Being at school asks us to take risks and be vulnerable – show what we don’t know and risk failure in the finding out.
It’s hard to believe that people send their children to school – their wee little beautiful children – to experience the pain of “not”, of not knowing and not achieving and not enough. Many adults aren’t courageous enough to put ourselves in such a vulnerable position. Of course, those experiences help us develop the much talked about “grit” and resilience. But not for all; for some those experiences debilitate and alienate.
I am deeply grateful that this was not my experience of school. I failed at things, for sure. My work didn’t always meet the standard in the classroom and I wasn’t always comfortable on the playground. However, I was born into a family that (and had some teachers who) raised me to be, what Brene Brown would call, shame-resilient. I could face failure and exclusion because I didn’t often feel like my self worth was on the line. This shame-resilience enabled me to be vulnerable to the process of learning.
As a child, I managed to navigate a system which sought to rank and define me: the grading system that we all know so well.
I could survive putting out my best efforts and the potential of “not meeting” the standard because I had people who believed I was enough regardless of my achievement. I took on that belief as my own – even when my school work, my creativity, my ideas, my problem solving, my effort and my determination were not enough.
For children who are not shame-resilient, school structures like marking (read: ranking) place children’s self-worth on the line every, single day. When our self worth is on the line we cannot afford to be vulnerable. If we cannot afford to be vulnerable, we won’t engage in the effort and persistence learning requires.
“Shame-resilient cultures nurture folks who are much more open to soliciting, accepting, and incorporating feedback” says Brown in her bestseller Daring Greatly.
Soliciting, accepting and incorporating feedback? Sounds like a formula for learning.
If we want our schools to be shame-resilient cultures we teachers and school leaders must model ourselves as learners first and foremost – being as vulnerable as we ask our students to be. We must look at our systems critically and build in the supports necessary to nurture “engaged, tenacious people who expect to have to try and try again to get it right” (Brown, pg 64).
What supports have you built into your school or classroom to create a shame-resilient culture? What practices should we renounce? What supports should we create?