Updated: Nov 25, 2020
I was recently listening to a podcast (Professional AF), where Diana Kander was discussing with Candy Smith the book Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. The topic of the show was vulnerability. I have always taught by way of exposing my own vulnerability to my students. This is especially important in the class with student leaders.
Vulnerability is really the ability to make mistakes - how can this be applied to teaching, and our students? We need to encourage mistakes. Asking students, at any age level, to be prepared and comfortable to at least make one or two mistakes whenever they are working on something new, is giving them the permission to make mistakes so they will not be afraid of them, and that is where growth happens. I think of all the students at the top of the academic ladder, and if I were to ask them what their biggest fears were, I am willing to bet one of the top answers would be failure. As Brene Brown states, you cannot have courage without failure.
This year, many of us (especially educators) are experiencing a lot of unknowns as we approach the fall. One of the challenges for me is figuring out how I want to work with my student leaders. All of my resources on how to connect are built on activities that depend on person-to-person connection. It is looking more likely that schools may approach a remote learning environment, or some hybrid model. How will my new group of student leaders build connections? This has been a question I have been sitting with quite a lot this last month.
The primary goal for my student leaders is to connect the freshman to our community right from the start, and if we enter the school year remotely, how will the student leaders build those connections? In a typical school environment, we invite the freshmen in for an orientation day, where faculty, staff, and student leaders spend the day getting to know each other and the school culture. The student leaders facilitate icebreaker and team building activities. For example, we might throw a ball around asking everyone to say their name and something important about you. Any type of game like that to get students to lower their guards between these new students can be very beneficial.
However, in a remote environment we will not be able to toss a ball in a Zoom meeting. So what do I do?
If I told you I had the answer, I would be lying. This brings me to the idea of sharing my vulnerability. I am not the expert, and I try to not to portray myself as having all the answers, or that I’ve ever been an expert. In my mind, there are two ways I could approach this challenge: fake it until I make it, or see this as an opportunity to let my student leaders redefine their purpose, redefine the ways in which connections are built.
Hopefully, by now you know that I am planning to take the second approach and demonstrate vulnerability with my students. If I truly believe they are student ‘leaders’ (which I absolutely do), then I want to give them the opportunity to have courage, create something new, and know that they will be allowed, and, in fact encouraged to make mistakes.
When I stopped wondering how I would provide them with the resources, and considered handing over the reins to the students, I realized it was an opportunity to teach them how to be vulnerable!
Here is something that Candy Smith said to Diana on the podcast I spoke about earlier, and I think is really important:
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t know something, find someone who can help you answer the question, and be honest about that. That will take courage. If you are trying to be perfect or excellent all the time, at everything, then you cannot be free to be who you are. Use your skills when they are excellent, but ask questions and get help when you don’t know the answers. That is an amazing community that people want to be a part of, and they know they can be vulnerable in.
I am not really sure how I have never seen this video by Brene Brown for teachers, but if you have not, and have 33 minutes - it is TOTALLY worth your time!
As a teacher, I have been a little conflicted about sharing the podcast - due to the name, but there are so many good topics and discussions that I couldn’t not share what I have learned!
If this post speaks to you, I encourage you to try being vulnerable and recognize the courage it takes, and share this post with someone else. If you think the ideas I am sharing could be useful in a training session for you or your school - please contact me today for a discovery conversation to see if we are a good fit. I really want to spread the world with strong, confident leaders. I can work with teachers, students or your own children, there is really nothing we can’t try.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love,
parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.
Kander, D. (Host). (2019, December 16). Dare to lead from Brene Brown with Candy Smith (Season 2,
Episode 14) [Audio podcast episode]. In Professional AF. Diana Kandor professional AF.
In what ways have you seen a leader express vulnerability?