I've recently had the life changing opportunity to read Brene Brown's Daring Greatly. If you haven't read any of her books, please invest in your emotional well-being and pick up a copy, whichever one you'd like! While this book is not about education, my educator hat can never come off, especially in this case.
The main topic discussed in Daring Greatly is vulnerability. If someone is the queen of running away from being vulnerable, IT'S ME! This blog is the curation of thoughts that make it through a very rigid vetting process into writing...it takes a lot for me to open up. However, Brown posts a great argument that has made me see pain and adversity in a new light, especially when dealing with struggling students.
Everybody has adversity. But, like everything, there are levels of adversity and pain one goes through. At my school, I have found purpose in the cards life has dealt me. The students that I serve are faced with early deaths, incarcerated family members, extreme levels of poverty, and the list goes on. Being a leader doesn't come with a manual. Furthermore, giving consequences is one of the most complex situations a leader faces. Nobody trains you on how to address misbehaviors and while there's the "Student Code of Conduct" it is up to your judgement to not only give the student a consequence, but to investigate and attempt to find a solution to impede this from happening again. It's easy to go around handing detention slips and in-school suspension forms. But in order to fully make long-lasting, impactful change, we must get to the root of things. Why are the students lashing out? How are we influencing these behaviors? Here's where empathy and vulnerability come in. If you're an educator that cannot be empathetic, you cannot serve to your fullest potential. Brown says, "Being empathetic doesn't mean going through the exact experience, it simply means letting the other person know their pain is acknowledged and they are not alone." As teachers, we cannot hold on to grudges, every day we have to push our reset button when working with our kids. As leaders, we have to empathize not only with the teacher, but with the student and their family. Being vulnerable can make a day and night change when having conversations with students/parents. Many times, our struggling students think that nobody understands the pain they're going through. When talking to parents, they sometimes feel judged and inferior simply because your title suggests you're educated and in a position of power, and they're not. Being vulnerable about our backgrounds and our experiences levels the playing field and builds trust. It is only with trust that one can begin understanding what is really triggering behaviors in our students.
This year I am grateful to be working hand in hand with a counselor that understands the complexity of the issues we face. Through a restorative approach, Ms. Menephee guides students, parents and even myself to find the best, whole-hearted solution.
I invite you to be courageous in sharing and using your adversity to create change. Happiness and sadness are emotions that unite us. We tend to be surrounded in a world that inundates us with joy, even if it’s artificial. We open up our Facebook and see all the fantastic things happening to our contacts and we tend to compare our lives to the highlights of others. But, what a difference it makes to read how someone has overcome adversity and pain. Whether it’s starting a blog, or simply sharing stories that show you in another light other than “perfect”, embrace the pain and use it to connect. Your challenges can help a student, a teacher, a parent or a friend understand that they are not alone, this too shall pass, and they will be stronger because of it.