I should have been prepared for that charming greeting, especially after this Hoosier girl had already been introduced to tacos for breakfast, Topo Chico, longhorns on the front of SUVs, intense humidity, and southern hospitality. But the humble and kind hello struck me because I knew who it was coming from.
Yes, the Daring Greatly, wholehearted, get into the arena, vulnerability is courage, and show up and be seen Brené Brown - the person who has helped me transform from a meek and mild echo to a confident voice not afraid to take up space.
Back up quickly: I had been blessed to be invited with three other educators from around the country to meet in Houston for a week to work with Dr. Brown’s team on exciting guides and lessons for teachers and schools around her book Dare to Lead that will be available soon on her Daring Classrooms hub found at www.brenebrown.com. Educators will be able to find ways to teach about ideas like trust, values, shame, and vulnerability.
It was complete shock and joy when that invitation came through. My initial reaction included lots of jumping and running around. Twirling. There may have been some twirling, too.
As excited as I was to be able to work with Brené and team, I was even more thrilled to know our work would be heading into classrooms around the country. Because I’ve seen it first-hand, I believe with every ounce of who I am that Brené Brown’s research has the power to revolutionize education and that it’s what schools, educators, and students desperately need and deserve. We need Daring Classrooms and Daring Schools.
Back to the “Hey, y’all.”
My heart thumped with a million emotions but was topped with overwhelming gratitude as I spun around to see my hero. I have been knee-deep in her work for the past six years, rumbling with it myself, sharing it with anyone who’d give me a second, and bringing the concepts into my classroom and to my colleagues. Now, I was sitting in Dr. Brown’s office working with her and her dynamic team.
I have been in many rooms and situations where my profession and my work were not respected, but this was not one of them. Brené listened, asked questions, offered improvements, and cheered us on for all we had done. She wanted to know where we struggled, what we needed, and where we were going next. At one point we spent close to 20 minutes wordsmithing one part of the template we had created for the integration plans. She was completely in it with us. It was magic working with her, and I’ll never forget when Brené looked at us and said, “This is why I invited teachers.”
The woman who had sat with giants like Melinda Gates and Oprah treated four teachers like giants, too. I felt valued and appreciated, two things teachers in our country can’t often say, but the fact of the matter is Brené’s passion for education and educators is palpable. I have heard her say, “Teachers are some of our most important leaders,” more than any other public figure, and she backs up her talk.
I flew back to Indiana with a renewed passion to get this work into the hands and hearts of as many teachers as possible. I am inching closer and closer to my 10th year of teaching, and I have watched fads in our profession come and go. I’ve read and studied the educational gurus whose work is followed year in and year out, but I have personally witnessed the transformative power of Brené’s research in schools.
It has taken my classes of complete strangers and turned us into families. It has empowered my kids who had innovative ideas to stand up and share it with classmates. It has pushed me to have uncomfortable yet necessary conversations. It has kept me curious about students who others have written off as insubordinate and unwilling to work or learn. I’m thinking particularly of one young lady who wrote to me on the first day of school that she would never speak to me or her classmates because she is so shy and does not trust others. By mid-semester, she was in front of the room sharing her story, taking questions from classmates and smiling as she found a place where she could just be herself.
That’s the key. Students just need a place where they can be vulnerable and authentic, where they can take off their armor without fear of being shamed or judged. They need a place where they can trust other people. They need a place to risk, dare, innovate, and express themselves because that’s how they learn. We want so much from students, but that environment must be intentionally cultivated and nurtured each day, knowing full well that many students have lives that require a figurative and sometimes literal armor to protect themselves. Our Daring Classrooms need to be a place where they can hang up their armor, even if for a short time.
My fellow educators, I get that the standards must be taught. I know the tests loom over what we do each day. I am aware there is never any time. I know the pressure is suffocating, and there is always something being added to our plate, but this work is the plate. It’s what will hold everything else. Trust, courage, vulnerability, and empathy keep that plate sturdy and strong, allowing all the mandates, testing, and stressors to pile on and not crash to the floor.
I have never believed in anything more, and for as long as I teach and lead, Brené Brown’s work will guide what I do. I urge you to try it with me. Do a book study of Dare to Lead with colleagues using the school-specific companion guide. Try out the lessons available for both primary and secondary classrooms. Use the language and concepts any and every chance you get and see what happens in your classroom.
It’s a Daring Classroom for me because these lessons will change my class and I’ll be helping educate a new generation of Daring Leaders. Imagine our students being taught these skills as kids and being able to spend their formative years practicing daring leadership rather than adding on layers and layers of armor that stunts their academic and personal growth. This is the world and the type of school I want to see.
I hope y’all will join me.
If you’re new to Dr. Brown’s work: