The Role of Vulnerability and Discomfort | Steve Barkley
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An Environment for Growth: The Role of Vulnerability and Discomfort

In a recent zoom conversation, around the topic of peer coaching, the common concern about the need for trust emerged. It is frequently stated as, “We don’t have the trust among the staff that is needed for people to engage in ‘real’ peer coaching.” A similar concern often emerges when exploring professional learning communities, “Teachers are too uncomfortable sharing their student learning progress along with their instructional practices.” Often in these conversations, educators want to explore how they can build trust so that coaching and PLC’s could be impactful.

Sixth-grade math teachers discuss their lessons during a team planning session. <br /> <strong>Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action</strong>

Because of the connection between trust and vulnerability, we need to live through the initial discomfort of vulnerability for trust to form.

The Wise Ways Consulting Blog reinforces the connection: “Trust and vulnerability are intertwined. In order to learn to trust each other, individuals must allow themselves to be vulnerable with those same people. Even the simple act of believing that someone will do what they say they will, is making oneself vulnerable and open to the possibility that they may be let down. The more that trust is developed, the more individuals will gradually allow their vulnerabilities to show through, thus creating opportunities for growth. Developing trust and exposing vulnerabilities in the workplace are critical for a team to develop and meet the mission that they were all brought together to fulfill.”

David Peck (The Recovering Leader) describes the link between vulnerability and collaboration: “The greatest collaborations are based on shared vulnerability. Opening your mind and heart to others enables you to match your challenges and ambitions with theirs — and find the common ground needed to do great things together. Keep yourself guarded, and others will respond in kind — which hinders all but superficial success.”

Why does vulnerability support the building of trust?

“Vulnerability requires honesty and courage,” suggests Vicki Dearling from Results Coaching Global, “To learn a new skill, especially one that takes you out of your comfort zone, calls for you to step up and through a place of uncertainty. You have to be willing to let yourself be seen as not knowing and that can make you feel uncomfortable – vulnerable. However, on the other side of vulnerability, when you face it head on and dare to deal with it, is a feeling of relief, satisfaction and accomplishment. You’ve got to believe you can do it, even if you are not yet there.”

“Vulnerability cultivates trust,” adds Dearling. “Other people are watching you. In fact, many begin to take on your behaviors. They don’t have to know all your deep feelings, but when they know that you’re a leader who’s vulnerable, who opens up with your coach or other trusted colleagues, who tries things out and if they fail, owns up to the failures, then the climate of trust increases.”

Being comfortable with discomfort

When working as a mentor, peer coach or instructional coach, I need to know that my presence will be bringing some discomfort to the person I’m coaching. As a person being coached, I need to recognize that unless I can get myself to enter that area of discomfort, the growth won’t occur.

I find it intriguing that teachers recognize this with their students. They work to create a classroom environment where students can be comfortable with discomfort. Yet, they frequently work to avoid discomfort for themselves. Many teachers will step back and not have the door open for other teachers to come in, not approach colleagues for peer coaching or seek out the instructional coach for observation and feedback because they want to avoid that feeling of discomfort.

Learning Concept

Peck described the leader’s role in building trust: “Leadership requires the courage to make yourself vulnerable before others you want to inspire or guide, and anyone with whom you intend to create something of lasting value. When you act authentically with those who are – or may be – important to you, they will reciprocate, and be moved to do their best work.”

Leaders can build trust by openly sharing their discomfort.

Sharing with people how clumsy it feels to be using that new technology resource or being observed by a coach during a staff presentation. Yet, I’m doing it because our students are too important for me not to. Our students and staff deserve my willingness to go through this uncomfortable phase. Much the way teachers create classroom environments where the students support each other, we need to create a school culture where teachers support each other.

Leadership requires the courage to make yourself vulnerable before others you want to inspire or guide, and anyone with whom you intend to create something of lasting value. When you act authentically with those who are – or may be – important to you, they will reciprocate, and be moved to do their best work.

In Ken Robinson’s video How to escape educations death valley,  he stated that the leader’s role isn’t command and control, but climate control. Building that climate of trust is crucial for teachers to examine every potential change on their part that could create the change unlocking student success.

 

Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

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