Vulnerability

Welcome to the first post, of what I am hoping to be many, for 2018! 

Last evening as part of my schools staff PLC schedule, we were fortunate enough to have received a visit from Paul Zappa, the director and founder of Nirodah. Nirodah itself as a term come from Buddhism and translates to ‘cessation of suffering’, which recognises that throughout life there are major causes of pain, suffering and distress however there are also way and methods to help support and ease that pain. Mindfulness being just one of those techniques.

Paul and his team work with a variety of organisations and educational settings to help them understand that all young people have the ability to learn and learn well, and even more so when there is a greater understanding that has been developed about why young people learn and behave vastly differently from one another. This as we discussed, can often be brought back to a level of trauma a child or young person has experienced.

As Paul stated, “All kids have a different story”. It rings so true. Kids who are from broken homes, have experienced levels of family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and so on. Then, we have the complete other end of the spectrum. Kids who are doted upon, fully supported, wrapped in a bubble, protected and shielded and everything in between. As educator we then expect these kids for the most part to be at a school on time and 100% ready to learn. That’s not asking to much is it? Or is it?

The teaching and Learning Model that was discussed by Paul to help us as educators and school leaders better understand these young people was as follows;

RELATIONSHIPS > TRUST > VULNERABILITY > TRAUMA > EMPATHY > COMPASSION.

Without one you cannot have the other and as teachers we know all too well when we develop relationships with our students we earn their trust. Trust that leads to discussion that fosters vulnerability through potential experience of trauma. That then leads to empathetic behaviour on our behalf, and certainly NOT to be confused with sympathy. And finally compassion.

Following this our discussions led to, of all things, Neuroplasticity and the ability of us as humans to learn new behaviors and to change what neural pathways we have already forged. A grea examples of this that Paul demonstrated was this little activity.

  1. Fold / Cross your arms just as you normally would.
  2. Take note of how they’re folded. Which arm is over what.
  3. Unfold  your arms, and shake them out.
  4. Now fold your arms again. The opposite way.

How’d you go? Tricky is isn’t it! That’s because we;’ve hardwired our brains to automatically fold our arms in a certain way. It’s just how we do it! The same as putting on pants! Not in general of course, but meaning that we always put the same leg in first!

These were great examples of behaviours that are exhibited by some of our students. Their behaviour is hardwired based on what they have experienced time and time again and have had, unfortunately, modelled before their eye over and over.

The good news? They can adjust their neural pathways and learn new behaviours! As educators we seek first to understand their behaviour (COVEY!), and then look to model and teach.

A great quote that Paul mentioned was this: “We don’t excuse behaviour because of trauma that has been experienced. We first need to understand why that behaviour is being exhibited in the first place”. 

It’d be like me standing on the side of the street yelling at my car because it wont start. As amusing to other as that would be, I am sure! Yelling is not going to fix it. I need to understand why it won’t start before I can actually do something about it.

As you’d imagine when talking human behaviour, Daniel Goleman and his work was sure to be mentioned. His extensive work and research on Emotional and Social Intelligence was referenced several times and if you’re not familiar with Goleman’s work, it something you should definitely look at.

A large part of the session with paul and his team had a clear focus on what this post it titled: Vulnerability. It is vulnerability that is the flip side to joy, happiness and empathy.

This about a situation when you felt vulnerable. How did you feel? I bet it wasn’t happiness and joy! When our students feel vulnerable they exhibit behaviours that we generally do not want to see as teachers. Aggression, violence, withdrawal, silence, depression, anxiety and a host of other traits.

A shared clip, by well known researcher Brene’ Brown in the space of Vulnerability, has a wonderful TED talk which I have shared below. It is certainly thought provoking!

When we think about the term vulnerability and feeling vulnerable, it certainly portrays a lot of emotions. Usually not emotions that we like either. However. For those of you reading this who work in the education system you’d know all to well that schools and educational systems love change! Love it! Constant change of curriculum, pedagogy, and environment. I have been teaching 15 years and have seen 5 curriculum changes. 

Anyway!

What we also know about change is that there is usually a feeling by those going through that change of vulnerability because people do not usually like change. They feel vulnerable. Change is different and different is uncomfortable. Brene’ Brown sums it up beautifully below and when I think of this quote of hers, i think of all the true innovators, Jobs, DaVinci, Edison, Tesla, Barclay…  maybe not that last one… who all had to experience being highly vulnerable and subject to shame for their potential “crackpot ideas”. Idea which we now know  have shaped the world in which we live.

It is when our students feel vulnerable, for fear of being shamed, that they then act out in ways which deflects the attention being on them. Starting a fight, being a class clown, skipping class, etc… Again, we need to first understand why they do this if we are to in fact help them as best we can.

And how do we help them?Through listening and understanding and most of all, by being empathetic.

Empathy is about feeling with people and understanding with emotion the plight they may be in. It takes a true human connection to be made for empathy to be real and genuine. It is that empathetic connection that makes the feeling of being vulnerable better.

The short clip below highlights how empathy is vital in making these human connections. The thing about empathy also is that it can be hard! It can be hard to show empathy, genuine empathy, to that student who just told you where to go. Who walked out of your class swearing. Who beat up on the smaller more vulnerable student. But without empathy we cannot make that connection and move towards compassion, and then begin to look at how to really assist and help that individual.

 

For my first post back in a while it’s been a abit of a ramble. There is a level of vulnerability here that no one will read it. People will criticise it. Think it’s rubbish. But that’s ok. That’s part of the process in trying something new and putting yourself out there. 😉

Until next time!

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