woman rowing kayak in river

Reframing Challenges: From Rut to River


Written by Tina De La Fe, Director of Content & Coaching

Reframing Challenges: From Rut to River

Building Teacher Efficacy

Here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, rivers have special significance. The major tributaries are critically important to life in the entire Great Lakes region. They also mirror a metaphor offered by Elena Aguilar that has become a central focus for our Equity in Literacy Fellowship this year.

What are Rut and River Stories?

Elena Aguilar offers the idea of river and rut stories as a way to view challenges through a strength-based lens. She writes, “Rut stories are those in which, as the name suggests, we get stuck and feel powerless.” There are a few classic types:

  • The “Victim” Story in which we give away our power by blaming others or outside circumstances
  • The “Tranquilizing” Story in which we come up with excuses to feel better about our mistakes or failures
  • The “Why Bother” Story in which we want to stay comfortable or avoid taking on responsibility

As educators discussed their goals for student outcomes in literacy in August, they worried about what was possible within their context. They face barriers to equitable instruction each day and often struggle to see past them. With so much working against our best intentions, it is easy to fall into one of these ruts. That’s where river stories come in.

River stories “allow us to feel more open, connected, and hopeful.” They create the space for us to work through negative emotions and flow forward.

Using Rut and River Stories in Practice

In our August learning session, we asked participants to think about where they might be holding onto deficit mindsets that made them feel stuck or powerless. We then asked them to discuss other ways they might look at their situation, centering around the Educator Beliefs in Leading Educators’ Teaching for Equity action guide. They were asked to use those belief statements to develop a river story—what could move them forward, give them hope and re-energize their approach to the problem?

This month, a teacher in the Fellowship will share a personal river story about a student she has struggled to connect with and engage in learning, and how a personal experience with the student and her family gave her a new perspective on the situation. Fellows will then have a chance in small groups to talk about where their own river stories have moved them forward and get feedback on places where they might still be stuck.

In the content pathway, Fellows will look at a case scenario involving curricular resources and how they might coach a peer teacher out of a rut into a river story. The exit survey will ask Fellows to tell us a river story they are developing for themselves.

Shifting mindsets isn’t easy, and it takes practice. But by continually working on a strengths-based and people-centered frame, we can stay more open to new opportunities and give our students what they need to thrive.

Take Your Next Step

Are you seeking support with curriculum implementation, professional learning, or instructional strategy? Send us a note to connect with our Partnerships team and learn how we can help.

Continue Your Learning

  1. Want to learn more? You can sign up to receive a From Rut to River Exploration Guide here on the Bright Morning website.
  2. Have a river story you want to share? Send us a note at [email protected]!
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