Academic Lens: Allowing Vulnerability

Posted by Scott Allenby


While the origins of St. Valentine’s Day date back to the 5th century, the celebration in our society today focuses on our connection to others. As carnations and candy-grams are sold by student leadership and the dance team during lunches this week, we are reminded of the excitement, and intense vulnerability, felt as Valentine's Day approaches on Saturday. I promise this blog will get back to our educational mission at Proctor quickly, so bear with me. 

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Brene`Brown's powerful Ted Talk (below) illustrates years of research into the power of vulnerability in shaping humanity. Brown’s qualitative research provided her a deep understanding that connections give purpose to our lives. No matter what classes we take, or what team we play on, what field we choose to go into, if we do not feel connected to those around us, we will lack a clear sense of belonging. So naturally, when Brown asked people about love, they told her about heartbreak. When she asked them about belonging, they told her about exclusion. 

Her research then led her on a mission to find out what causes this vulnerability. Surprisingly, she found vulnerability to be rooted in shame, or the fear of disconnection. This shame that we all feel at times is underpinned by the self-talk “I’m not good enough and because I’m not good enough, people won’t want to be connected to me". 

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When she dug deeper into her qualitative research, Brown found people’s shame boiled down to a sense of worthiness. In fact, only one variable separated those who had a strong sense of love and belonging and those who did not. That variable was profound: people who have a strong sense of belonging believe they are worthy of that love and belonging they receive from those around them. 

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Whether we realize it or not, we all fear disconnection. When done properly, however, the educational process is filled with opportunities to reconnect with our students. Our mission at Proctor is to understand each individual and how they learn. Because we appreciate individual learners, those potential moments of shame that inevitably arise for every student are transformed into a sense of belonging; a sense of “I am enough just as I am".

This is a powerful experience for each student, and one we embrace wholeheartedly as a school. It is a philosophy epitomized by the impact of our Learning Skills program (as seen in the video below). 

Brown concludes her message with four traits found in each of the ‘wholehearted’ people she studied. They had a sense of courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others. They felt connected as a result of authenticity when they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be. They embraced vulnerability and understood that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.

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As Valentine’s Day approaches later this week, we remind ourselves of our purpose as a school: to help students feel connected to this community and to have the most meaningful learning experience possible. As Brown notes, “Children are hardwired for struggle when they get here. We cannot tell them they are perfect. Our job is to say you are imperfect, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” When we work from this place with our students, we are able to unlock our students’ willingness to be authentic, vulnerable learners.

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