Connection Requires Vulnerability

My first farm visit.

The need to connect with my students’ lives; my first time ever on a farm.

One of the most powerful aspects of teaching for me has been that of connection. It’s the tie that binds, it’s the meaning behind learning and it’s what drives me to learn for and with my students every day.

I recall watching a very compelling TED talk a few years ago by Brené Brown called ” The Power of Vulnerability “. She discussed how authentic connection is made and its importance to relationships. One fundamental thought from her talk which helps to guide me in my teaching practices is the following:

  • In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.

In education, there sometimes exists an imaginary wall which divides teachers from their students. We are seen only as Miss, or Mrs. or Mr., who never leave the classroom and whose lives do not exist beyond the walls of the school. Connection, for me, demolishes this barrier and instead creates an open, compassionate, and understanding community between myself and my students. I care and learn deeply about their lives outside of our classroom, their hobbies, interests, backgrounds and I share with them mine. Somewhere in those bonds, that connection is formed and relationships are fostered and grown.

Authentic connection requires vulnerability. We, as teachers, need to show our students our human side. We make mistakes, we have bad hair days, we trip and get back up, we cry, we laugh and we really don’t know everything and that’s ok!

In one of my very first practicums, I was asked to read with a struggling student who had immigrated to Canada and was not at grade level in reading. We sat in the library together and I listened as he read aloud. I was able to sense that he wasn’t comprehending the story and was just echoing syllables. It became even more apparent when the word cereal continuously evaded him. All of a sudden, it hit me like a ton of bricks, does he know what cereal is?

Growing up juggling two very distinct cultures had placed me in a position to understand that what is obvious to one may not be to another. He bowed his head and said no, with embarrassment. In that moment, I knew and could empathize with the thoughts running through his mind. My mother would send me off to school with grape leaves wrapped in a pita or hummus and baba ghanoosh for lunch while my classmates were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I remember having to ask a friend after watching her eat this delicious-looking round piece of bread with some sort of cream in the centre, just what it was. That was my first introduction to bagels and cream cheese.

I had two options at this point, just tell him what cereal was and have him continue reading, or I could break those walls of embarrassment and feelings of insecurity and share with him my lunch stories and allow him to tell me his. I chose option two, I chose connection. We laughed and learned a lot more than just what cereal was that afternoon. That reading session turned into a cultural exchange as he also taught me about his favourite breakfast foods. Our reading time was forever changed, we had formed a connection and he was no longer embarrassed to tell me when he was struggling because he knew that I too struggled and that I would help him through and past it.

We have these options everyday, it’s just a matter of whether we see them or not.

I spent my first few years bouncing from classroom to classroom and never had the opportunity to be with a group from September to June, as I was filling temporary positions. It made it very hard to leave mid-year, especially when those bonds were formed. I consider myself extremely lucky in my current teaching position, as my students have been with me since grade two. When they leave me, I would have been their teacher for three years. Our connection as a group is strong. I know each of their passions whether its horses, rodeos, drawing, trucks or dancing. I know their fears, worries and what their hopes are. I attend their hockey and baseball games, music concerts and festivals and cheer from the stands. They take pride in teaching me about farming, quadding and fishing, among many other things.

They’ve seen me make mistakes, they know about my irrational fear of bugs, they worry about my commute because maybe I drove my vehicle into the ditch yet again, they know that my knowledge about farming comes from their stories, they know what makes me laugh and cry,  and that I get homesick and miss my family some days too. Most importantly, they know that I care about them as individuals, about their safety and their education. They know that I am their biggest supporter and that together we are a team; this is connection.

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4 thoughts on “Connection Requires Vulnerability

  1. I really like what you wrote. Isn’t great when you have a breakthrough with a studen?:) great job! Need more teachers like you Inte word that really cares on do not just teach because its your job…..thank you

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  2. Vulnerability is huge in making progress as a great teacher for students. I had to apologize to my class last week for putting them through a lesson activity that just didn’t work. It’s humbling and important! Great article!

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    • Thank you so much Dan. You provided the best example for your students. That mistakes happen, but what’s important is that you see them, learn, and grow from them. They can feel and recognize authenticity, you’re right, its very humbling! 🙂

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