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.

Forged Teamwork


naida1When I was a high schooler, the Chicago Bulls were arguably the best team in NBA history. I dreamed of what it would be like to watch a team of women dominate the game and how that would change the world. Fast forward to 2015 when The Minnesota Lynx brought home their third WNBA championship. It’s not just winning championships that I admire in the Minnesota Lynx (and the 1996 Chicago Bulls team of Jordan, Pippen and Rodman), it is the interplay of teamwork that I enjoy watching.


Forged Teamwork is like what we see in these two teams, a group of talented, experienced and skilled people movingnaida2 steadily in unity towards a common goal. There is often fire that shapes the team, just as the hardest steel is forged in the hottest fires, teams are forged and strengthened through struggles and triumphs. Forging teamwork produces unparalleled strength like metal in fire.


naida3Forged Teamwork requires vulnerability. Recently I was watching Order of the Phoenix and Harry was having a hard time allowing his friends (talented, trained and skilled in their craft) support his work. At one point, Hermione said: “When are you going to get it through your head? We’re in this together!,” she was forging their teamwork. When we experience struggles and triumphs, is when we need to have the courage to be vulnerable to forge or move forward steadily.


I have learned that success is determined by how the team is forged. Forged teams are teams built on trust and mutual respect where they learn together and support each other. They maximize strengths and support each other’s growth. Most importantly, teams of educators need to forge, or create, what is best for each student. When teachers and/or administrators have that forged teamwork like the Bulls, the Lynx or the Order of the Phoenix, everyone wins.


Naida Grussing-Neitzel is a committed educator and HS assistant principal in Minneapolis, MN.


To read more by Naida