Developing Cohesion and Building Positive Relationships through Storytelling in a Culturally Diverse New Zealand Classroom

Jan. 15, 2011

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 27, Issue 1, (January 2011), Pages 107-115  (Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study was designed to investigate what participants learnt about themselves, others and cultural perspectives when they told and listened to one another’s personal stories. An additional focus for this research related to the pedagogical processes used, and asked what processes were most effective in creating a classroom environment where such perspectives could be generated.


Four interrelated factors emerged as key to developing a culturally inclusive classroom:
Developing the way of working
In order to achieve the responses and shifts in understanding, a way of working was developed. The four aspects contributing to this included: the setting, the principles guiding the process, the change in power relations and participant readiness and willingness to participate.

Establishing a caring, supportive learning environment
Several changes contributed to the development of this factor including gained knowledge of their teachers, change in classroom tone, change in student journal responses, and change in role.

Privileging participant student voice through personal stories
Students’ personal stories was the third factor contributing to the shift in their understanding and privileging their voices that resulted in the development of a culturally inclusive classroom environment.

Enhanced participant connectedness and relationship change
The fourth factor contributing to the shift in participant understanding when students discovered similarities and differences and experienced changes in their connectedness and relationships, thus further developing a culturally inclusive environment. Though their backgrounds were different, their experiences were similar and individually they acknowledged how newly gained skills impacted on their lives and interactions with others. Students tied others’ stories to their own lives, and over time their thoughts and emotions deepened.
Storytelling apparently helped them to look at things in a different way, to engage and encourage new ways of communicating and changing their perceptions and attitudes towards others.

Concluding thoughts

It appears that this approach to sharing personal stories offered sensitivity to students’ backgrounds, experiences and differences, privileged student voice, and affirmed respect for individual lived experiences.
This approach could be used at the beginning of the year, before entering the curriculum, to develop students’ ability to listen attentively, to build relationships and to gain understandings of others, maximizing curriculum learning opportunities, as students would be prepared to take risks in their learning knowing others would respect them and their ideas.

This project was situated in a Year 10 drama class in a co-educational, secondary state school in a lower socio-economic area of the lower North Island of New Zealand. The project explored the perspectives of 24 students (11 boys and 13 girls) aged between 13 and 14 at the time of this study. Students identified themselves as belonging to six cultural ethnicities – New Zealand European, Mäori (indigenous people of New Zealand), Mäori European, Samoan, Fijian-Indian and German.

Four storytelling workshops were designed to provide participants with opportunities to listen to, and tell personal stories and reflect in a journal directly after each participant story was told.

Data were collected through journal entries, focus group and individual interviews and participant comments in reflective circles and researcher field notes.

Updated: Nov. 03, 2011