Scott M. Curran: Impact Storytelling
In this episode of SchoolCEO Conversations, we speak with Scott M. Curran, an expert consultant focused on impact storytelling, social impact, and philanthropy. He shares what impact storytelling is and how it can engage and inspire staff.
In this episode of SchoolCEO Conversations, we speak with Scott M. Curran, an expert consultant focused on impact storytelling, social impact, and philanthropy. Scott has advised high-profile leaders including President Bill Clinton. He shares what impact storytelling is, how it can engage and inspire staff, bring communities together, and help nonprofits and schools alike achieve their missions. Listeners will learn practical storytelling frameworks and be inspired to craft their own impact stories.
In this episode of SchoolCEO Conversations, we speak with Scott Curran, an expert in impact storytelling. He discusses what impact storytelling is, how it can engage and inspire staff, bring communities together, and help nonprofits and schools alike achieve their missions. Listeners will learn practical frameworks for crafting stories and be inspired to craft their own stories.
Join this conversation to learn more about:
- The power of storytelling to shape community and culture
- Defining "impact storytelling" and how it differs from typical storytelling
- Overcoming common hesitations in identifying impact stories
- Using the "GPS framework" (Goal, Problem, Solution) to craft impact stories
- Understanding benefits of impact storytelling: achieving "big, bold goals," navigating change and rallying to overcome challenges
- Telling impact stories as a leadership practice - lessons from working with presidents
Scott counsels leaders of social enterprises in developing social impact strategies, growing organizational capacity, and creating projects, programs, and partnerships that achieve measurable results.
Scott founded Beyond Advisers to work with social innovators, nonprofits, philanthropists, governments, and private sector leaders to design and build their organizations and initiatives for impact. He teaches and lectures on the role of lawyers in social innovation, advises law schools in developing social impact clinical practices, and consults with law firms to develop social impact practice groups. Crain’s Chicago Business called the class he teaches one of “the coolest classes for law students.”
Prior to starting Beyond Advisers, Scott served as General Counsel for the Clinton Foundation. During a decade of service to the Clinton Foundation, Scott established, grew, and led the legal team that supported a global operating charity with over 2,000 staff and volunteers working in 36 countries on more than a dozen initiatives. Scott led the team of in-house professionals and outside firms that created the organizational and operational structures that supported the Clinton Foundation’s board, enterprise systems, and program teams during their most prolonged and intensive period of growth.
Tyler Vawser (Host): All right. Well, Scott Curan, thank you so much for joining SchoolCEO conversations.
Scott Curan (Guest): I'm thrilled to be here, Tyler. Thank you.
Tyler Vawser (Host): Well, the first time we spoke, Scott, you told me this phrase, the stories we tell shape the community we live in. And I loved that. And I wonder if you could just start by telling me and the audience what you mean by that.
Scott Curan (Guest): Yeah, I mean, storytelling goes back to the beginning of human history, right? Cave drawings and hieroglyphics and everything else, right. It's all about storytelling at the end of the day. It's about not just the communities we live in, but the communities we work in, the communities we serve, which sometimes are a world away, or the lives we impact in the case of educators and really everybody else in the world, in my view.
But storytelling at its core is what unites us, especially now, especially when we have these little devices in our pocket that connect us to the world, whether that's across the street, next door, around the world, and the challenges and opportunities we face. And at the end of the day, I'm always looking for that through line of a good story in how we are connected and how we work together and how we serve.
Tyler Vawser: Very good. And we talked a bit about impact storytelling. And this has really been a big part of your career. You're working with nonprofits, you're working with social impact groups, so I'd love for you to dig into that. We talk a lot about storytelling in K-12, but that phrase impact storytelling, I think is a bit different. Can you define what that is and how it might be different than typical storytelling in the way that we understand it?
Scott Curan: Yeah. And I love it. Isn't it fun to think about just adding one word in the front of that and how it can change the way we think about it and look at it? Right. There's storytelling in all of our lives and our families and our communities and our work. And then there's impact storytelling. I think it's fun. Take a beat and think about what that means for you, your work, your family. Like, we can tell stories about our day, but what if we tell our most impactful story? And the reason it matters to me and my work is having worked at the intersection of law, global philanthropy and now sort of the wider umbrella of social impact which encompasses the work of nonprofits businesses serving a social impact end or social enterprises an increasingly popular and common space in between the two.
Telling your most impactful story is usually the thing that helps you identify and communicate your competitive advantage. Right? So if I'm just taking the world of nonprofits, or even schools and educators, right, which for the most part are nonprofits, the vast majority of them, and they're trying to have an impact on the world around them, the lives they serve, the communities they serve, and the world in which they're located, in which they serve. How you make an impact is usually going to reveal your competitive advantage. And so if you're just talking about nonprofits, for example, as just a straw person we can play with for a minute, nonprofits are an incredibly competitive market, right? There's lots of nonprofits serving very common causes. And many of them that seek funding have to be competitive in their market to attract funders donors dollars that help fuel their work, right?
So they have to tell their most impactful story to compete in that marketplace. That's true for anybody who's ever had to fight for a budget dollar or who has to advocate for their program or their activity to survive, much less thrive. And so impact storytelling for nonprofits, but really for everybody, in my view, matters more than just storytelling alone and being able to say what is uniquely ours to give, how we uniquely show up in the world, what our work uniquely does. To transform the lives and communities we serve is most often the biggest and best part of marketing your wares in the nonprofit space, or really in any impactful space, including, but not limited to schools and education. And so storytelling is so fundamental to everything we do and how we interact and how we engage and how we show up in the world. But impact storytelling takes it to another level and it's full of promise, possibility and opportunity every day. And to focus on that, not just storytelling, but the impact we have. And impact storytelling that results can really be transformative. It can separate good from great
Tyler Vawser: So is impact storytelling something you can do every day and you're trying to find new stories, fresh stories? Or is it more like the one big story that your organization tells over and over again?
Scott Curan: Both and both and both and never, neither or always at both and I think there's power in that. So yeah, it is going to be that through line. I love the quote, vision drives mission. And where focus goes, energy flows. So if you have a big vision or a big bold goal that you're pursuing, let's say a school district, a department, a teacher, or in my usual world, a nonprofit that's serving a charitable purpose or attempting to achieve a specific top line outcome, that's going to be that through line. That vision driven mission that they're focused on and telling an impact story around, that is usually what's going to keep eyes on donor dollars in and fuel for that vision driven mission.
So in that regard, it is this top line evergreen story that you're always trying to tell as an organization. And it's something we do every day, right? For me, certainly, I've got a lot of well caffeinated enthusiasm. I work solely in the social impact space spanning sectors, right? Philanthropy, nonprofits, private sector and social enterprises. So I'm always in the space of vision driven missions. But I believe we have that in our lives every day if we're doing it right. And that's certainly a privileged lens to use. I acknowledge that. Right there's a lot of people just trying to get by and that's definitely a part of many of the communities we serve, whether that's as educators or as nonprofits or otherwise. But I think that the best of us are always looking at an evergreen vision driven mission and hopefully pursuing that in an impactful way every day. And so it's a both and it's both an evergreen long term vision and it is something that we do every day.
Tyler Vawser: When you're advising or consulting with a nonprofit and you're having these conversations about we need to find our impact story, like let's start talking about it. What do you think holds people back? Right? Maybe you're confident that you're going to find one, but the client, the nonprofit in this case is thinking, gosh, we tell stories all the time but I just don't know what it is that's really impactful for us. What are the mistakes or what are the hesitations or what are some of the self driven doubts that organizations have about their own impactful story?
Scott Curan: I would say two things overlooking the beginner's mindset and then drilling down on what is uniquely theirs to give. First, the beginner's mindset, most of us, including but not limited to nonprofit leaders, are so steeped in what we do every day. Pick your title, your role, your job, right? We're so in it and just what has to be done next. We get caught up in the monotony of life and whatever today's pressure might be or whatever, I just got to get through the day and we all have those days. But in the process of that or a new school year kicks off and everything's really focused and intense at the beginning and we're feeling really good. But then November, December, or February or March sets in and we're just in the soup, right? Or I'm stuck in a big client project or whatever. And so we overlook that beginner's mindset of what we do at our core. And so I find a lot of nonprofits that I work primarily with growth stage nonprofits. And when I talk about growth stage, what I'm signaling there is I tend not to work with startups and I tend not to work with organizations in crisis and I can unpack that if it's helpful.
But I'm working with those that are at a pivot point. They're in a growth stage for one reason or another. They're coming off a strategic plan. Maybe they've had change management. Maybe they are coming out of a funding cycle, their grant has ended or maybe they're coming into a new one. They got some of that sweet Mackenzie Bezos money. And yes, I've worked with those organizations that had that check show up or they successfully got a big grant, and I'm working with one of those right now. They got a transformative grant I mean, tens of millions of dollars to pursue their big, bold goal. Those moments have magic in them, but you don't have to wait for that pivot point to spend that time.
So what I always encourage the clients I find who are stuck, or at a pivot point, I'm usually saying, what's at your core? Speak to me like I'm brand new to you. Tell me what you do at your core. What is the thing that is uniquely yours to give? That was number two, right? Take me back. Give me a beginner's mindset. Pretend I just met you. What do you do? And I'm listening for that. What is uniquely theirs to give? But because we get caught up in the day to day, the monotony, the task list, the challenges, the moment, the hassles and pains of every day or living life, we sometimes forget the magic of that beginner's mindset. Explaining to someone what you do, right? I'm a teacher. I teach fourth grade. I teach reading or English or science. I transform lives. We lose the I transform lives why we got into it in the first place. Traditionally, on paper, you might say I'm a lawyer, right? I went straight from undergrad to law school. I practiced corporate law starting at 24, and then I left it five years later and went on a new career journey that I'm still on today, right? I'm in this adventurous career thing, but a lot of people see me on papers. I'm a lawyer, and I just spoke on a panel to law students two weeks ago today, and I said, hey, you're at this magical moment, the beginning of your career. They spent the whole week hearing people tell them the next three years are going to be brutal. It's hard, it's competitive, people throw elbows, et cetera, et cetera. And I was like, but wait, take a minute and look at this.
This is the beginning of a journey. And never forget this moment. I remember it crystal clear. And that was for me 22 years ago, but I still remember that magical moment. Never lose that sight, that beginner's mindset of who I am and what I do in the space. There's power and magic in the beginning and remembering what that is really, really matters. And we forget it too often when telling the story of who we are, what we do, and how we show up and how that helps transform lives and communities.
Tyler Vawser: That's really helpful. Yeah, I think that's really helpful. And the reason is because I think we take education for granted, right? Just go back 50 years ago and then 100 years ago, and public education did not look like it does today, right? It was not serving everyone. It was not as pervasive. It was not as structured and focused on the whole person, the whole student, right? So I think that's really interesting is that we can take education and other services that have become common as we just take it for granted.
Scott Curan: Yes. And we're the place where an increasingly larger number of kids, especially those in need, spend the majority of their day kids spend the majority of their day if not sleeping in school. And that's a powerful thing. And that to me is that beginner's mindset, like school, is where kids spend their time and transform as humans. That's a great impact storytelling start right there, right? And then you multiply at times every kid and think about their story. Then you multiply at times every teacher they encounter in a day, every subject that opens their eyes and minds to what they're experiencing.
I have a brand new middle schooler who just started 7th grade last week and a high schooler who just started high school two weeks ago. I don't lose the beginner's mindset with them. I have to remember what they're experiencing. And I literally think about it as this world is getting bigger for them every day, with every experience they're happening. I heard my daughter last night not talk about a transformative experience she had in a class yet, but about a teacher who helped her open her jammed locker. And she told me the story of it. And I thought about the impact that teacher was having on her. Because it's not a teacher she has, but it's a gifted and talented teacher that taught my son who she knows through that experience and who she now. Made a connection with and who she saw as an adult who helped her open her locker during a time restricted passing period where a jammed locker can be a traumatic event for a student in their first week. And I thought about the care of that teacher to take that moment to connect with her and help her and make the personal connection and how that's going to impact my daughter over time in that relationship, which remains yet to unfold.
But I think about the beginnings of that and how that experience is unfolding for her and my son, who's thrown himself fully into the high school experience. He's doing band and running cross country and throwing himself into all the things. And it's this incredibly powerful beginning of a new chapter in his story. And I literally find myself every day excited to hear what's next, not just as a parent and not just as a fan of our education system, but knowing that this is unfolding in ways none of us can yet anticipate. And there's going to be so many cool chapters in their stories as we go that's going to transform their lives the same way those impactful teachers in school environments transformed mine and continue to transform mine.
Tyler Vawser: Yeah, that's really good. Impact storytelling seems a bit luxurious, right? Like it's something nice to do if you have the time. Can you use impact storytelling when you're delivering critical messages, something that's urgent, it's sensitive. How can you use impact storytelling when that's the type of communication that needs to happen?
Scott Curan: Yes, you can. The How, is do it every day. Make it second nature. Build the muscle as you go and grow. Right? It's like going to the gym, right? If you go to the gym one time, you're just sore. Even if you did all the exercises in the gym that it makes possible, if you do it all at one time, you're just going to be sore and you're never going to to go back. Pattern recognition and repetition produces results, right? So you start it, you do it, you keep doing it. So when it's difficult, right, a difficult moment, a challenging circumstance, or how it's going to work? Let's just stick with the locker for a second. Hey, I know this is frustrating or stressful, but don't worry about it. It's going to be okay. This will become second nature to you. You'll learn how to unjam the locker yourself or position your binder so that wonky binder. That's required to have but doesn't quite fit in the locker that causes the jam locker. We're learning that that's the cause of our daughter's jammed locker positioning it the right way so that it decreases the likelihood that this is going to happen. That's problem solving in real time. Right?
So let's talk about whether it's a challenging student or a colleague situation, or maybe you're a supervisor, a manager, a leader who's giving difficult feedback. Yes, it can be used in that moment. Right? Because we're all living the story of you, right? We're all living the story of us. We all are all the hero of our own journey. We are, right? We all care about us and the journey we're having. Those of us in service professions are required to care about the people in our charge, right? I'm a consultant. If I'm wearing my hat as an attorney, whatever the case may be, my client is the important person in that equation, and I'm there to serve them. If I'm a teacher, it's my students, my colleagues, my school, my district, my community.
So let's say we're having a challenging moment with a colleague or a student. Hey, I know this is a struggle or I know this is a difficult situation or a hard piece of feedback to receive, but you're on a path to greatness, and I'm just here to help us get there. And this is one of those bumps in the road or stumbling blocks that we're going to get over together. And today's conversation is about that process. I just told the story of you. I didn't say you screwed up. I literally had this conversation with a colleague, and that mirrored a conversation we're having with a client who we're guiding through an extremely difficult leadership challenge. Right now, we're guiding the board through managing a CEO through a very difficult period. Let's turn that into a story of success. Let me be clear. It's a brutally hard situation, and I don't have high hopes it's going to work out great, but it's very negative. There's negatives all over it. It's quite a crisis type situation for the organization, but we're having a positive mindset, and we're trying to tell the most positively impactful story and assuming success in the process, which is a huge part of it. Let's assume we're going to get through this. Let's assume we're going to succeed. Let's chart the path through that. And that's the story of them coming through this difficult situation. So using impact storytelling, let's assume this was a challenge you faced on your hero's journey, and let's look at what the success path looks like, what has to be true for us to succeed and achieve. So that when we look back on this some period of time from now 30, 60, 90 days, six months or a year. We look at this as a transformative opportunity, a great challenge that you overcame in your story. And that's the power of it.
It sounds a little high and mighty to say, impact storytelling, what is that? What does that mean? How does it work? And we talk about the how of it, because the how is that nitty gritty of putting things on paper and saying, this is how we get here, from A to B or A to Z, as the case may be. But it's true for every one of us. If you look at your life as a whole story, then every day is a page in a chapter in a section of that book. And so if you use this frame and adopt it to any given situation, any given day, challenge, opportunity, the life of any child, peer, colleague, community, it works. It's an overlay and a lens you can use in every single part of life and work. I have yet to find it not work.
Tyler Vawser: Yeah. So just to define impact storytelling a little bit more before we continue, is it just reminding yourself of the vision and the mission of the organization and then trying to bring that thread into every story?
Scott Curan: Yes. And it's what is uniquely ours to give. So you said, what are the two things that organizations are overlooking when I consult with them? So if I find a nonprofit or an organization struggling with articulating what they do or how they do it, or found somebody saying, I'm stuck in the mud, I'm spinning my wheels, whatever metaphor you want to use, say, well, what do you do? Tell me what you do. Okay? And they can explain that to me, and I can use a couple of examples if it would be helpful. But then I say, well, what is uniquely yours to give in that? What is it that you do? What is your superpower? What do you do better than anybody in the world? That's your impact story, right? I can be an attorney in some moments. I can be a consultant in some moments. I can be an expert in philanthropy or nonprofits or in the wider social impact world. I'm also a teacher myself. I teach a law school class at my old law school, right? So there's moments when I show up as an adjunct professor at my law school and the students see me in that role.
So what role, what hat, what cape, if we're going with superpowers, am I wearing in this moment, right? And teachers know this because sometimes you're delivering content to students on the subject you teach. Other times you're there as a shoulder to cry on, a safe space in which to share something, a mentor and a guide or somebody who gives that rocket fueled shot in the arm in the moment that changes a kid's lives. And we've all had those teachers, myself included. And sometimes it's a moment, and sometimes it's a lifetime experience. So impact storytelling is how you show up and what your role is in that moment. Right?
Within SchoolCEO, we have some really simple, very accessible frameworks. We know what most people are, right? And you can go I don't want to say bottom up, top down from a hierarchy or importance perspective because I don't believe in that. I think you don't have to be the boss to be a leader. So important. You do not have to be the boss to be a leader. And I was thinking about it in the traditional sense. I was like, where do I start? Do I start with superintendent, principal, department chairs, teachers, support staff, custodial staff, et cetera? But one of my earliest experiences was with a custodian in my elementary school who was so nice to everybody all the time. And we've all seen now with the advent of iPhones and TikTok and social media, we've seen tons of heartwarming stories about those people and how transformative students and teachers and administrators lives are with those people. And so I don't believe in top down, bottom up. I understand hierarchy and structure in workplaces. We all do. We don't need help on that. But knowing that everybody is a leader and everybody has an impact on the lives around them, you don't need me to tell you that.
You see it all the time in those stories. But if you know what your role is in that space every day, and you know what opportunity you have to impact people, that is your impact story. And it's right there and immediately accessible to everybody, this is not out of reach. This is something we all have and do every single day. How I show up here with you, how I show up on my next call with a client, how I show up with my colleagues and articulate the vision for what we're going to do together and how we're going to help an existing client or a prospect or someone else who came to us and said, hey, we're facing this incredible opportunity or a challenge. How do you recommend we get through it? Who and how we are every day in the roles we play is part of our impact story. It's who we are and how we show up in the world. And to me, there's very few more inspiring professions than professional educators and those who work in that ecosystem. Yes, it's the teachers, yes, it's the principals. And both of my in laws, my mother in law and father in law were both educators who became principals at neighboring schools in a very small town in Oklahoma. And my mother in law stayed in it after my father in law retired and she became superintendent.
So I've seen it firsthand. My sister in law, same side of the family, is a science teacher. I hear and see it in her work every day. I've got kids in school. I'm going to curriculum night tonight in a high school for the first time ever, and I can't wait to see this alive. And you see it in the teachers who get this. They don't have to use the words impact storytelling, but they know what they're a part of. They know they're teaching more than the subject they teach on. They don't know any more than I do which student's life is going to be transformed this semester by some interaction or experience they're going to have. But I would offer this. If impact storytelling as a framework, as a concept, or an idea, or as a practice is new to you, put it to work. Give yourself permission to be an impact storyteller for and about your own life and your own work first in the lives and day to day work of the students, the school, and the community you serve, and start wrapping the stories you tell around that. And we can talk about how if that's helpful. I'd put a really intentional pause there to say we can get tangible.
Tyler Vawser: Let's do talk about how. But I guess before we get there, what I like about what you're saying is that it's not just at that organizational top level, right? Obviously, it's great if it gets there, but starting at the bottom, so to speak, having every person kind of know their own impact story, have their own, for lack of a better word, brand and understand how their work fits in with a larger theme throughout their career. Their life. Their personal life. I think that's really meaningful, and I think individuals often discount that. And they're looking at the larger organization. But what a great foundation to build an impactful story upon, right? If you're a superintendent and you're wanting to build that, helping individuals, teachers, custodians, bus drivers understand their own impact stories along the way.
Scott Curan: Yeah, if you're a leader, if you are a principal, a superintendent, a department chair, whatever the case may be. There's no small roles, right? Only small actors. That's just for the drama folks out there. There are no small roles, only small actors. Every role matters. Every role is important and every role has a story to tell. Otherwise it wouldn't be here, we wouldn't be doing it. And set your vision, set those goals high. And when we get into talking about the how, the first thing we're going to talk about is goal. Your goals should be big. There should be a big bold goal. Your goals should be slightly out of reach or they're not big enough, right? Some of them should be, right? You should have a big bold goal that you're working towards.
Have the best year ever to be the best science teacher in my department, to impact, to ignite a fire in the lives of students who may not have seen the power and possibilities of science. And then pick your other topic and you can insert that there based on whatever subject you teach. You can have big bold goals and should have big bold goals and then supporting goals that help you get there. But you don't have to have the biggest, best or desired budget. You don't have to have all the things you might need to still have an impact on a day to day basis. And that's important, right? That mindset matters. Mindset really, really matters. And to know that even if we don't have ideally everything we think we need, we can still set the vision that might help us get there and have the achievements that help make an even stronger case for those resources down the road, right? Schools, especially public schools, are generally resource restricted. They don't have enough of what they need to do all the things they want. But if they set the vision for achieving that and start explaining the transformation in the lives and the communities they serve, that would be possible. If we achieve it and start showing successes and what has happened as a result of those successes and then make the argument for what would be possible if we could do more of that, if we could pour gasoline on that fire.
If we could take Good and move it to Great, that's going to be a very compelling story that talks about the impact we can have if we just get the budget allocation this much higher, or if we can get this grant, or if we can partner with this organization, or opportunity to pick the topic. It's fine to have well caffeinated enthusiasm about this concept or this idea of telling impactful stories and seeing ourselves as part of this journey, our own and those we serve. But how? The business of how is super important, right? It's great to want to have a positive impact in the world. It's great to be a nonprofit that serves a charitable purpose and you can pick it and we can do this for hours. Right? Food insecurity, housing insecurity, environmental degradation, plastic in the oceans, just go to dog rescue, you pick it. You can do this for a very long time, right? Underfunded public schools, books being banned in libraries, et cetera, et cetera, there's all kinds of challenges that are out there. It almost becomes overwhelming. It's almost too much. And that's when we sort of revert to the day to day and it's easy to get bogged down in the challenges.
There's power in the enthusiasm and opportunity of impact storytelling. And it starts with the first part of the how. I love the framework of the GPS storytelling model. Goal, problem, solution, GPS. It's easy to remember, right? We use GPS to provide direction in our vehicles or as we're walking or running, whatever the case may be. But use your GPS. So the how of impact storytelling should use the GPS system. Goal problem, solution. And this works. And in my experience, it works at scale and it works sustainably. My goal as an educator, as a teacher this semester is to blank the problem, or problems, as the case may be, that I have in achieving this goal. Are this the solution is this my goal is to have a positive impact on the lives of students I teach. The problem is I'm underfunded, under-resourced. My classroom is bigger than it's ever been. I've got more students than I've ever had. I have more challenged students than I've ever had. I've got more hungry students, distracted students, more iPhones in the classroom than I can shake a stick at, and no policy preventing them. This is something being discussed in our school districts about the phone use and what's allowed.
And I hear about this from my own students who are still in their first my own children who are students in their first week at their respective schools are talking about the kids using phones, being completely distracted the whole time. And I'm like, well, they're not getting the education the teacher is trying to deliver. Then I think as a teacher myself, as somebody who teaches a law school class, I told the students, I said, I have to give you a big reveal here. I can tell it's so easy to see when you're standing up here, who's under the table with their phone, who's clearly not paying attention, right? The beat is off. They're not nodding their head. They're not smiling at my silly jokes. They're not alert when I'm saying something that I know is going to grab their attention. I was like, just so you know, I can tell there's various levels of how much I care about it for grad students taking an elective course, but you can tell the problems can be myriad, right? It could be I'm underfunded, my class size is too big. My students are too distracted. They're coming to school hungry. I teach a class late in the day or after lunch during the energy slump. Whatever the problem is, and the solution reveals the opportunity in front of us, right? How do I address that challenge to help them overcome this so that this is nothing more than a speed bump, or that we find our way around the challenge? But I love the GPS model of goal problem solution, and that works at the macro level. The year long, big, bold goal. I want to be the best science teacher at this elementary school. I want to have a greater impact on the largest number of students ever. I want to get through the challenge of COVID and remote teaching just a couple of years ago. The goal is how do we get through this unprecedented challenging time? The problem is we're not in school together. We're teaching via electronic means we've never had before. The solution is to lean in, show up, work hard every day, and try to connect and communicate with these kids through this new method in the best way we can. And within that, by the way, under each of those, the G, the P, and the S, there's supporting pieces, they're supporting goals, they're supporting problems, and they're supporting solutions.
But I love that method for getting to a bigger, bolder vision of how we tell, by the way, isn't that a great impact story right now? How we got through it now, we didn't get through it perfectly. There's all kinds of lingering effects that remain part of today's problems. Kids are further behind. Their scores aren't as high, their capacity isn't where it's supposed to be. The goal now is to tackle that curve as quickly as we can to get those kids up to speed. The problem is we're trying to teach them this year's content while making up for the deficiencies that happened before. The solution is something we'll have to define together, and you probably already have if this is familiar to you, and that will be your next impact story. And my guess is, when the kids who are slightly behind on the curve because of the pandemic challenges graduate from high school and or college, that's going to be part of the stories told. My guess is for those who've seen graduating classes in the past year or two, they've already told those stories at commencement about how we were hit. Our goal was to get through your K, through six middle school or high school or collegiate careers with the best, most quality education possible. But we ran into a problem. We had this pandemic and it threw everybody off their game and required big Pivots. But we found the solutions: Zoom was available to most, if not all of us. We figured out ways of connecting when connecting in person was no longer possible or was made more difficult, and we overcame that. I think that has probably been the story told at multiple graduations in just the past couple years.
Again, it exists at the macro level and the micro level every day. But the goal, the problem, the solution try that out as a framework with a kid who's underperforming. Hey, Scotty, I see you're not applying yourself as much, and we want you to have the best possible experience in 6th grade. I'm thinking of 6th grade, Scott Kern. We want you to get ready so that you can attack Eisenhower Junior High at your highest and best capacity. The challenge we've run into, Scott, is we're seeing you're not applying yourself. You seem to be struggling with math. Oh, gosh, do I struggle with math. That story has not changed, but we've got solutions to help you, and it looks like this. Do you need a little extra support? I noticed you're sitting at your table with your buddy Joe. Should we move tables? Do you want to set up your Trapper Keeper, your folder, so that you're really focused on the worksheet in front of you and not what's happening in the classroom around do we and these are all real stories, right? These were things that people did to help me be a better student. I was always at my best. Scott could achieve more if he applied himself. I am certain there are people listening to this who know those students. And so I know that we can use this frame because it's worked for me in my own life. The goal is to help Scott with math. The problem is he doesn't seem that adept at it or excited about it. The solution is giving him tools to help him be more focused or do better when he can. So again, it will work. I believe that is use the GPS to guide you on your impact storytelling journey.
Tyler Vawser: Yeah, that's really helpful.
Scott Curan: If there's one, takeaway it's that use a GPS to start using and begin building an impact storytelling practice for yourself, your work, your own career. This works for your own career. Where you want to go? Maybe you're a young teacher who wants to become a senior teacher. Maybe you are looking for tenure. Maybe you want to step into a principal role. Maybe you want to become the superintendent. Maybe you're a parent who wants to be on the board of directors. I'm sorry, the Board of education. Maybe you are a volunteer like my mom was at school who wanted to have a positive impact as a part of the community and in your kids'lives. It works. It so you know, I'm a huge fan of the quote that there are no passengers on spaceship Earth. There's only crew. Every single person has a role to play. There's something that every one of us can do to show up in the lives of the students and the communities we serve. And I believe everybody can and should be part of a positive impact story. And if you've read a book that you thought was okay, followed by or preceded by a book you thought was spectacular. Ask why.
My guess is the story had a bigger impact on you. It resonated with you more. It was better written. I think life's better lived when we have greater impact. I know that the teachers that inspired me and the schools that provided me with the greatest, most exciting opportunity unapologetically led with an enthusiastic vision of how this experience would transform my life and lead to better things for me. Even if that was going from elementary school to junior high and from junior high to high school and from high school to wherever you go after high school. It's college for some and it's not for others. But knowing the transformation we make possible in that process is amazing. And K through 6th and 7th and 8th grade, for those of us who have that junior high set up, or for freshman through senior year, it doesn't happen at once. It doesn't even happen year by year. It happens every class with every teacher, every day. And when you look back, it's those individual experiences along the way that transform our life from where we started to where we end up. And it's that experience that leads us to what comes next. And that is the incredibly awesome power of a teacher in the classroom every day.
Tyler Vawser: Yeah. What I like about that framework is it works for past stories. But I also think and you were talking about this for future stories, it can pull a community together. It can get people rowing in the same direction, to use your analogy. They can become part of the crew to achieve something that hasn't happened yet, but is still a story that's being written and being built. And I think that's really helpful because a lot of times, at a personal level, I think of stories as me telling something that has happened, but not necessarily casting that vision of what could happen and why we need to tell this story so that we get to where we need to be, even though we're not there yet.
Scott Curan: I think the stories yet unwritten are I mean, there's a great song called Unwritten about stories yet unwritten. Right. The power of the blank page Every teacher I've ever met, with very few exceptions and none I can think of, approaches the new school year with incredible enthusiasm. And it's a blank slate. It's the unwritten page. And so, again, if you keep with the theme of impact storytelling, how do I make this year, this class, the students life, the most impactful as possible? And isn't that our goal? There's very few people I know who are just waking up every day to dial it in and achieve the bare minimum and just get to the next day and do it the same. We all want to have an impact. I fundamentally believe that humans are hardwired for good and that most of us want to make a positive impact in the world around us. I definitely believe that to be true of the teachers I've known in my life and my experience both as a student and now as an adult and as a parent. I see that promise and that opportunity in the teachers that have served me and that serve my family and with whom I've taught. And the ones who are excited about those unwritten stories are rocket fuel for the soul. Yes.
And to the unwritten stories, you can always use it as a framework. Looking backwards, I always say you can connect you can only connect the dots. Looking backwards. Right. It all fits together and makes perfect sense when you're looking backwards. Hindsight is 2020. But those enthusiastic teachers who stand up at the front of the room or maybe even on the desk, Dead Poet Society style and articulate a big, bold goal. And then tell the students that they're part of that journey, invite them along. There's incredible power in that. I think most teachers have this in them already. I think it's ingrained in them. I think they self select into this kind of thinking. And I've been so inspired by them that I aspire in my one little adjunct law professor class that I teach, to try to bring the best of those teachers who inspired me to that classroom. And then the principals and the school districts, that all you can tell are all aligned around a common vision and purpose and are completely motivated to get it done.
Those become the great movies we watch. Those become the stories that fill our soul and make us well up and get excited. It's not just it is also but it is not just on the football field or basketball court or cross country field or in the band room or in the drama club. Those are all places these things happen. But so many of us have a frame of reference with a teacher who took that extra minute
Tyler Vawser: Scott, you have a really incredible career in politics, in nonprofits, and in the course of your career, you've worked with some very high level leaders, including presidents of the United States. And so I'm kind of curious to hear from you. What about storytelling as part of that internal communication? Right. For most of us, right. We're seeing the politician that's giving the state of the union, and that's obviously very different than what's happening behind closed doors, those staff meetings, those kind of moments where you're trying to bring the staff together and bring them into a narrative that that's then going to be pushed out into the public. So I'd love to hear from you. What have you learned about leadership and storytelling and just navigating the work from presidents of the United States and other leaders that you've worked with that have gotten really good at telling that story to their own people?
Scott Curan: Yes, I have had a super interesting career, almost none of it by design. I always say there's happy accidents, and I've been very lucky. But luck does favor the prepared, and I can connect the dots looking backwards. I do love that quote that you can only connect the dots looking backwards. And so when I look back at my career, I went straight from undergrad to law School. I was practicing corporate law at 24. I was in a pretty traditional career at a corporate law firm. I took a big pivot and I went back to school. I got a master's degree in public service in Arkansas. And then that pivoted me into this incredible career in philanthropy that I absolutely, at the time, had no idea how that was going to unfold. I never thought I'd go back to the law. I was doing program work on rural philanthropy in Arkansas. I was learning about parts of the country that I only had a passing familiarity with and was learning so much. And it was an incredibly awesome and enriching experience. And then I wound up accidentally starting the legal department at what became one of the fastest growing, most impactful, and certainly most scrutinized nonprofits in the history of human existence. And it was not easy to be the general counsel of that organization during the times I was. But it was an incredible experience and opportunity, and it opened the doors, as you note, to working with equally high profile individuals. I was working with the presidential foundation of former President Clinton, with whom I had no prior connection. So use the frame again, the goal, the problem, the solution. But that's how you navigate this work, right? The leadership is there's always some big, bold goal. There's always some mission driven vision. And this is true for those high performers, A list, household names and mom and pop shop, street corner nonprofits in the Chicago suburbs alike. They have a vision, they have a goal. They know how they want to get there. I would posit that those who tell a more impactful story have a greater opportunity to get there. And I think the real takeaway here isn't big names, cool stories, and outcomes. It's that the same model is available to every person who has an impactful story to tell. And I would offer that every single person has an impactful story to tell.
Tyler Vawser: That's a great place to end it. Thank you so much, Scott. I appreciate your time, your expertise, and especially your passion for this. I think it's clear that your passion, your expertise is about helping others tell the story of their own passion and making sure that that is not lost on just energy. But it's actually impactful and it reaches the right people and that story gets told.
Scott Curan: You have nothing to lose and everything to gain from starting and trying this out. So let that vision driven mission be the guide and let that goal, problem, solution, framework guide the process and start trying today. No matter who you are or where you are in your world and in the lives and communities you teach and serve, capture those stories. Piece. Use that simple framework. It's at work for the best in the world. It should be at work for you, too.
Tyler Vawser: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Scott.
Scott Curan: Thank you, Tyler.