Reciprocal vulnerability


This term I have been trying to notice things a bit more.  I have tried listening, not the usual head-nodding and jumping to conclusions listening.  But I have been really trying to listen to what my students are saying, noticing how they say it, observing their behaviour, my behaviour, reflecting on the projections, transference and counter-transference of life in the classroom and at school.  In closely observed vignettes,  I feel I have been developing a deeper understanding of the emotional content of teaching and learning relationships.  I sometimes feel this way, whilst at other times I feel as if I am as clueless, clutching at straws, joining the dots that are not really there.  My antenna has been on … and it is bloody exhausting.

One of my ambitions in starting the blog has been to scratch the surface of my little corner of the world of education.  To dig a bit deeper into the gap between rhetoric, dogma and the messy reality of the chalkface.  To explore the ideology of education, to unravel why I do things the way I do and whether they are of any benefit.  To explore the real learning that goes on in our educational institutions, academically and emotionally. To hold my own practice to account, to evaluate myself and my thinking.

One of the concepts that has stuck with me since the beginning has been the idea of reciprocal vulnerability.  I first heard it from John Tompsett at this years ResearchEd, and his blog led me to the work of“>Brene Brown.

Reciprocal vulnerability is the idea that we must explore and share the things that make us uncomfortable.  We must lean into the discomfort to make sense of the messy emotions that surround our day-to-day lives.  To build better relationships and connections with one another we must embrace and be seen to be vulnerable.

Those involved in the processes of teaching and learning are dealing with vulnerability on a day-to-day basis.  The defences against the pain of learning are clearly demonstrated in what we call disruptive behaviour.  As professionals, it seems clear that our role is to help contain some of these anxieties so that real learning can take place.  However, what about my own anxieties about being a teacher.

In my early career, I think I had learnt to cover them up.  With bluster and bravado, I was determined to fake it until I felt I had made it.  As I began to develop professionally, my roles changed from only managing my own emotional landscape about teaching and learning to positions of responsibility where the job is to help other professionals manage their own anxieties about the classroom.

Now that I have become a bit longer in the tooth, I can see how important it is for me to not ignore or negate my own anxieties and vulnerabilities.  In fact, there is strength in admitting them.  This makes sense as much of what we are dealing with is uncertainty.

Brene Brown suggests that our vulnerability is the birthplace of shame and fear as well as the spring of joy and hope.  Those of us who are more emotionally healthy and resilient have the courage to own some of these vulnerabilities.  We numb our vulnerability with modern addictions to shopping, food, drugs but these behaviours numb both the bad and good feelings.  To cope with our own vulnerability we try to make everything uncertain – certain.  To cope with our own vulnerability, we look for others to blame to discharge the pain and discomfort. To cope with our own vulnerability, we pretend that what we do and how we behave does not impact on others.

Brown recommends that we attempt the following:

  • Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen.
  • To practice gratitude and joy.
  • To believe that we are good-enough and worthy.

I hope I have the courage to do so.


5 thoughts on “Reciprocal vulnerability

  1. Absolutely love Brene Brown! Discovered her by chance a couple of years ago on TedTalks and often revisit her when the pain and discomfort of having to get up and be an adult overwhelms me! She has a great mantra on leadership too that I’m finding most helpful at the moment – have the courage to show up – is essentially her message.

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  2. Sorry, I must say more. Interestingly (for me at least) I re-watched her video The Power of Vulnerability recently. I was so anxious that I was failing in my role – the staff, students, my younger self (why on earth didn’t I pick a different industry! So back I went to good old Brene. Vulnerability ‘The birthplace of creativity’. I began to reflect on this and realised that in my over wrought state of anxiety I was getting things done, as I’ve always known I get things done under pressure and without it I rarely achieve anything.

    Prior to revisiting Brene my anxiety was leading me to awake early in the morning or in the middle of the night. I’m a solid 7 hours uninterrupted, sleep like a log kinda gal. I just wasn’t myself I thought, I’ve made a terrible decision taking on a new job, should have stayed where I was. Anxieties over student progress, department reviews aaaarghhhh its all on me were plaguing my consciousness and my unconscious! One night forced myself out of bed around 3am to do some yoga to stop my incessant ruminations. After calming my mind I found it was pouring with rain so loudly outside it made me conscious of the intensity of the noise that had been going on in my head.

    Then this week I awoke around 4am with the same old concerns – Y11 tracking, WNLN, am I doing enough to support my colleagues, are they doing enough, why me! Then I realised I didn’t need actually need the sleep. I was awake I was thinking of things – I could just get up and get on with them. In resisting and running away from the things that need to be faced I was making myself worse. When I finally get up and arrive at work – I’m busy, I’m overloaded but I’m not actually anxious in the moment. So I realised vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity because it gets my ass out of bed and on with the show. I haven’t fixed everything yet but I have now developed a competency in data analysis and can see the way forward.

    I wish I could say I wasn’t going to feel anxious again this year. But now I’m beginning to think that the anxiety is actually me saying I think you might want to have a go at this.

    Liked by 1 person

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