A new school year begins with a group of new teachers, ready to learn the ins and outs of how we teach at TCFL. We’re a progressive school and many of our new teachers are joining us from more traditional settings. We don’t use textbooks, or rewards and punishment. Instead we teach through projects, workshop formats, feedback, and reflection. There’s a lot to learn when teachers begin here and in the first few months it can f eel overwhelming. Some people will adapt fairly quickly, others will take much longer, and a few won’t make it. After reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, I had an aha moment, realizing that the defining difference between teachers who adapt and teachers who don’t seems to be a willingness to show vulnerability.
These are the steps teachers tend to go through while they’re adapting:
1) Pretending everything is okay
- Feeling nervous about observations
- Rejecting feedback (the “I already do that” syndrome)
- Not admitting mistakes
- Expecting negative judgement
- Being afraid to admit they need help
2) Having a “mini-meltdown”
- This often includes tears
- Admitting that it’s hard and they feel overwhelmed
- Opening up and sharing their weakness
- Acknowledging that they need help
3) Accepting support
- Beginning to ask questions
- Welcoming observation and feedback
- Analyzing failure for growth
- Collaborating with others
- Accepting help
Some teachers don’t go through these steps – they already have a growth mindset and they’re able to express vulnerability from day one. They ask for help and are willing to lean on others until they’re able to go it alone.
But most feel the need to keep up a facade of perfection. They wrap themselves in a protective cloak, not letting others see their weaknesses. Coaxing them to unwrap that cloak can take time and patience and in the meantime the person hiding within is blinded by fear and unable to move forward. If teachers don’t get to the mini-meltdown stage they usually don’t adjust and will eventually leave. These are usually very good teachers and we don’t want to lose them. Therefore it’s crucial for us to break through the fear somehow.
The key to adapting seems to be vulnerability. The sooner a teacher is able to open up and admit shortcomings, the sooner they’re able to grow. So how do we help teachers trust us enough to let down their guard?
- Build on the positive. Let new teachers know what they do well. Constantly point out the things that work (no matter how small). Most teachers are all too aware of their shortcomings and having difficulty seeing their strengths.
- Focus on one area to change and celebrate growth. Prioritize the learning. Small steps will add up to faster change than trying to take on too much at once. Be sure to give positive feedback for progress.
- Let teachers know that mistakes are okay – and remember, it’s not only our words that count. Our tone, facial expression, and body language pack a powerful message.
- Share our own mistakes and how we learned from them. Experienced teachers can make everything look so easy and it may seem like they were born with some magical teaching ability. New teachers need to know that we all went through the same struggle and that although it was hard, we slowly progressed.
- Listen patiently – knowing that you’ll listen to their fear and anxiety without judgement will help a teacher open up faster.
When we let down our defenses and share our vulnerability, our relationships flourish and we’re more open to learning and growth. But helping others get to this point can be difficult. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve in this area, so if you have any tips for helping teachers work through their fear, I’d love to hear them – please share your ideas in the comments.