Vulnerability - Steve Barkley


I identify vulnerability as an important element in many of my training and consulting settings.



  1. capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt,
  2. open to moral attack, criticism, temptation,
  3. open to assault; difficult to defend: .

In coaching training I describe that much more teacher growth is likely to occur in coaching and mentoring sessions than in evaluation or supervision. The reason is that a teacher will make him/herself more vulnerable in a coaching or mentoring setting. That vulnerability creates the opportunity to change and grow….defensiveness is low.

Similarly, in the classroom, teachers work to create an environment where students are comfortable being vulnerable. When a student will share his thinking or idea without certainty of correctness, leaning advances….the student is open to criticism.

When working with professional learning communities, I describe that PLCs move from meetings of individuals to franchises to teams as they develop trust and shared responsibility for students. In order for the trust to develop some members need to be vulnerable…. sharing a concern, an example of where they are not getting the student response or success that they desire. They are susceptible to being seen as ineffective.

This week I was working with state department of education leaders who were exploring ways for departments, who have previously functioned more independently, to become a team with a common focus on school improvement and student achievement. I shared work from Margaret Wheatley identifying the need to focus on the flow of information within an organization, the importance of rich and diverse relationships, and a common vision.

These leaders formed groups that identified what behaviors they would need to consciously practice in order to bring about an organizational culture that would produce the desired teamwork. Their lists included phrases like collaboration, improved communication, sharing, exploring options, etc. As I studied the lists I realized an underlying element that was required was vulnerability.

These department leaders would need to risk being open to each other, sharing information and resources, supporting others before the trust formed. Someone must be vulnerable for trust to develop.

David Peck writing in The Recovering Leader suggests that vulnerability is the job of leaders:

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.

The greatest collaborations are based on shared vulnerability.

Teachers who are vulnerable with their students set the stage for student risk taking and learning. School leaders need to model the same for staff.

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable.Madeleine L’Engle

Happy New Year to All!
I’ll share more pondering in 2012

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One Response to “ Vulnerability ”

  1. mothr Says:

    Margaret Wheatley’s work reminded me of what I learned about building trusting communicative relationships in my new favorite book called ‘Presence’ by Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers. One can even join the Presencing Institute online for support from groups around the world that are working on building communities founded on trust and common vision.
    Let me know what you think if you check it out.


    These leaders formed groups that identified what behaviors they would need to consciously practice in order to bring about an organizational culture that would produce the desired teamwork.

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