Reciprocal Vulnerability

Will you embrace reciprocal vulnerability?

Teachers are vulnerable people who teach vulnerable people.

We are vulnerable because the nature of teaching supplies us with a constant stream of uncertainty, change and guilt.

Vulnerability isn’t all bad though, especially when its shared. Collaborative vulnerability actually works as a strength but for that to materialise then teachers have to trust each other and that has to come from the top.

Teachers should work in close-knit teams and share the load in a spirit of “we’re all in this together”. They should work reciprocally with a growth mindset. You could well be one of the lucky ones if this is the case but many teachers don’t work in a cooperative learning group.

Collegiate and intercollegiate working is the ideal of professional life but reality can be a lot stickier than that.

Be vulnerable

It’s not always easy being vulnerable around your peers because you don’t want to appear all at sea, incompetent and clueless. It’s rare to be all of those things all of the time but every teacher will experience moments in the week when they seriously doubt themselves and keep it all in not wanting to lose face.

There will be moments in the week when things don’t ‘go right’ or according to plan, assuming there was a plan in the first place.

Being vulnerable has hugely negative connotations and yet it can be a strength to admit mistakes, cock-ups and anxieties.

‘Being vulnerable’ might not be part of your school culture but it would be a more effective organisation if everyone embraced vulnerability as an opportunity to grow.

Transparency and openness drive effectiveness and reciprocal vulnerability makes accountability mutual and supportive.

If you want to go it alone and pretend to the world that everything is fine then do it but no one will believe you. It also means you are risk-averse.

Being vulnerable means you don’t hold back from trying something new and taking a risk. If it works – great but if it doesn’t then learn from it.

But the ‘learning from it’ aspect has to be shared and discussed with your colleagues. You might think that you will ‘look silly’ but you won’t. You will look silly if you ‘DIY’ and deny yourself of the support of your colleagues. Being vulnerable is being professionally uncomfortable and sharing it.

As Steve Higgins, Philippa Cordingley and Toby Greany (2015) point out, “Peer support – learning together with peers; reciprocal vulnerability speeds up risk taking.”

Effective professional learning involves good doses of giving and receiving peer support. As Philippa Cordingley at the Centre for the Use of Research & Evidence in Education (CUREE) says,

It is linked with embedding new practices introduced by others, in day to day contexts and providing emotional support through reciprocal vulnerability.

Being an authentic teacher is being vulnerable and being open to mistake-making, risk-taking and saying no to faking it. But teachers can’t do this without support and a rich can-do culture and community of collaboration has to come from and be supported by senior managers who have a growth and coaching mindset.

Our identities and dispositions have a huge impact on our learning but so does the culture of the organisation we belong to. Leaders have got to be vulnerable with others not all ‘alpha’ superheroes.

If you belong to a vulnerable organisation of learners that support each other then you have a healthy learning environment for work-based professional learning and honest growth.

Celebrate your vulnerability and share it widely but don’t try and hide it because its more visible than you think. Imperfection is perfectly fine and essential to your mental health and well-being.

A culture of blame has no place in teaching.

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