Instructional coaches and school leaders need to model and support environments were educators are vulnerable and comfortable with feelings of discomfort. Living in the “Learning Dip” is an important stage in learning. True for our students and ourselves.
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Announcer : 00:00 Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud is sponsored by the AAIE Institute for International School Leadership. Preparing educators for the unique challenge of international school leadership through online courses led by international school leaders. Learn more at aaieinstitute.org.
Steve [Intro]: 00:18 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:46 An environment for growth: vulnerability and discomfort. In some recent conversations around the topic of peer coaching, a common concern about the need for trust emerged. It’s most often stated something like this: “we don’t have the trust among the staff that’s needed for people to engage in real peer coaching.” A similar concern of an emerges when exploring the start of professional learning communities. The statement I’ll hear might be, “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 PLCs could be impactful. Because of the connection between trust and vulnerability, we need to live through the initial discomfort of vulnerability in order for trust to form. The Wise Ways Consulting blog reinforces this connection.
Steve: 02:17 “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 onself 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.” I’ll include the link to that blog and other references that I have throughout this podcast in the lead-in. During the quarantine, many teachers by choice, or maybe by force a more vulnerable with their students. The openness to stumbling with the new technology and seeking student feedback for what working and what wasn’t working as teachers experimented with learning strategies, helped to build trust with their students.
Steve: 03:47 David Peck, writing in the Recovering Leader described the link between vulnerability and collaboration this way: “The greatest collaborations are based on shared vulnerability. Opening your mind and your heart to others enables you to match your challenge and ambitions with theirs and to find common ground that’s needed to do great things together. Keep yourself guarded and others will respond in kind, which hinders all but superficial success.” I see this as a big reason that teacher leaders are critical in having effective PLCs. See, I define a teacher leader as someone who’s willing to risk before trust has been built. That is the definition, for me, of vulnerability. When seeking out teacher leaders as team facilitators or PLC coordinators or department heads or content areas or content specialists, I believe that the willingness to put yourself and your student work and your instructional plans and even videos of yourself teaching in front of other teachers, should be an important requirement.
Steve: 05:32 Why does vulnerability support the building of trust? Vicky Dearling, from Results Coaching Global, suggested that, “vulnerability requires honesty and courage. 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. In other words, 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 when you are not there yet.” I describe that uncertainty as the learning dip. When adding a new skill, I need to do it consciously and that conscious practice is always clumsy. As is frequently said, you’ve got to be bad at something before you can be good at it. That public stumbling, especially in front of a coach, often feels uncomfortable.
Steve: 07:08 Coaches need to be coached enough so that they recognize and empathize with teachers who have those feelings. Often when teachers share that they are uncomfortable or nervous, as coaches, we want to say something like this: “There’s nothing to be nervous about or there’s nothing to worry about.” We should instead recognize that that discomfort at being vulnerable is natural and we should applaud the teacher’s willingness to work through that uncomfortableness. Let’s make sure the teacher knows that it is a sign of courage. Vicky Dearling adds that for leaders, we need to recognize that vulnerability cultivates trust. “Other people are watching you. In fact, they may begin to take on your behaviors.
Steve: 08:30 They don’t have to know all your deep feelings, but when they know that you are a leader who’s vulnerable, who opens up with your coach or your trusted colleagues, who tries things out and if they fail owns up to the failures, then the climate of trust increases.” It’s intriguing that as teachers, we recognize the need for our students to live through the discomfort that comes with learning. We work to create a classroom environment where students can be comfortable with discomfort yet we frequently work to avoid the discomfort for ourselves. Many teachers will step back and not have the door open for other teachers to come in or not approach colleagues for peer coaching or speak out and seek out the instructional coach for observation and feedback, because they want to avoid that feeling of discomfort. David Peck described the leader’s role in building trust his way: “Leadership requires the courage to make yourself vulnerable before others you want to inspire 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.”
Steve: 09:54 I found that really important statement for us as teachers and school leaders. We need to share our discomfort. And that is a sign of authenticity. Authenticity builds trust. Sharing with people how clumsy it feels to be using a new technology resource or being observed by a coach during a staff presentation. These are important models for us to carry forth. It is uncomfortable and we need to share that the reason we are doing the uncomfortable thing is because our students are too important for us not to. Our students and staff deserve our willingness to go through this uncomfortable phase. Much the way teachers create classroom environments where students support each other, we need to create school cultures where teachers and administrators support each other. Ken Robinson, in his video titled, “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley,” stated that the leader’s role is not 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 in unlocking student success. Vulnerability and discomfort will precede the building of trust. Who are those leaders who we can encourage to step into those roles because of our modeling to assist us in showing that authenticity and building the trust needed for real growth.
Steve: 12:05 Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 12:08 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.