Trust and Vulnerability | Instructional Coaching | Steve Barkley
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Trust and Vulnerability

Examining trust and vulnerability quickly engages one in the chicken and egg question. Which comes first?  Trust can’t be created without some vulnerability being present. Trust greatly increases the likelihood that people would make themselves vulnerable. I explore trust and vulnerability often as they are key to growth from coaching and to effective teaming in PLC’s.

The Wise Ways Consulting Blog (in a post titled Can You Have Trust Without Being Vulnerable?) states:

“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 work place are critical for a team to develop and meet the mission that they were all brought together to fulfill.”

“Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen.
It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.

Brene Brown

Instructional coaches recognize that they need to build trust with teachers in order to have teachers be vulnerable in the coaching process. Without vulnerability, teachers can complete coaching cycles where they focus the coach on some element that is not a problem or concern but represents a “safe” observation and coaching conference. In some cases, these initial safe experiences may be important for the coach to demonstrate that she will keep feedback on the focus set by the teacher. This demonstration to the teacher that she is directing the coaching can lead to greater future vulnerability.

If teachers in PLCs are to function as teams, taking shared responsibility for student success, vulnerability is critical. A teacher needs to place his students’ work and his instructional practices on display for colleagues to share in structuring a plan to increase student success. I describe that teaching needs to be a public act for the trust of teams to be developed. Peer coaching among PLC members can provide the opportunity for vulnerability and trust building to occur.

School leaders looking to bring change to a school’s teaching and learning practices need to build trust and vulnerability into the staff’s culture as well as into the classroom environment. Consider a school who has identified Innovator as one of the student outcomes they are working to reach:

Student Outcome – Innovator:

  • Embraces Challenges
  • Fails Forward
  • Initiates New Ides
  • Takes Risks

For students to experience the learning activities that would lead to developing these characteristics, teachers need to be models. How do school leaders create the trust and vulnerability among the staff and leadership that leads to teachers’ comfort with the discomfort of embracing challenges, taking risks, initiating new ideas, and failing forward?  Modeling vulnerability is the key. When I have worked with programs that are built around teacher leaders, I describe that a key to identifying candidates is a teacher’s openness to vulnerability. Leaders are the people who are willing to be vulnerable before trust has been built. Their willingness creates the environment for trust building which leads to others beginning to risk; to be vulnerable.

“If you’re confident, then you don’t feel weird about showing your vulnerability and opening yourself up to learning from somebody else. Insecure people stay where they are because they’re afraid of admitting their weaknesses.”
Jen Sincero

Sharon Taylor, in the article, The Connection between Vulnerability and Trust in Teams, states:

“When you show vulnerability, it allows team members to feel more comfortable being open and honest with their concerns, questions, mistakes and roadblocks, which ultimately allows for stronger team performance.”

…take small actions at first and encourage your team members to do the same.

  1. Ask for help on a project.
  2. Ask for feedback.
  3. Try something new.
  4. Admit to mistakes.

How might your leadership team create an opportunity to purposefully model these elements and coach each other on openness to vulnerability? What are the indicators of trust that the leadership team shares with each other that create your comfort with the discomfort of vulnerability?

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One Response to “ Trust and Vulnerability ”

  1. Joellen Killion Says:

    Trust is a powerful, invisible force that influences a person’s thoughts, actions, words, and spirit. Thanks for elevating its significance in all relationships and interactions.

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