Over the last few weeks, I’ve been pondering this concept of vulnerability and really taking a deep dive into embracing it and thinking about how I support others to use their vulnerability to develop resilience to the natural gut churn that we experience when doing something new or out of our comfort zone. As I’ve considered my vulnerability, I’ve been smacked in the face by the idea that vulnerability breeds empathy. I need to find ways to embrace both to support leadership teams in developing school culture. I also know that I can only navigate my vulnerability and that of others through curiosity and trust.
So, what does it mean to be vulnerable? For me, vulnerability is about being exposed emotionally, taking risks, and stepping into the world with uncertainty. I am a creature of habit, and I like routines. Still, I quickly learned as an educator that uncertainty exists in every moment of the day – the unexpected interruptions, the moments when things don’t quite go to plan (and let’s be honest – human behaviour can be quite unpredictable); the moments when a young person takes that unscheduled step towards personal responsibility and the earth is tilted at just the right angle for them to experience success. In those moments, I had to admit vulnerability and tell the team things like “I am decisioned out” or “We need to slow down and respond to this carefully”. At those times, I’m sure that the team were watching me with polite judgement and wondering if everything was actually ok! And this didn’t always make me feel comfortable or emotionally safe! I felt the pressure of being the one everyone expected to always be on top of everything and have the answers, but even more concerning, I was modelling for the team that, in admitting my vulnerability, I was also sitting in a tiny puddle of shame. I wasn’t comfortable with that message. I knew the team would never take risks unless they learned to jump and dance in the puddles! I needed to show them that it was ok to try, acknowledge when something didn’t go to plan, and celebrate the successes (both big and small). I needed to show them that the only way to build resilience to getting dirty in the puddle was to be vulnerable and develop our tanks of empathy. When I first encountered driving with trams in Melbourne, I needed to embrace the uncertainty and know that I would eventually have a stored response so that I didn’t go limbic when they came up behind me, or I had to hook turn into the great unknown!
As I work with schools, I see vulnerability embraced in every possible way – the nervous new students and staff; the navigation of system/policy changes; the uncertainty of staffing pressures and curriculum change; the inquiring minds who are seeking new ways to celebrate the overwhelming number of successes that schools see every single day. Not only are educators going into their environments with curiosity and trust, but they are also embracing the natural consequences of vulnerability to inspire each other and the young people they work with. It’s time we all danced and jumped more in the puddles, knowing we can wash away the uncertainty, take risks, move through life resilient to judgement and be open to empathy.