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Revolution in the 'Daring' Classroom

Robin Alexander

Posted on July 5, 2018 10:42

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Imagine you’re washing the dishes with a YouTube video on in the background, and between the sounds of metal rivets clicking against the inside of the washing machine you suddenly hear: “The revolution will not be televised; it will happen in classrooms.”

My middle child is a history teacher/coach. He’s only been at it for one year, but his students love him. His co-workers love him. The administration loves him. He’s obviously a natural, so no wonder those words resonated with me.

The presenter was Brene Brown, Doctor of Social Work, university professor of 22 years, researcher, storyteller and TED Talk presenter gone viral.

The goal of this particular talk was to promote courage and provide an antidote to shame in the classroom. Eighty-five percent of everyone Brown interviewed remembers a shaming incident at school that forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners. Over 90 percent of everyone interviewed remembers a specific teacher, coach or administrator who strengthened their self-worth when no one else did. Educators: Your power is real and enormous. The stakes are high. The drama is great.

Let’s define some of Brown’s terms:

  • Courage is the willingness to show up and be seen, even when we can’t control the outcome (like when I do karaoke). It’s the product of four competencies: vulnerability, clarity of values, trust and rising skills (the ability to get back up after a fall, failure or setback). The bad news is that setbacks and failure are inevitable. The good news is that 15 years and 200,000 pieces of data reveal that courage can be developed.
  • Shame is the intensely painful belief that there is something about us that makes us inherently unworthy of love and belonging. This obviously results from belittling; it also results from social injustice, which is systemic belittling.
  • Vulnerability is central to courage, so more on this. Vulnerability is NOT, as many think, weakness. In fact, an audience of Special Forces soldiers could not name one act of courage not completely defined by vulnerability. Vulnerability informs love and joy, belonging, empathy and trust, innovation and creativity, adaptability and problem-solving and ethics (the most courageous action is to challenge the majority in order to do the right thing).

Vulnerability also informs learning. Every time you raise your hand, you risk failure, and depending on how the teacher deals with imperfection, you risk shame. The process of learning to walk is fraught with setbacks, and that doesn’t bother us a bit (watch any child). By the time we reach first grade, this has usually changed.

A daring classroom provides a culture where students feel safe to be who they are. Shame kills that culture. Poverty, racism, classism, homophobia, misogyny and the rest of it, also kill that culture. What if, Brown queries, teachers promoted courage and rejected shame? What if they modeled empathy and authenticity and promoted self-worth? Because students who feel or choose to be invisible or difficult cannot learn. Turns out inclusivity aids learning. 

That’s why the revolution can happen in a daring classroom.

My guess is that my son is loved because he instinctively gets it. (I thought I’d add a little upscale social work philosophy to your natural instincts.)

Way to go, kid.

Robin Alexander

Posted on July 5, 2018 10:42

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"We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can't have both. Not at the same time. Vulnerability is not winning...

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