Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What Does Bravery Look Like?

I've spent some time in the last few weeks thinking about bravery. To begin with, our faculty decided upon the theme of bravery for the Essential Questions that will drive the curriculum for the year. This is exciting from the perspective of middle school and the perspective of math - both require bravery.

Recent events in both my personal and professional life have required me to show bravery, so it has been interesting to reflect upon what bravery is and how we access it.

I asked some people what their experiences with bravery looked and felt like. It was a curious lesson in assumptions, because what I guessed people would say and what they actually said were vastly different. But a common thread in all of these discussions was a sense of vulnerability in showing who we are, exposing how we think and exhibiting what we create to others. 

As we ramp up for a new school year, we must do all of these - show who were are, expose how we think and exhibit what we create to others. This is scary for students, but in some ways more terrifying for teachers.  

Reflecting on my own experiences with bravery - and observing outstanding acts of bravery in the students I am fortunate to know - I noticed some themes. 

We show bravery when we break things. I'm thinking of bad habits and unhealthy relationships. Why do we hold on to these when we know they are dumb? Because they are comfortable and we know them. Breaking out of ruts and routines is really hard. Anyone who has ever tried to stop smoking, cursing, calling that friend or biting their nails knows this. 

But knowing that the habit is bad and actually breaking it are two different things. The process of breaking a bad habit or signing off on an unhealthy relationship takes work. We must find active ways to change our thinking and our actions so that we can move beyond what is making us inert.

For students, this can mean breaking out of ruts with work habits. For teachers, it can mean ditching the reliance on a text book, walking away from routines that "have worked in the past" and relinquishing "control" of the learning. This is scary stuff and facing it requires bravery. 

We show bravery when we build things. Part of breaking a bad habit is building a new one. Often, we need to build new mindsets in order to build new curricula, new relationships and new ways of being. 

When our faculty convened last month, we had lots to build. There are many teachers who joined us over the summer, so we had to build some understanding about who were are and what we're about. We also needed to build some culture around how and why we work. What are the priorities? What do we value? It was challenging. And required some thoughtfulness about when to be brave about sticking to your guns and when to be brave in embracing someone else's idea. 

When interacting with students, questions to consider throughout the year then become: How do we show bravery when creating curricula? How can we build curricula that bravely empowers students to actively learn and meaningfully shape knowledge into powerful ideas that enable them to create things themselves?

We show bravery when we can be ourselves. An important part of bravery is authenticity to the people we are and the things we are good at. While we can develop new habits and skills, they must be consistent with our beliefs and strengths. What works across the hall might not work in your classroom. 

Showing who you are always requires bravery. Teachers must model this so that students know this kind of bravery is not only necessary, but valued. Students need to know who they are so that they can develop a lens for what they are learning and see how it might apply to their lives specifically. Especially in middle school. But also in every school.

We show bravery when we bend a little. It is easy to feel like we have all the answers. The better we are at something, the greater the risk of believing we know it all. Being open to the ideas of others and adopting their ideas as our own requires bravery. When we bend our thinking, our beliefs or our habits to reflect new knowledge, we show bravery, but also a deep respect for the bravery in others.

As humans, our default isn't typically bravery. Knowing that fear is a big motivator for most of our actions - both the small ones only we notice and the large, showy ones we put on display for others - makes it easier to spot bravery when we see it. When your introvert son gets on stage to sing and act in front of hundreds, when the teacher across the all tries something new and a little bit messy, when students show up for school on the first day with a frightened look and squared shoulders, when kids point out injustices to adults in power, when you have yourself convinced that you'll never be able to do that thing but you find yourself doing it anyway.

Bravery looks different for all of us. But the prevailing image I have of bravery is that green look you get from wanting to throw up which is covered up the pink flush you get from embarrassment followed by the warm glow of relief when you did the scary thing anyway.

What does bravery look like for you?

How will you show who you are, expose how you think and exhibit what you create?