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June 27, 2018

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Reflecting on Hack 5: Extinguishing Shame and Reframing Vulnerability

June 20, 2018

Welcome back to the Hacking School Culture Book Club! 


If you're new to the club, here's what you need to know: Each Monday, Angela or I will share a brief video introduction to a new chapter (or hack, as they are referred to in the Hack Learning series) along with an invitation to read it. The videos that we share will include our reflections about the writing process, our experiences meeting and coming to know the teachers featured in that section of the text, or perhaps a few thoughts about the ideas that you'll encounter there.


Each Wednesday, we will return with meaningful reflective questions, invitations to connect with us here or in our social spaces, and tools that can help you apply the ideas that we share in our book, including a few that we haven't shared elsewhere before. And if you subscribe to our blog, you'll receive some exclusive giveaways each Sunday. If you have questions as you're reading along, don't hesitate to contact us. We'd love to hear from you.


Want to begin at the beginning? We have archived all of our Hacking School Culture Book Club videos and posts in one place for you to access anytime.




In Hack 5, Angela and I begin to tackle a sensitive subject: shame and vulnerability. We were heavily influenced by the work of Brene Brown, who has dared to engage her readers in a sometimes uncomfortable exploration of our own vulnerabilities, and our need to protect ourselves from hurt.  


None of us wants to admit that we are or have ever been the perpetrators of shame. But when we are not being mindful or practicing empathy, sometimes that's the only way we know how to relate. At the same time, as teachers and parents, we are always trying to balance how much of our real selves to show our kids in order to maintain our roles as educators and guides. But in order to be effective role models and leaders, we need to establish an authentic atmosphere of trust and emotional safety. Shaming, whether intentional or unintentional, not only breaks that trust, but threatens that classroom or home culture. 


I like to think that most teachers and parents are well-intended and use shaming only as a fall-back strategy to help motivate their students or kids to perform or behave better. In my Book Club post introducing Hack 5 , I told my personal story about how what my second grade teacher wrote on my report card -- "Ellen is not working up to potential" -- had short-term and long-lasting emotional and practical consequences for me. Although I still remember what this teacher said, it is the emotional charge of this statement that lingered long after.


So what might this teacher have done differently? How might she have helped me "work up to potential"? How might she have communicated that she believed in me? That I was capable of achieving? That even though I was not reading college-level books that I was still performing to the best of my ability at the age of seven? 


Reflecting on Shame and Vulnerability


As we discuss in our book, one of the ways we can open ourselves up to others is to acknowledge their vulnerabilities as well as ours. And to seriously consider how our words might be received, before we utter them. What we think may be motivating a student may actually cause them to question their own capabilities and self-worth. Ultimately, feelings of shame will likely prove to be counterproductive to improvement. 


We invite you to consider the following as you work through this topic. A more comprehensive list of reflective questions may be found in our resources file for Book Club members.


How might have you been vulnerable with your students in the past? How do you think this approach might have helped you build trust and connection? 


How might you have unintentionally shamed a student?  How did that affect your relationship with that student? With other students? How might the experience have affected that student’s motivation? Ability to learn? Their behavior in the classroom?


How might you establish an atmosphere of trust in your classroom? What has worked best for you? What might you try that you haven’t tried before?


How might you nurture your students’ potential? How might you show them you believe in them? Describe what approaches/techniques/tools/protocols have worked for you?


How might grading, social comparison and ranking contribute to a culture of shaming students? (You may wish to explore how it might be possible to teach without grades by listening to an interview with Hack Learning author Starr Stackstein)


Building Energy with Students


Angela and I developed this protocol for providing encouraging feedback to students. Positive prompting asks us to be mindful of how we frame our feedback so that we build energy with our students. Parents might even use positive prompting questions with their kids at home.  


How might you use positive prompting in your classroom?


Angela and I would like to invite you to continue this conversation by reaching out to us on Facebook, on Twitter @EllenFeigGray and @AngelaStockman, or even through email. We're happy to share our perspectives and connect you to other compassionate people who are grappling with the same questions. We'd love to hear from you



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