Ditching the armour to expose vulnerabilities - and heart
I have only been in my new role for one semester. It's a pretty exciting role which involves leading our College, as one of Australia's first movers in the area of new metrics for success, into uncharted waters. There is no evidence base upon which to draw in order to guide actions. Whilst this might sound daunting, and it is, it also provides an excuse should things go awry. But does it?
My school, a K-12 Catholic College, is a large and complex setting, in that it provides more than three services on the one premises. At the helm of our school is a thought leader who is also a thought-doer. With this, comes permission to take risks and push conventional boundaries. I am backed to the hilt in support and encouragement. Yet, despite this, on a daily basis I am wondering what impact I might be having on staff, students and families. The maille is on. I need a bit of protection.
Feeling galvanised, I push on. I am fortunate to be working with a highly professional staff who know their stuff. They work incredibly hard. But there in lies the problem for me. It is challenging to be presenting to such knowledgeable staff, on a weekly basis, about the teaching and assessing of complex competencies. "Trust me", I say. "It works, although we have nothing to prove it - yet."
For most of us, this call to focus on complex competencies in our learning spaces does involve the commitment to unlearn and relearn how we teach. At our school, we subscribe to the theory of learning to become, as opposed to the traditional rationale of learning to become something. Put simply, we aim to develop the complex competencies that our students require in order to flourish in a rapidly changing world alongside syllabus content. For too long, the purpose for education was to capture students' abilities to recall large amounts of content and regurgitate it at the conclusion of 13 years of schooling. However, in NSW, the HSC and ATAR metrics remain steadfast. It takes a leap of faith to adjust our approach to teaching and learning when the shroud of accountability is still weighing heavily on our teachers.
I can feel the tension and so on goes the pauldrons and vambraces. If we are to bring integrity to the new metrics paradigm, we really need to shift the locus of control from teachers to students. Our role is changing and we need to adapt. I have enjoyed presenting to our staff current educational research in terms of what industries require of our graduates and what that means for educators if we are to prepare them for the necessary skills and dispositions in their post-school lives.
But I also consider the perspective of our expert teachers who have experienced great success in the model of teaching and learning, where content drives the learning. It can be disconcerting to adopt a totally new approach. Who is accountable then? What happens if positions on league tables slip? What's in it for us? I dig out the rerebraces and cuisses.
Ready, fire, aim... Not only is this the tagline for my Boundary Hunter blog, I try to live by it. Sometimes this approach is successful. Other times...well...not so much but at least the ground hasn't opened up and swallowed me whole. Armed with my favourite research on Learner Agency and burgeoning results from University of Melbourne's New Metrics Project, and the MetaPraxis Project, I mount my trusty steed and raise the gauntlets.
From the indirect feedback on the Professional Learning that I had been facilitating since the beginning of 2022, as well as collegial conversations, and through informal learning walks, it felt like we were making progress. However, I wondered that while I thought I was doing great things, were the staff with me, and how did I know?
This led me to reflect a little deeper and draw upon Brene Brown's 'Dare to Lead' where she states:
In her book, Brene encourages us to "share everything we’ve learned about taking off the armour and showing up as leaders in a skills-based and actionable playbook." I love this. But she warns us that, "You can't get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability." We need to expose our hearts and lead from there. So, off comes the rerebraces, pouldrons, cuisses, and maille. I ask my colleagues to give me direct feedback on the professional learning I have been facilitating on complex competencies for the past six months. I'm not looking for the kind of 'cheap seats' feedback where kindness trumps 'truth'. I choose a protocol that ensures an honest appraisal.
I rumbled with vulnerability and I received hard-hitting feedback. There's some stuff I need to work on. But my heart isn't closed off to this process. If I am to truly grow as an educator, then I need to put down my lance and expose my heart. If I remain 'armoured' then I will be constricted and closed off to growth. Have you ever tried to move in a complete armour set?
Rumbling with vulnerability does involve courage. I need to model that if I am to ask my colleagues to rumble with their vulnerabilities, too, when harnessing a new pedagogical approach. I believe that we should fortify with our resolve, passions and big hearts, rather than with armour. It's certainly liberating.