Everyday Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is not weakness, rather it is our most accurate measurement of courage and the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” – Brené Brown


I have a confession to make: Even with all the conversation out there about risk taking and vulnerability and the benefits of failure, I keep looking for safe risks to take.


I nod along, agree that it would be great to take risks (especially if I were someone who was more willing to take those on), and then move forward not sure about how exactly that is going to change anything for me at work the next week (you know, other than the things I’ll tweet, right?).


I think that Brené Brown has it right when she claims that “Vulnerability is not weakness, rather it is our most accurate measurement of courage and the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” I don’t think many would argue with her, but agreeing with her and implementing change based on that reality are two different things.


So, what do we do differently?


I’m not your magic eight ball, but I do know two things about myself that complicate my relationship with vulnerability in my work: I tend to put myself in the safe place and ask others to be vulnerable, and I often consider vulnerability as a thing that I can put on my calendar–a task to be completed.


The reality is that this sort of reflection, although it can be productive, really stretches me in an uncomfortable way. So it’s helpful to keep Brown’s reminder in perspective: This is all worth struggling through because there is great value in students and teachers seeing real “innovation, creativity, and change” as part of their learning experience.


If we want our classrooms and campuses to be places full of innovation, creativity, and change, we have to do better in both of these areas (not just these areas, but that’s all I’m taking on here).


Mistake #1 – We put ourselves in the safest places

It’s often our habit (at least I hope it wasn’t just my habit) to want to look like I have it together in front of the students. As a teacher, I worked hard to make sure that I felt I could answer any and all of the questions that might have come my way about the literature we studied. I was motivated to build student confidence in me, and the result was that I (almost exclusively) operated out of the most secure place in the classroom.


I’m better at identifying my issues than at coming up with solutions, but I don’t think that recognition is enough.


What can we try? Try this. Pick out something new (maybe a short story, an article, a new picture book, a new experiment, or a new math problem you haven’t worked before) and tackle it in front of your students as a first-time learner. Talk about it like a first-time learner–with a little less polish, a little more guesswork, and with the mistakes that come with learning something new displayed front and center.


Doing this isn’t magic. Your students aren’t going to leap out of their desks with a newfound growth mindset and be ready to take on the world, but I do think that stepping into the vulnerability that comes with learning in a public setting like this will help demystify some of the processes for students. That, over time, will have an impact. They’ll know you aren’t perfect, they’ll see that you struggle too, and they’ll know how to overcome those struggles they come across as learners.


Mistake #2 – We see vulnerability as event instead of a mindset

The first mistake seems easier for me to tackle. The second is that I end up doing one or two of those things to fix the first mistake, and then I check vulnerability off the to-do list for the week.


Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying it’s your job to constantly be including others in all of your business and over share.


What I do think is this: For us to create the schools we want our kids educated in, we’re going to have to do things differently. That’s going to take some calculated, researched risks, and implementing those will not only cause others to question us, but it will also result in their questions being warranted and their worries about the down side turning out to be accurate at times. We have to be ok with that. We cannot allow ourselves to think that a couple of risk taking opportunities are enough to get us all the way to “innovation, creativity, and change.” If we want that, we have to do more.


This isn’t a “do these steps” sort of answer. Nor is it one that can be fully answered in isolation (at least in my opinion). But, in community with some folks you trust, it is one that can and should be wrestled with, considered, reconsidered, and answered over time.


That’s what that everyday vulnerability looks like.
I need the reminder to correct course on each of these mistakes, and I hope you’re able to push the students in your classroom and on your campus toward “innovation, creativity, and change” in real ways this year by doing the same.


Aaron Hogan is an assistant principal of a 5/6 campus in College Station Texas. For more great reflections by Aaron,  check out his blog.

The Second Year


Do you remember your first year of teaching? Or first year as an administrator? It was new, exciting, and full of adventure. I knew I was on a journey, and I was willing to take any path that would help me grow and become a better educator. There was great anticipation awaiting each day, a year of firsts – the first lesson, the first project, the first meeting. It was a year of forgiven mistakes, a year of great learning.


When we look back at that year of firsts, there is so much we would change. I reflect back to my first year of teaching, knowing I probably would not teach much of anything in the same way. This is not to say that my first lessons or first year was a bad one, but I know I have learned and grown so much since then with the plethora of experiences I have had since that time. I would also say that I reflect back to my first year as an administrator, and while it was not terrible, there is so much I have changed since that first year, all stemming from experiences and leadership lessons I have learned along the way. I took every moment in, reflecting so that I could become better in my second year.


We take that first year as a year of growth, moving into our second year with the same anticipation and excitement as the first, but with so much learned and ready to change. This is the year we begin to innovate. As a teacher, I had a bank of lessons to pull from, but with a greater concept of the bigger picture of what I wanted my students to know and be able to do. As an administrator, I built relationships with teachers, students, and parents, listening and getting to know the culture, and now in my second year, we could take where we are, build teams, formulate a collective vision, and move forward.


As we continue our journey as a teacher and/or administrator, each year we build upon the previous year, learning and growing, pulling from our experiences and built knowledge to be better for our students and our school. However, I would venture to say that at some point, we become comfortable. We begin to pull out that lesson that worked last year, or use that letter written before. We grab a hold of strategies that have been “tried and true”, asking the same questions of our teachers, delving into the cycle of initiatives that have come and gone before.


Our comfort level pulls us into a rut. Our comfort level slows innovative ideas, the willingness to try something new and take a risk. Even more than that, with experience, we may even feel that we cannot take risks anymore for risk of failure, since that is not what experience tells us we can do.


So, what separates those that stay in that rut or return to that mindset of our second year? What are the conditions that we can create to keep that feeling of excitement, risk-taking, pulling from our ever-increasing bank of experiences to become better for our students and our schools?


Build Connections

People. Passionate educators are the best way to renew our spirit of learning. We must find people who are innovative, search them out, and learn from them, whether it is through professional development opportunities, social media, or those colleagues around us that continually inspire. We are in the people business, and by building connections with other enthusiastic educators, we sharpen our own saws, learning and growing from their experiences and ideas, building upon our own knowledge in order to become better for our students. People can make or break our attitude. So, we must surround ourselves with those who innovate and inspire. We must seek them out to continue to stay at the top of our game, allowing those educators to push us to new levels.


Every educator must build his/her own positive connections. Those connections will not come knocking at your door. We can choose to surround ourselves with negative attitudes that have become comfortable and stuck in a rut, or we can choose to find people who inspire us, who take on risks with a smile. We need to become a part of learning networks, networking at professional development conference, delving into social media platforms, finding those who will nudge us to rekindle that second-year mindset of innovation and excitement.


Building those connections is a journey. Embrace it with positivity. Building my connections is a daily endeavor, one that has changed my mindset for the better, and has produced a cycle of the second-year mindset I am seeking in order to stay at my best for my students and my school.


Visible MindsetMind

From those connections who inspire us, we can then internalize that feeling, stepping up and sharing our mindset with others. We model what we want to see. Building connections begins as consumption – consumption of ideas, thoughts, and positive vibes. The next step is sharing your thoughts and ideas as well, contributing to the cycle. Our visible mindset pushes out that energized force, modeling for others the innovative ideas, starting conversations that will change others for the better, and propelling those around us to reflect and grow. Our visible mindset shares our beliefs and attitudes with other educators, pushing them to find those who will inspire them so that they too can become inspired by others.


To keep that second-year mindset, it is a cycle. Build connections with positive people who will nudge you down the path you would like to go. Learn from them. Then, visibly share that mindset with others, modeling, leading by example, thus fulfilling what was given to you. Fill your plate. Eat it. Then make a plate for someone else.


I believe so strongly in the necessity of building my PLN that I model it daily, leading by example, sharing my journey with my staff so that they will build their own PLN too. I keep that second-year feeling by continually leading by example, surrounding myself with other passionate educators who innovate. Then, I visibly share the power of my PLN, share the mindset this has bestowed on me, modeling how to build those connections in order to inspire others to do the same. I strive to establish a cycle of excitement through all I do.


Build connections and grow. Share your mindset and inspire others. Repeat.


Our experiences are invaluable in our efforts to grow and innovate for our students and our schools. We can grow daily if we allow ourselves to do so. Or, we can fall into our comfort zones, into a rut of experiences that lead us to the same destination year after year. I propose we reflect back daily, seeking that adrenaline we felt in our second year. It was still a year of building, growing, and excitement. It was a year of asking questions, still seeking knowledge. It was still fresh.


Let’s use our experiences to make each year like our second year, but even better.

Let’s surround ourselves with the people who make it so, who push us to grow and innovate.

Let’s share our mindset, making it visible to all, helping our colleagues and other educators around the globe relive that second year as well.


How will you continue to grow through the years of experience, renewing the spirit of your journey as if it was the second year?



Amy Heavin is the principal/lead learner at Ryan Park Elementary School, MSD of Steuben County in Angola, Indiana. She has been a school administrator since 2010, and taught middle school English for 8 years prior to that in Pasadena, CA, and Kendallville, IN. She holds a Bachelor of Musical Arts from DePauw University, a teaching degree from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Indiana State University. Passionate about curriculum and instruction, she pursues learning opportunities to blend 21st century essential skills instruction with best practices, leading through collaboration and coaching efforts. As a presenter, moderator for the #INeLearn Twitter chat, and monthly writer for Fractus Learning and BamRadioNetwork’s EdWords, she promotes integration of strong pedagogy with technology in the classroom. She is the mother of 3 growing boys and wife of Angola High School principal.

Lean Out a Little Farther

Today’s post is by Sandy King, an innovative master teacher in South Jordan, Utah. 

The climb to the top of the cliff had been exhilarating. I ascended without fear. As long as I looked up, with my site on the goal, I knew that I could make it up to the landing. Going down was another story. I couldn’t go back down that way that I’d climbed. I’d have to rappel. I had my safety gear on, and I had instructors that I trusted. I felt reasonably safe considering that I was standing on a cliff. But walking closer to the edge made my heart pound! I listened intently to my instructor. My safety gear was checked once more and then I walked backward to the ledge. My life flashed before me. “On rappel!” I shouted.

“Lean out!” I heard my instructor say. I looked down with trepidation and leaned out farther. “Lean out a little farther!” he repeated.  I took a deep breath and leaned out a bit more.

I took my first step over the ledge and pulled my right hand up to brake. One step led to another step. It was awkward at first, but I kept going. My confidence grew as I took each successive step down the rock face. Words of encouragement motivated me to keep going. Before I knew it, I was at the bottom being congratulated by others in my group. I was excited by the thrill of this personal victory. I had conquered a fear!

“Lean out! Lean out a little farther!” often echoes in my mind. Take a risk! Challenge yourself! Raise the bar!

But trying something new is scary. Feelings of being vulnerable, inadequate, and incapable are common. You no longer feel safe. The human body responds physically by initiating the “flight or fight response” that causes the heart to beat faster, breathing to quicken, and palms to sweat among other things. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a risk.

The choice isn’t between success and failure; it’s between choosing risk and striving for greatness, or risking nothing and being certain of mediocrity. –Keith Farazzis

In the quiet white space of self-reflection over the years, I’ve asked, “What can I do to improve my practice?” And I’ve heard the words, “Lean out a little farther!”

One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received as a new teacher was to model lifelong learning by consistently acquiring new knowledge, but more specifically, to learn new skills. The difference between gaining knowledge and learning a skill is that learning a skill requires practice.

Name a skill that you’ve started to develop within the past month. Are you learning to play a musical instrument? Paint? Skateboard? Knit? Ski? Speak another language? Maybe you’re finding yourself in an all too familiar state of continually learning new information, but not necessarily new skills. Reading a book, attending a professional development class, conference, or even an edcamp facilitates gaining knowledge, but it doesn’t require practicing new skills. We ask our students to learn multiple skills every day. How long has it been since you have walked in their shoes?

In your mind’s eye, take a moment to envision yourself learning a new skill. How did you choose to learn? (book, video, teacher) Describe your level of success on your first attempt? Do you need to be shown how to do this skill more than once? Twice? What kind of feedback helps you learn best? How often do you need feedback? What motivates you to struggle, learn, practice, and improve? How important is growth mindset? How does “coaching” help you? What would make the learning of this new skill easier for you to learn? Describe the “zone” where you feel challenged but not frustrated.

Reflecting on teaching practices from the perspective of a learner opens the mind to possibilities. It cultivates empathy and compassion. Questions such as, “How will the reflections about my own learning impact or change my instructional practices?” brings metacognitive thinking to the next level. The reflection in the mirror may not be the most flattering. Do you need more patience? A change of tone? An ability to break down a skill into smaller parts? To be more encouraging? To give specific feedback? Being humble and owning what we know we need to improve is sometimes the most difficult. It requires action and accountability.

 The mediocre teacher or administrator will use any number of excuses like lack of time to avoid this step. But excellence takes effort! Great educators rise above the excuses, make an action plan, and have others (such as a PLN) hold them accountable. The status quo is not acceptable. If there’s room for improvement, the great educators welcome the challenge. They embrace the fear of being vulnerable with a positive attitude and courageously move forward.

So, I challenge you to “Lean out a little farther!” Get completely out of your comfort zone! Learn a new skill during the next few weeks. Put yourself in the position of a learner. Start a blog, record video of your attempts, or keep a journal of your progress. Share your mistakes, your learning, and your reflections. Let those that you lead see you as a beginner with all of the mistakes you’re bound to make. Lean into the discomfort.

Are you truly a life long learner? Will you walk the talk? Maslow said, “You will either step forward into growth or back into safety.” Will you accept this challenge as an opportunity to stretch, risk, and grow? You have a choice. Greatness or Mediocrity.

You’re on the edge.
“Lean out a little farther!” 

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A New Era: Teacher As Coach

Today’s post is by Elisabeth Bostwick, a passionate educator serving students daily in Horseheads, NY. 

charles darwin

When colleagues have entered my room, at first glance they thought I wasn’t there. I recall the bewildered look of one administrator that I worked for as he scanned the room thinking I had left it unattended. Typically one of the student leaders in my room will notice and point them in my direction. You see, as a coach I’m beside my learners as I question, reflect and provide feedback.

Conflicting Titles

While I view myself as a learning coach, my current title reads as “teacher.” I’m hard pressed to identify a “teacher” who fits the description below from the Merriam-Webster online Dictionary.

teacher noun: a person or thing that teaches something; especially : a person whose job is to teach students about certain subjects.

First Known Use: 14th century

Definition of TEACHER for Kids:  a person who passes on information or skill

I interpret this definition of teacher as someone who can stand, speak, demonstrate, and ta-dah! Learners will absorb the knowledge. We all know this isn’t the case. It’s crazy that we are using a term from the 14th century simply because it’s the way it has always been.  No longer are we a person who passes on information or a skill and we do not behold all knowledge.  In the 21st century our focus has shifted to facilitating student learning while coaching students in diverse ways and to support them to reach their full potential by empowering students to take ownership in their education. Learners need to be equip with the ability to collaborate, think critically, create and communicate.


The art of teaching has transformed over the years and while we recognize it, we tend to hold onto familiar and traditional terms that are no longer fitting.  In our schools, it’s critical that we facilitate learning as coaches who utilize formative assessment while providing a loop of feedback, assist learners in setting personal and team learning targets, contribute and are accessible to assist in reflection, and encourage learners to move beyond their comfort level of learning to support them to be future ready.

As we examine the graphic of the Teacher Continuum we can see the progression. Consider the term “coach.” When I hear the term coach I envision someone beside me who is encouraging and supporting my effort, analyzing and reflecting along with me on where I can improve, as well as noting what I’m doing well. This reminds me of Notre Dame’s head football coach, Brian Kelly’s coaching philosophy. As players make mistakes, he pulls them to the side to provide direct feedback without emotion so that the players remain confident in their abilities with a growth mindset to step back on the field to accomplish their goals. This is contrary to how many football coaches approach their player’s mistakes.

We need to be cognizant as educators of our own demeanor so that students can maintain confidence and develop a growth mindset. The feedback loop is critical as it allows learners to grow uniquely based on their specific needs and continuously refine. I’ve found value in making sure that my facilitation of learning is diverse to meet the needs of all learners through thoughtfully planned mini-lessons and small groups, since there’s no approach that is one size fits all. We need to maintain the role of coach at all times while remaining mindful of student learning needs and focus on visible student engagement in their learning.

Student Leadership 

In my classroom we take a proactive approach to learning in order for me to successfully facilitate as a coach. From day one, learners are identified as leaders.  As coaches we need to set the stage for learners to grow into leadership roles. This provides the opportunity for “teachers” to transition to being a coach and lessen the amount of teacher driven instruction.

I’m able to be a coach since learners are empowered as leaders in our learning space with shared responsibility.  For example, if learners have questions, they ask one another and are allowed to move around the room to seek others’ ideas. Learners are also responsible to keep one another on task. This is modeled, practiced and feedback is provided in order for fluid interactions and transitions. As the year progresses, students begin to take further ownership by taking initiative to ensure that their time is used productively.

Community and Structures

Providing structures within a supportive community promotes students to develop into risk takers and therefore confident to lead their peers. Our community is fostered early on and then enhanced all year. Incorporating the Habits of Mind and The 7 Habits of Happy Kids structures cultivates a community where learning can be synergistic.

Teacher as coach and student leadership go hand-in-hand to cultivate an authentic community environment where learners take ownership over their choices, learning, and develop the ability to lead their peers with empathy. In our learning space students are cognitively engaged in exploring, researching, and learning, and also developing skills to be independent, critical thinkers.


Each of us has the ability to shift and improve the way we currently “teach” or coach. As pioneers in education we need to anticipate change because nothing stays the same. As the future continues to evolve we must think on our feet, be flexible, and prepared to adjust. By stepping into the role as coach our understanding of the learner grows to new heights. We can then further retool instructional strategy and refine student learning targets to meet the needs of each individual. Automatically my mind shifts to seeking, “then what?” There will always be a next step as we pioneer forward. I’ve shifted from teacher, to facilitator, to coach. As societal needs change and new careers evolve within our economy, it’s exciting to ponder the thoughts of my next role in the classroom to support students in their journey of college and career readiness.


I dedicate this post to my closest thought partner, Michael Bostwick (@m_bostwick), who takes the time to edit and provide insight.

For more great insights by Elisabeth

Our Kitchen Table

Today’s guest post is by Amy Heavin, an elementary lead learner/principal in Angola, IN.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” ~Henry Ford

In my house, the kitchen table is not just for eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At any given moment, it can become a dinosaur’s landscape, a race track, a Lego field, or even a family show and tell event. We might illuminate a light with a Snap Circuit set, or we might gather around my Chromebook screen to learn how to play a math game. The kitchen table is a place of many possibilities, of conversation, and of inquiry. It is within these inspired moments that I see the opportunities that can await our children in their classrooms, the endless possibilities that can build into deep learning experiences. These experiences are founded in the premise of collaboration and creativity.

Our growth is dependent on our ability to build a culture of learning and collaboration. How can we grow if we do not foster it? I have found that the best way to build the culture of a disneygrowth mindset is to intentionally build opportunities for teachers and students to learn by modeling it. Whether it is on my kitchen table with my children’s imagination running wild, or in the teacher’s lounge huddled around a computer screen asking questions, these opportunities build trust, in turn fueling personalized learning and ideas.

Leaders must practice what they preach. If we want teachers to collaborate more, we must build time for it in our day. If we want teachers to use particular tools, we must be willing to use them ourselves. If we want teachers to take risks in their classrooms, we must be willing to take risks with them. This culture of learning and sharing does not happen overnight, and it does not happen spontaneously.

Our ultimate goal is for the growth mindset of our staff, fostered through learning opportunities and collaboration, to filter to our students. When we walk into our classrooms and see our students collaborating and creating together, asking questions and finding their own answers, then we know the collaborative culture we wish to create in our school is taking hold for everyone.

And so, in an effort to build this growth mindset and collaborative culture in my school with my staff, I have focused on intentionally creating learning opportunities for the staff. It all started with my leadership team, who completed an Affinity activity, brainstorming possible professional learning topics. Team members were given post-it notes and complete silence. They each had to brainstorm what topics they would like more professional development on, writing only one topic per post-it note. When the time was finished, we discussed the topics, categorized and grouped them together, sharing ideas of how we might facilitate opportunities for our staff to learn and grow together. We quickly realized there are many experts within our school who can facilitate the learning and sharing.

With this freedom to pursue interests and seek feedback from others, our staff’s learning has been uplifted, personalized, and rooted in the growth mindset culture we aim to build for our school. Each month, our leadership team discusses the current needs, and we hold “EdCamp-style” professional learning opportunities, facilitated by our very own staff members. On any given week, a visitor may see an after-school voluntary PD Roundtable, where teachers come together after school to discuss an idea, concept, or learn how to use a new tech tool. During lunch time, the staff hangs out in the teacher’s lounge, eating, sharing, and discussing a topic in a format called a Lunch n’ Learn. Topics are typically technology-driven, but many times we end up discussing other ideas that are sparked from questions.

With these two face-to-face formats facilitating positive conversations throughout the school, it is also imperative that we personalize the growth of our staff even more by using online platforms, flipping professional learning and creating online discussions. Our sharing can move to new levels by establishing staff backchannels using tools like Today’s Meet or using a Twitter hashtag for the school. I have encouraged all of my staff to build their own PLN on Twitter, learning from others around the globe along with sharing the ideas they have too.  Our staff consistently uses Google Apps for collaborative efforts on lessons and activities as well, and we now house links, videos, and folders in our staff Google Classroom “class”.

appleFurthermore, by practicing these collaborative efforts with staff, our teachers can then take those opportunities and creative ideas into their own classrooms.  Teachers are now using those same tools with their students. Sharing tools such as Padlet and Google Docs are not only used by staff members, but also by our students to collaborate on projects and research. Our teachers can feel empowered to create classroom environments where students collaborate often. These classrooms are intentionally set up with flexible seating, different areas focus on a purpose, and access to technology for digital sharing. by giving teachers personalized learning for their own growth along with the autonomy to build those same opportunities for their students, they are engaged in developing their classroom in the way that best meets the needs of their students.

Leaders today must foster this shared culture, facilitating personalized growth and risk-taking so that not only teachers soar to become their best, but our students do as well. When our teachers embrace their professional learning, creating opportunities for themselves and sharing with others not only in the same building but throughout the world, their growth will translate to the growth of their students. Our students need to be masters of collaboration in order to be successful in the future.

The “kitchen table” is in every school and every classroom. Leaders need to foster the collaboration and creativity that can be started at the “kitchen table” of their schools, and they also must model it. The development of the culture of our school’s growth mindset is established through these personalized learning opportunities, in various formats. But more than that, our ventures in learning filter directly into our classrooms, building opportunities for growth, collaboration, and creativity among our students. It is at this point that we have truly made our impact for the betterment of our children.

For more great posts by Amy