#7 Final Blog Post: What have I learned and taken away from WtS?

Expected Learning

Self-Direction: I have grown a lot in the area of Self-Direction through participating in What’s the Story?. I have gotten a lot more comfortable asking for help when I need it and I have learned that it really pays to work up my courage and ask for help. Every time I have ended up with a better result than if I had not asked for help. For example: one time very early on, I had a question about how to use WeVideo so I decided to ask Tim to have a Google Hangout with me to figure it out.  We did have the hangout and my question was answered. Since then, I have asked my mentor many questions and have received much help from him.

Feedback has always been challenging for me, but I have gained confidence with that as well. I feel challenged by giving and receiving feedback because when I give it I don’t want the person to whom I am giving it to to feel badly, and when I am receiving it I don’t always want to do what the person is suggesting. I have, however, become much more comfortable with giving and receiving feedback this year. At the last retreat when we watched other people’s videos and offered feedback I realized that I had come a long way. Giving feedback is only to be helpful, after all! I want to continue getting comfortable with giving and receiving feedback because I do know that feedback, if done honestly, yet respectfully, can be an extremely useful practice. I will take away from this course my new comfort with feedback. I have also learned how to take initiative and I will use that skill in many future endeavors.

Responsible and Involved Citizenship: I have noticed much growth in myself in the self-awareness part of this category. I noticed that I am very aware of my wording in emails to my team. I noticed that I stopped saying “I think” and now I just say what I am getting at because I know that it is true, I don’t just think it is.

Working in a team has challenged me. I have learned that making compromises has to happen sometimes and nothing is going to be perfect. It is sometimes hard to let go of things, but I am getting used to and better at it. I have learned to be clear without being unkind. For example, I made an agenda before each Google Hangout with my team and clearly stated each topic I had written on it. I will definitely take away the practice of being clear with my fellow teammates, coworkers, etc. I would like to continue increasing my self-awareness because it really makes a difference to know what you are about to say or do beforehand.

Informed and Integrative Thinking: I find myself noticing how businesses market their products or services and I find myself noticing how convincing or not their pitches are. I think about their what, how, and why. I think about how I would say it better or differently. I have grown in this area by thinking behind the disguise of marketing into what they are really trying to say and how they could most effectively say it.

I have been challenged by discovering all the parts/components to our project and our story. We found most of them, but I found it hard to figure out what all the parts that we were going to focus on were and which ones were kind of relevant but not something we were going to include. For example, once we had finished all our filming, we had to spend a good bit of time figuring out what we were going to use from our footage. We realized that with our varying interviews, we could go in so many different directions. We had to work together to figure out which of the many possible stories we were going to pursue. That process was challenging for me. For example, all the people I interviewed mentioned confidence and I thought we could have a branch of our film that focused on that. In the end, we did not include anything about confidence. I would like to continue working on figuring out the root of a project earlier on in the process. Knowing where you are going to some extent is helpful when working on a big project.

Clear and Effective Communication: This area has been the easiest one for me, although I have grown in all the sections. One that was a bit tricky for me was storytelling. My team could have benefited from a little more focus on how we wanted to tell our story. I think the video came together nicely in the end, but I think we could have thought of some more creative touches to add.  One example of how storytelling challenged me is when we were putting the documentary together and once we knew which clips we wanted to use we had to figure out an order. We tried several different orders and finally decided on the one we thought told the story the best and had the nicest flow. Through this process, we ended up changing the story a little and sometimes I forgot that. It was challenging for me to be aware of what changed the story and what didn’t.

I saw growth in myself in active listening. I realized that there is such a thing as taking too many notes. When that happens I am more focused of writing things down than I am on the speaker. I discovered that it works well to write what seems most important or what I really want to remember, and otherwise, look at the speaker and take in what they are saying without writing everything they say. I want to continue working on organization in educational settings as well as in my life in general. Having an organized mind and life counts for a lot.


Unexpected learning

One huge skill that I learned unexpectedly this year is leadership. Coming into What’s the Story?, I knew that I would be working in a team and I knew a brief outline of the course, but I didn’t really know what to expect. When the time to form a team came, I thought I’d join a team and be part of it, but not necessarily an important part of it. I even thought “I might be the kind of person on a team where the team could function just as well and no differently if I wasn’t there.” I didn’t really want this to be the case, but I thought it might be. I was never a very loud or frequent voice in groups and I didn’t think I had the courage to be. I had never started a group before and never had a role of leadership either. I couldn’t image myself doing either one. I wasn’t feeling enthused about my topic before the team building process and I thought that I might be part of someone else’s vision if I joined a team; I didn’t think I had a vision. As I perused the different teams that were forming, none appealed to me. Finally, I came to one that was a combination of Art Therapy and Autism (later changed to Art’s Power). I thought that one could be interesting, so I joined. I realized pretty quickly that being part of a team without participating very much was not going to work and I realized that I needed to screw up my courage and participate as much as I could. We talked about different ideas but then when the retreat was over and we all went our separate ways, I was unsure what was going to happen. We communicated over slack but then the communication became less and less frequent. I realized that I felt that someone needed to take charge or else, so it seemed, nothing would happen. I sent out messages on slack but didn’t get any responses. After a while, I sent out an email to the others on my team. The communication got more consistent for a while after that. I organized the Google Hangouts and did my best to help the team come together. I soon figured out that I had put myself in a position of leadership in the team without meaning to. As the months when by, I found myself taking more and more initiative in the group. I didn’t want to take it over, but I have always had high standards for myself and if working hard was the way to get the result I wanted, then I was ready to work. I did a lot of work to put the documentary together and I think it paid off. I learned a lot about leadership and best of all, learned that I could do it. That is the story of my unexpected learning, leadership. I am grateful that things played out as they did, even though it was challenging for me at times. I would not have learned as much if things had gone smoothly through the whole process.

Featured Image: Austin Ban

Sydney Taft Cole

2 Responses to “#7 Final Blog Post: What have I learned and taken away from WtS?

  • Sydney,

    I find this a fascinating reflection. I noticed that you, Caroline and Mariana all assumed roles in the project in intuitive ways, ways that showed mutual respect and empathy and, at the same time, a mutual desire to accomplish as much as you could with the best quality you could.

    I saw you grow this year. Amazingly so. You did assume leadership on the project and managed to push a discipline of regular communication and check-in that I found admirable. It wasn’t easy but always you showed good cheer and inclusiveness.

    I also saw you grow during the year. A true leader follows and helps others find their place. You did that. Outside of WTS, I saw you take risks, of presenting your work in public, of participating in other ways. Good for you.

    I was honored to work with you. I think your project has a tremendous amount of power (despite flaws 🙂 ) and makes its point clearly — art is important in education, in helping people find themselves and in making sense of their lives. Nicely done.


    • Hi Geoff,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and compliments! I am happy with how the project turned out and I thank you for helping me to realize that nothing is or can be perfect. It was as good as it was going to get within the constraints. I hope that our documentary serves the purpose that it is meant to and even if it only helps a few people or even one person, I will be satisfied.

      Thank you for all the help and support you have given our team, Geoff. You are so knowledgeable and I learned a lot from just talking with you.

      I hope you have a wonderful summer!

      With thanks,


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