On June the 18th I finally got to begin my journey into the world of Brene Brown’s work “Dare to Lead“. As a fan of Brene’s work, I opted to complete this course as a way to develop my leadership potential and skillset.
With my work in schools and mentoring people through the process of accreditation (at various career stages) I find myself “supporting colleagues” and “provid(ing) advice and support” a lot. This advice and support is offered with every intention to support and I have great success with helping my students (from pre-service to LEAD) to connect with their strength and grow spots. All so, of course, they can plan personal professional development goals and improve their classroom practice (6.1)
As a classroom teacher and leader of up to 32 small colleagues an hour, I have become accustomed to creating classroom climates that facilitate growth and development for my students. Somehow, however, I felt I needed more support to create and develop my approach with my colleagues and the adults I work with. Especially considering that I often work with educators outside of the culture of their site.
Through my work in the Evidence Engine, I have worked with educators from all over the country as I mentor and support them to build their portfolio. This gives me a unique opportunity to create a micro-culture around the process. One that empowers and supports and encourages vulnerability in a safe space. Brene’s work lends itself to this beautifully and, although I was unable to do the classroom specific course (Daring Classrooms), I got an awful lot out of this course (both professionally and personally).
Most of what we worked on was around emotional intelligence. We talked about values, armour and resilience. All things that are frequently evident in schools around the country. When i think of the environments I have had the pleasure of working within (both as an English and Drama teacher and a consultant) I can think of numerous moments where an educator I’ve been tasked to assist has “armoured up” and become defensive in one way or another.
As an educator at Flinders, one of the most common problems I have with students occurs as a result of the fact that they are feeling threatened or uneasy working with something that they are not confident with. I create challenging learning environments with very open assessment tasks. These tasks are designed to help give them the scope to be creative and connected to what they’re interested in. That’s something that different students react to with varying degrees of enthusiasm. EDUC9404 can be a place where student strap on their armour and get defensive almost immediately, I wanted to be able to better understand that so that I could reduce the tension and barriers to learning that it causes.
In the book “Dare to Lead”, Brene Brown talks about 16 styles of Armoured Leadership in her book “Dare to Lead”. Unfortunately, some of these styles are common elements of leadership in some classrooms I have witnessed over the years. Most notably, number 5 “being a knower and being right” – the opposite of which – with daring leadership, would be seen as “being a learner and getting It right” (Brown 2018). As educators, there are countless amongst us who suffer from the exhaustion of armoured leadership which “reward(s) exhaustion as a status symbol and attach(es) productivity to self-worth”. I have lost count of the number of teachers who tell me they feel they have to say “yes”, that feel as though they must be seen as busy to be valued. It is endemic in our professional culture. The opposite of this is “modelling and supporting rest, play and recovery” (Brown 2018). How many of us have felt guilty for taking a day off…even if we’re really sick?!
My goal, with this course, was to learn to identify armoured leadership in my self and move more towards”Daring leadership”. This style of leadership is what is shown to “build courage in teams and organisation,… to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation” (Brown, 2018). That’s the kind of classroom and workplace I want to nurture. Whether that be online or face to face
Part of being a leader is being able to deal with uncomfortable scenarios. Those moments where it feels like the world is going in slow motion, where your heart is pounding in your head and you want to run. Often, in these situations, we tend to put on our armour. In her research, Brown has discovered that there are very specific phrases (or steps ) that well all go through as we start to assemble our defence mechanism. This starts with the phrase “I am not enough” and ends with “It’s actually their issues and shortcomings that make me act this way. This is
their fault, and they’re trying to blame me. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m actually better than them” (Brown 2018). Have a look at page 12 of this document for more information.
In this course, we explored when we assemble our own armour, what that feels like and why we do it. All so that we can identify the moment before it happens and can avoid moving into this space. Being able to identify and name this behaviour has helped me to stand back from it a bit. To see it for what it is. To leave some space to be curious about it and to consider how I can change my behaviour and my environment to avoid a situation where I would not be at my best. A situation where I might not be best placed to “Initiate and engage in professional discussions with colleagues … to evaluate practice directed at improving professional knowledge and practice, and the educational outcomes of students.” (6.3)
Clear is Kind
One, very important lesson I learnt was that expectations and boundaries have to be set and then they have to be kept. In the past, there have been the odd student in 9404 who borders on rude with their behaviour. I encourage my students to question what we’re studying, to challenge me with their thoughts and ideas. I don’t however, encourage them to behave in a way that goes against the values that we hold in our learning environment or disrupts the culture of courage, team and whole-heartedness. I have, on several occasions felt attacked by students who’s behaviour is rude, defensive and destructive. They, ironically are wearing their armour and are attacking because they feel uncomfortable. I know that. I’ve seen it countless times with teens. It feels very different when an adult is doing it though. That’s something I wanted to explore.
Clear is kind is a way in which I have been able to tackle this. This year, at the start of educ 9404, I used the “Braving” trust framework to create my message of clarity around my expectations in class (and online). BRAVING is an acronym ( BRAVING – Brene Brown resource) It stands for:
To lean into this, I used the “Seven Elements of Trust” tool in the Dare to Lead materials, to define how I wanted the relationship in my classroom to look this year. I began by explaining who I am, what my values are and why I was there. I asked them to consider why they were training to be a teacher. I asked them to respect how important my profession was to me and then I explain what was ok and what was not.
Honestly, it felt like I was giving a weirdly intense sermon. It felt hard for me to do…. but it worked. I have only had one student this year who was mildly challenging. They weren’t in the room when I gave that speech and once I put into place my boundaries and made it clear how I operated, it stopped and our relationship was much, much better. This new approach has helped me to negotiate much clearer expectations with the adults I work with and seems to have helped us to avoid any issues (4.3). I also think that by creating a stronger focus on trust in my classroom there have been a greater number of positive interactions from students who may not have felt brave enough to speak up otherwise. I have certainly had more students tell me when they need further support, be more open to giving things a go and making mistakes and being very generous to me when I make my own mistakes from time to time! (4.1)