Ethical Storytelling

Stories are often political and/ or personal, so it’s important to be mindful of how you tell or share stories. In her 2009 TedTalk, novelist Chimamanda Adichie emphasises the importance to acknowledge the richness in stories and how we often amplify single stories over multiple streams that co-exist.

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanise. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

In teaching, storytelling can be a powerful means to grapple with, and respond to, the complexity of the world around us. When you understand that stories are never innocent, you can use them to do important ethical and political work. You can tell stories in ways that are open and accountable to diverse beings on this earth.

Ethical storytelling is the practice of honouring strong standards of consent, trust, reciprocity and transparency as the guiding principles for sharing our own or other people’s stories. It centres the storytellers as the experts of their own narratives and frames people by their aspirations and contributions rather than by their problems. It is also conscious of power dynamics to avoid the perpetuation of harm through misrepresentation, erasure or extraction of knowledge. At best, ethical storytelling has the power to move people to action, inspire hope, influence connection and change within our communities and humanity at large.

Alterio  and McDrury (2003) argue how stories provide great pedagogical opportunities for students to examine and learn from complex professional situations through reflective dialogue and thus encourage educators to incorporate stories into learning and assessment processes, granted that they consider a range of ethical issues, including confidentiality, anonymity, ownership of stories, the problem of projection and presentation of practice examples.Asking yourself what stories you are telling and what means you are employing to tell them, will help “enlarge the dialogic spaces of possibilities in which we act, think, and reimagine the world together with others, and how they restrain or impoverish these spaces.” (Meretoja, 2017, p. 2)

As Meretoja (dito) posits “a nuanced analysis of the uses and abuses of narrative for life is possible only when we are sensitive to the ways in which narratives as practices of sense-making are embedded in social, cultural, and historical worlds. We are always already entangled in webs of narratives. They are integral to the world that precedes us, and they make it possible for us to develop into subjects who are capable of narrating their experiences, sharing them with others, and telling their own versions of the stories they have inherited.”

At any point, when you share someone else’s story, pause to critically reflect on the principles you will be rooting your OER. The On Screen Protocols Pathways report provides us with a suitable framework for Indigenous principles, namely respect, responsibility, consent, reciprocity. Since they carry forward in all aspects of content creation, they apply OER as well. Respect is a fundamental value in Indigenous societies and thus is applied to all aspects of life.

It’s important to understand that as OER content creators you have a responsibility to the people and communities whose stories and information you wish to present. Reciprocity is a cornerstone in the creation of partnerships, which include fair compensation, the sharing of benefits, informed consent, and community empowerment. Maybe this plays out in you supporting your BIPOC students in empowering ways  or you will be closely collaborating with BIPOC colleagues.  Determining consent and ownership of oral traditions and stories is often challenging because permissions best in a number of places and vary depending on the nature of the story being told. So take the time to consult and achieve consent, particularly for collectively held stories.

Committed relationship-building does lay the groundwork for collaborative interpretative processes of sense-making and genuine mutual decision-making from the very beginning of the story creation process to its end. Collaboratively, you can share stories that are truthful and authentic, educational and empowering, nuanced and dignifying. Our Storytelling & Communications Template provides you with some additional questions to consider when you are thinking about storytelling as it pertains to your OER.

Pause & Reflect on Ethical Storytelling

An ethical storytelling approach raises questions like:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Whose voices are centered and whose are excluded?
  • Whose stories are being told? What is the narrative being told?
  • Does the story honour everyone’s identity, integrity, and dignity in a way they would recognize if they read the story?
  • Why do you want to share this story?
  • How can you tell stories that honours the similarities and differences between yourself and the story?

Action Plan: Making your Storytelling Ethical

Open one of your most recent teaching materials/learning resources and put on an ethical storytelling lens.
What needs to change to ensure ethical storytelling in materials you design, approve of, and/or use for learning?
Find an editable worksheet here.


Adichie, C. N. (2009). The danger of a single story. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story | TED Talk. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from

Alterio, M., & McDrury, J. (2003). Learning through storytelling in higher education: Using reflection and experience to improve learning. Routledge.

Meretoja, H. (2017). The Ethics of Storytelling: Narrative Hermeneutics, History, and the Possible | Oxford Academic. Oxford University Press.

Nickerson, M. (2019). On screen protocols pathways. A media production guide to working with first Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, cultures, concepts and stories.


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Making Ripples: A Guidebook to Challenge Status Quo in OER Creation Copyright © 2023 by Rebus Community (Kaitlin Schilling, Apurva Ashok, Jördis Weilandt) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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