The SXSW talk by Brene Brown started with two powerful questions around courage:
“Is courage the willingness to show up and be seen, even when you can’t control the outcome”?
“Is courage something that is inherent in us, or something we can teach and develop in people and in ourselves”?
These two questions caused me to pause and reflect on my own experience as a student, as a teacher, and as a leader. When I think about my own learning journey as a student, there were many instances when I had to show up, do my best, and be seen, even when I had no idea what the outcome might be. Instances like participating in business competitions, playing sports, or running for student council would not have taken place without the courage to take a risk, and put myself out there. Beyond this, there were educators who put time into my development, gave me feedback, and constantly encouraged me along the way. These factors directly tied into building my courage.
Teaching Courage to Students
As a teacher, it the content that I was teaching has always mattered, however, it was all about the kids first, and building solid relationships with them. I learned this valuable lesson very early on in my career, and it has served me well since that time. During my first two years in the profession, I had the privilege of supporting at risk youth. These were students whose last stop before a juvenile facility was my contained classroom. I was young and very green, and had no idea what I was walking into. These were students who just by showing up were exhibiting courage, something that took me time to realize as I learned each one of their stories intimately. I learned that it was a huge success for them just to get to school, and a huge sign of courage on their part. I also learned that it was my job to fill them with positivity, faith, and courage so they would build a successful pattern of attending school everyday. As I stated earlier, this philosophy of building courage in kids, stayed with me all the years I was in the classroom as a teacher. One quote that has always helped to guide this philosophy is: “Maslow’s before Blooms”, of course referring to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, being more important than Blooms Taxonomy. In a nutshell, kids need to feel safe, loved, supported and secure, before they can move forward with any type of learning.
As a leader, I have found that this philosophy is just as important, if not more important than when dealing with students. People are the sum of their experiences, and those experiences are both positive and negative. It can be easy for us to forget this, and the fact that sometimes those negative experiences are holding them back from truly acting courageous at work. I find it is easier to fill in skills gaps for people in the workplace, but filling in the gaps when it comes to confidence, courage, and growth mindset are more challenging, and take more time; they require a long term commitment on behalf of the leader. One exciting initiative that we have recently started at our school has been coaching and the use of thought partners. Earlier this semester we had Jennifer Abrams here for a two day training on Creating a Coaching Mindset. This has provided a platform for us to coach each other and move each other out of our comfort zones. About 40 of us were trained as coaches, and we have all been assigned employees to coach. Teachers and Non-Teachers all have the opportunity to work with a thought partner who will push their thinking on any topic that impacts their work. This could be work related, or non-work related. HERE is a copy of our guidelines that we use at ISC for coaching. We have moved away from the traditional system of evaluation and are using this system as a way to push people beyond their boundaries and build courage within them.
I want to share a couple of other resources that I found this week, and I think are of value. The first one, 11 Ways Leaders Can Help Their People Be More Courageous, written by the Forbes Coaches Council, is a great list. In particular, a couple of their suggestions tie in very nicely with our coaching philosophy above. One of the points is to ask good questions, and not give answers or opinions. When we act as thought partners, we do exactly that. We ask good questions, and help people find their own conclusions, answers, or ideas. The article also points to helping those figure out what matters to them. This is also a huge part of acting like a thought partner, as the answers are never given, but we coach them to understand what matters most, what do they want to work on for themselves and improve on. The second article, 4 Ways Great Leaders Can Build Courageous, Passionate Teams, written by By Bernadette Wightman, focuses on building courageous teams, but of course these can be applied to individuals too. The article speaks to opening as many doors as possible, and this is a great way to coach someone in order to build courage. Pushing people into thinking about all the possibilities that they may not have every considered is powerful. Most people don’t see how much potential they have, and a good coach will help them see this and have the courage to step outside their comfort zone. Another very recent article: The Benefits of Low-Stakes Teacher Evaluation, written by Emily Boudreau, speaks to the fact that evaluations completed by administrators are less impactful than peer to peer coaching and mentoring models. Furthermore, peer to peer coaching can serve more than just measuring performance. The ideas of building resilience, courage, and growth mindset come to mind.
I am very interested to hear what my colleagues think about courage, and how they build it in students and fellow co-workers.