Balance,  Teach

How Vulnerability Can Save Your Career

If you’ve been reading, you know that his blog is about my journey to find balance in my life between my career and my life outside of school. Along this journey, there are obviously many parts of me that intersect. Whether I am at school or at home, I am who I am. Anyone who knows me might describe me as passionate and committed when speaking positively or as a worrier and high strung on the negative end of the spectrum. Only within the past year have I come to own and embrace all the parts of me. This year, I have been more honest about who I am, how I feel, and how I want to be seen. I have always HATED how people talk to me about my stress. “Stop worrying,” they say. “You are always so stressed,” they say. Little do “they” know how comments such as those eat away at me, the worrying type. I have hated this so much that I have started to take some very real steps to change the level of stress in my life. Along this journey, I have come to a number of realizations, and today I want to share the most powerful one. Accepting vulnerability (read: opening up, accepting imperfections, understanding I cannot do it all).

Anyone who does the job of a teacher knows that stress is a definite part of our jobs. We are planners, actors, assessors, counselors, referees, and so much more. How can a single person do all of those jobs AND do all of those jobs with the added pressures of independence and perfectionism? The fact is that we cannot. We cannot be our best when we build walls, shut the doors to our classrooms, and try to do everything by ourselves.

The idea of being vulnerable in our work and how we show up everyday can be terrifying. However, reflecting on vulnerability and doing the work to grow myself in this area has really helped me. In a career field where most people leave after three years, we need more honest conversations about how we can improve our profession. Here is my question and advice for you: How can you start to be more vulnerable at work so you can continue to show up as your best self each day?

  1. Ask for help—As professionals, it can sometimes be difficult to ask for help. We often feel shame if we cannot figure out a specific task. Will our evaluator look down on us because we seek help? We can feel like our need for help is a reflection that we are not good enough. Will my team see me as a weak link if I need their help? The truth is, we ARE good enough and it is OK to ask for help. By opening up about our need for support, we actually make our schools and our classrooms stronger. By relieving the pressure of doing it alone, we are less stressed at school, which we know has better outcomes for our rapport with our students and their learning. By opening up, we also make space for collaboration, and we know how the saying goes—two heads are better than one.
  2. Communicate honestly—Schools (and I’m sure other work places) can be gossip mills. Did you hear about ____? This kid ____. That teacher/administrator said WHAT?! The cycle is never ending. Often times at work, I hear people complaining (and I’m guilty, too!) about things behind closed doors. However, when it comes time to step up in a meeting where the problem can be addressed or when it comes time to take action, no one makes the move. This year, I have tried to say more of what I am thinking or feeling in the moment, which sometimes can feel scary. Not only have I felt better emotionally, but this has (surprise!) helped solve problems right away.
  • While it depends on the environment in your school, I think sharing concerns you hear with your department and administration team is an important thing to do. It can feel intimidating at first, but can actually make things better for everyone at your school in the end. For example, we had some problems with the water in our building one-day. Teachers were frustrated that there was not a clear message/communication from administration on what was happening. I walked downstairs, told my administrator what I was hearing and that I thought it would be good if she could talk to teachers about what was going on. She admitted she wasn’t sure what to do—people get upset when there is a message, upset when there is not a message. She said she really appreciated someone coming to tell her about what was happening, walked straight to the office, and made an announcement to the entire school. Problem solved.
  1. Say No—This word is one that does not often find its way into our vocabularies as teachers. We want to please. We want to be seen as leaders. We feel like we CAN’T say it. But, in fact, not only can we say the word no, we should say it more often. There is power in knowing what we are capable of doing while still maintaining the best version of ourselves. If you agree to take on one more task that is going to cause you to crack, you have to give somewhere. Only in this year of teaching and working in schools have I started to say no. In the past, I have been the person piling on the responsibilities and breaking under the pressure. I wasn’t being a good teacher and this crept over into my life outside of school. I laughed at how packed my schedule was. I cried when I couldn’t handle it. And then, I stopped. Because of this, I am 100% committed to my roles and feel that I am growing in these areas. Try it 🙂
  2. Develop a consistent planning team with honest communication—This year, my planning team is the most effective it has ever been. My partner and I are able to trade who takes control of specific units, while relying on one another for feedback or help (see above) when we need it. We can tell one another when we think something might be difficult to do or maybe just will not work and we are ok with it. It’s not a reflection of us as teachers or as people. Our honesty and consistent communication makes us stronger as a team. This allows us to be more effective for our students. When you trust your partner and have to worry about creating half of the lessons by yourself, this opens you up to have more time to provide feedback, engage in conversations with your students, and be fully present in the classroom. If your planning team is not working how you want it to—try some of the steps above to make this happen—Can you ask for help? Can you communicate honestly about how things are going? Do you need to say no, I cannot do that lesson—Can you please create it instead?

Be aware—vulnerability takes work and sometimes it can still feel shameful to open up, ask for help, or share how you really feel. Just this past week, I shared something very honest in a meeting after school. Even though it was in a room full of people that I trust and feel very safe with, after that meeting I had a full-blown anxiety attack. I could not stop thinking about what I said. I felt unprofessional, worried that people would judge me for my honesty or my emotions. The next day, I had a shame hangover. I felt tired. My body hurt from the stress and tension. It shook my whole system. But, I know this vulnerability thing is a growing experience, and because of that I started right back at the stop—asking for help. My admin is awesome with an open door policy and a constant willingness to help us grow as teachers and professionals. I talked to my assistant principal who helped me think through what happened and who gave me a book called Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. My sharing was related to some feedback I had received in a previous meeting that hurt my feelings, so this book is very relevant to my growth as a professional (and as a person) in this moment. However, after first glance it seems like it will be relevant to this conversation on vulnerability as well, so look forward to some notes on that! While our jobs are hard, find some strategies that will help you stick with it. The job we do matters more than ever.

Have you tried any of these strategies and seen success? What tips do you have for vulnerability? Comment below and share the love!

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