Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Inspiration; Learning to Dare Greatly

To kick off the New Year, the #D100bloggerPD group got together at an EdCamp session on our first day back from the winter break and decided to share what inspires each of us. Thanks +Kristin Richey who kicked off the #whatinspiresyou this week on her blog . There will be a few posts per week throughout this month, so keep following along or go back to Kristin's who will keep us organized and link to all of them.

I love a good self-help book. I have all sorts of faults- many obvious to others, but most, only to me. I should be perfect after all the reading I have done, however, most authors tend to address a narrow spectrum of what limits us. BrenĂ© Brown hits them all in her book, Daring Greatly; vulnerability, shame, and fear. The title captures the essence of the words of Theodore Roosevelt. I am reminded of notable people as well as the great teachers and leaders I've worked with throughout my career that took risks, were bold, and gave with all their heart. 

Brown describes shame as fear of disconnection- that we don't belong and are unlovable. Shame whispers to us throughout our lives trying to reinforce the stereotypes or norms that our society has formed around roles. I hear the shame as I read blog posts by teachers and principals who are trying to become perfect in their roles while balancing their families and their own health. Distinguishing between shame and guilt is very helpful to healing. Brown encourages us to think of shame as a focus on self; and guilt, a focus on behavior. “I am bad” vs. “I did something bad.” We can apologize for something we’ve done, but we carry shame with us because we lock ourselves into feeling bad about who we are. Shame resilience is built through conscious awareness and quieting the chatter in our heads. Brown says, "If we are going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of what we are supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly." 

Perfectionism is a shield that is used to defend ourselves. We mistakenly believe that if we could make things perfect, we could avoid feeling shame. Brown describes perfectionism as "other focused." When we are aiming for perfectionism, we are looking to please and earn approval from others. Struggling with perfectionism is struggling with shame. Working towards self-compassion and talking to ourselves like someone we'd care about, moves us closer to living wholeheartedly. 

Vulnerability is not weakness. It is living honestly and courageously. To be vulnerable allows us to be creative and to live wholeheartedly. Wholehearted people live with a deep sense of being worthy. They have compassion towards themselves, treat others kindly, live authentically and fully embrace vulnerability. 

How do we remain hopeful and proud of our profession in the face of the onslaught of shame-provoking stories that are being written and told about us? The jury has been out on educators for years now… Why Can’t Johnny Read? was talked about endlessly when I was a young teacher. Throughout my career I’ve felt personally and collectively judged in the press, in the community that I work, and sometimes, even by my colleagues. I’ve allowed the chatter in my head to shame me and hold me back at times from taking risks that may have righted the wrongs in my classroom and my school. Being continually judged solely on test scores and compared to schools unlike my own, brings out my defensiveness and anger. It helps to talk with others in my school and look at the full reality of our situation. It takes courage to fail repeatedly while trying to get it right. Growth mindset has become our mantra at school while we work towards implementing a new system of grading. We tell our students that failure is the way toward success, but we have a hard time believing that ourselves. Periodically assessing our current realities and determining what we need to start and stop doing is important for growth. Our school works hard to nurture the “whole child.” We provide many opportunities for our children and their families to work out together and to learn and create. Often these activities and events are communal. They bring a collective joy to all of us. You cannot measure that on state tests.

This month we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. In a speech that King delivered in 1967, justifying his opposition of the Vietnam War, he stated, “My great prayer is always for God to free me from the paralysis of crippling fear; because I believe that when a person lives with fears of the consequence of his personal life, he can never do anything in terms of lifting the whole of humanity and solving the social problems that we confront in every age and every generation.” Dr. Martin Luther King embraced living wholeheartedly and so can we.  Finding the courage to rid ourselves of shame and fear and stand together as advocates for our students and our profession is daring greatly. 

 Annie Forest shares what inspires her this Friday (1/15) on Show Your Thinking Blog !


  1. Thanks for writing such a honest and self-reflective post! So interesting to learn about the difference between shame and guilt because I had never thought of it that way before.

  2. Fantastic post, Marilyn. So powerful. It's a must read by everyone from new teachers- to veteran teachers- to humankind in general. Thanks for being a part of this #D100bloggerPD #whatinspiresyou series!

  3. LOVED this post Marilyn. I am definitely ordering this book ASAP. And your insight and reflection was extremely inspiring.

  4. Marilyn,
    I was a great admirer of David Bowie who passed this last week. He pushed artistic and societal boundaries as a "futurist". Two of his famous quotes "I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring." and "As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I've got left?" emphasize the message of Daring Greatly. The book and Bowie reminds us we are all "star stuff" if we free ourselves of debilitating fears.

  5. "We tell our students that failure is the way toward success, but we have a hard time believing that ourselves."
    So very true. I'm working on it!