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Leadership Aria: Mapping The Art of Telling Your Story


Linda Belans, EdD.


Aria: a song that is sung by only one person, as in an opera or oratorio, as part of a larger work.


"In a role of public leadership, we really don’t have a choice about telling our story of self."

     Marshall Ganz, Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard University

Leaders engaged in the urgent work of urgent education have an obligation to know how to tell the story of self to students, families the community, to teachers, and staff.  We want to connect with the values that drive leaders because they are my values, our values, the community's values. We want to feel inspired. To feel hopeful. We want to feel your impatience with a system that allows our students to fail. We want to know how you turn anger, despair, and futility into hope, vision, and a plan. How does your story intersect with the near and distant future for our students and families? What is the song you sing?

Be fearless      Dig deep 

Transform stories and data into music and lyrics for your Aria


  • M is for Moment: Take us to a moment that holds your Truth and defines you: a challenge or aspiration that you have worked through; an interaction with a student, family or community member. Tell a particular story because the specific is universal and tells the story of Us. Be succinct.

  • A is for Audience: Know your audience so you can connect with them. Ask yourself: Why am I telling this particular story at this particular time? What do they already know? What new information do I bring to them? What do I want them to walk away chewing on, repeating or acting on?

  • P is for Prepare and Practice: Prepare as though you are answering questions you wish someone would ask you. Weave stories and data that can be defined in many ways including statistical, anecdotal and observational data. Identify questions that you hope no one will ask because someone surely will. Practice telling your story but don’t memorize it. Ask for specific feedback: Do I seem authentic? Do I make clear points? Do I inspire others to act?

  • P is for Present tense: Tell your story in the present tense to bring you and your audience closer to it. Do not use Power Point to repeat what you are saying. PowerPoint can reduce your gorgeous orchestration to elevator music – your multi-dimensional self-portrait into a paint-by-numbers canvas. You are the storyteller. You have the power. You are what moves people to action.

  • I is for Integrate and Inspire: Integrate your head and your heart to inspire the audience to feel and to act.

  • N is for Narrative: Create your narrative anchored in a memorable phrase that becomes the musical motif for the score you are creating (I have a dream… Yes we can… I do this work because…This is what schools are for).

  • G is for Generosity: Embody a deep sense of generosity toward your audience and hold a bigger vision of them than they may have of themselves.


Step forward and raise your single voice to move the larger community forward.


                Author, States of Being: Leadership Coaching for Equitable Schools

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