio, of course we understand that Ed Catmull cares about stories. But classroom environments? Aren't those just about some isolated pieces of content that relate to a narrow, sometimes irrelevant slice of life? No. Emphatically no!
Classroom "best practices" embed the content being covered within the larger story of which it is a part. Whatever the subject, I believe a teacher can situate their material within a story that provides meaning and purpose, conflict, resolution, etc. As an independent exercise, consider "stories" of meaning, conflict (or opposition), and resolution in fields like medicine, science, history, construction, and education. What larger stories can be told about these things? If teachers don't locate their material within a larger story, they're missing out on capturing the vision of (or creating vision in) their students.
And then of course there's the ULTIMATE story - the story of what God is doing in creation. The introduction is awesome, where we learn who God is and all about His good creation. But the story remains riveting as we trace its trajectory: there's conflict (initiated when sin enters the world at the Fall, and continuing throughout), there's climax (the death and resurrection of God's Son Jesus Christ), and there's resolution (starting in the new life Jesus offers now, and culminating in the New Heavens and the New Earth). Within all this there's adventure, and failure, and sacrifice, and intrigue, and hope.
In other words, the Bible tells the ultimate (and true!) story of what God is doing in the world. Brookside Institute classes seek to locate the content of individual classes within this larger story - further drilling down into the storyline; equipping those in the classes to know the Author and understand what He is doing; and how to live in the context of the story where we find ourselves today.
So do Brookside Institute classes "tell a story" in every session? In a way. Are our classes part of a larger story, that we want to locate students within in every way we can? Yes - without hesitation.
"The ultimate goal of story is to connect with the emotions of people - to get them to feel something."
Here's a few more lines of what Ed Camull said on this point: "Stories are the way we communicate with each other at every level. Good stories are the ones that connect with the emotions. Form is important, but the ultimate goal is to connect with the emotions of people - to get them to feel something."
I love how Catmull alludes to the necessity of many factors in creating a story ("form is important"), but points to what is ultimately the goal in the stories he tells: "to get [people] to feel something."
When people take Institute classes, I'm encouraged by the feedback I often receive about the organization of class materials, the preparation of the teachers, and the substance of the content covered. These are all good things that we have tried to do well. We'll continue to do so. These are some of the many necessary factors in creating compelling classes.
But I want to strive to a goal that is more than any of those things individually. (Though here's where I might diverge a bit from Catmull in his ultimate goal for the stories he tells.) My ultimate goal is to present truth, equip people with skills, and connect with their emotions - so that their values, desires, and affections are shaped. I want Institute classes to present compelling truth about who God is and what it means that Jesus saves us from our sins. I want Institute classes to equip people to understand the Bible and practice spiritual disciplines. I want Institute classes to connect with the emotions of people and show how the Bible speaks to joy and sadness, that the Bible includes stories of depression and exhilaration and satisfaction.
But ultimately I want all these things to shape the values of those in our classes, so that their affections increase for God's Word and the One to whom it points. I want people to WANT to grow in Christlikeness fueled by God's grace, to WANT to do hard things that are nevertheless the right things.
Have you ever been in classes that have effectively "located" the content within a larger story? Or have you been in a class that shaped your values? Share what happened, and any particular things that contributed to these "learning outcomes."
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