"The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time." - Brené Brown

I think Brené Brown and Maria Montessori would be fast friends, had they lived during the same time. They both believe deeply in showing up as who we are …  and in following that authentic self. Montessori calls it following the child; Brown calls it being authentic and vulnerable in order to find wholehearted living. It’s important to say that the concept of “vulnerability” has evolved into a positive and beneficial behavior and characteristic in both Brown’s and my research.

Montessori wrote that “the child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity. We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and ideas and as their sense of order, discipline, and self-control develops within them.... The child is both a hope and a promise for all humankind.” A hope and promise for humankind starts at the center of the child’s ability and gift to show up as who they are. If this concept interests you, I thought I’d walk you down a path of Brown’s research, and why I think it ultimately connects to our work at GMS.

Brown began her research journey in the field of social work with her basic belief about the necessity of human connection. “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives” (Brown, 2012a, p. 253). Her dissertation explored assessing relevance in professional helping (e.g., pastoral care, psychologists, educators, or organizational leaders). Over six years, she interviewed 1,280 professionals to develop her theory of accompaniment.

Through asking her participants about human connection, she ended up developing the related ideas of shame and shame resilience. Asked about human connection, participants invariably ended up talking about instances of heartbreak, betrayal, and shame, which Brown defined and coded as the fear of not being worthy of real connection. That emerging pattern led her to return to her data to investigate why and how some were resilient to this shame, heartbreak, and betrayal. She eventually developed a model of shame and shame resiliency, which revolved around empathy, courage, compassion, and connection. The patterns in her data pointed to wholeheartedness, which Brown developed into what she called wholehearted living. And from her study of wholehearted living, Brown then focused her research attention on the power of vulnerability. Vulnerability and having the courage to show up authentically and humbly as who we are connects to how we ask our students at GMS to show up. Brown (2012a) wrote, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences” (p. 12). Vulnerability (being open, authentic, and humble) directly connects to a person’s ability to honestly know their self and their limitations.

Here is where we begin to connect more to the work we do at Greensboro Montessori School. We believe, just as Maria Montessori, that we are always striving for meaningful human experiences and lessons. To achieve this, we need to empower our students to think independently, critically, and openly. And that takes courage.

To be comfortable with their personal vulnerability, Brown writes that people must first have a strong sense of love and belonging. We work to instill that belonging everyday in all our classes. That sense of worthiness is a foundational path for students to find greatness. Conversely, when people cannot be real and honest, i.e. vulnerable, they block great ideas and innovation. Brown (2012a) identifies a lack of vulnerability as the “most significant barrier to creativity and innovation” (p. 187). This lack of vulnerability fosters a fear of change and close-mindedness. If we cannot empower our students to take safe risks and to see the value of struggle and failure, then we may be stinting their ultimate growth.

It takes courage and bravery for students to have new ideas and try new things. Entrepreneurship, growth, and new ideas cannot thrive in an environment that does not welcome openness and authenticity. One participant in an interview with Brown (2012a) said, “When you shut down vulnerability, you shut down opportunity. By definition, entrepreneurship is vulnerable. It’s all about the ability to handle and manage uncertainty” (p. 208). Entrepreneurship thinking and habits of mind is something we pride ourselves on at GMS.

And as for how we create a culture that welcomes these ideas of vulnerability, true courage, and entrepreneurial thinking, school research is crystal clear that we need adults in schools (leaders and teachers) who are willing to display and model this open sense of courage in a quest for better understanding and learning. The adults must first have the courage and wisdom to intentionally be vulnerable. As an adult learning community of about 60 employees, we work everyday to be open to ideas, as we mindfully and intentionally follow the child. I also invite each of our parents to intentionally join us on that journey as we partner to help empower our young people to be confident and inspired to display the sort of courage that Brené Brown writes about.

I’ll leave you with a final thought from Brown. While the quote is specifically about leaders, I think applies all the same to us as parents, as teachers, and as human beings:

“Across the private and public sector, in schools and in our communities, we are hungry for authentic leadership – we want to show up, we want to learn, and we want to inspire and be inspired… When leaders choose self-protection over transparency, and when self-worth is attached to what we produce, learning and work becomes dehumanized… Re-humanizing work and education requires courageous leadership. It requires leaders who are willing to take risks, embrace vulnerabilities, and show up as imperfect, real people. (Brown, 2012a, p. 5)

Have a great and courageous weekend.

- Kevin


Works Cited
Brown, B. (2002). Accompanar: A grounded theory of developing, maintaining, and assessing relevance in professional helping (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Texas, Austin.
Brown, B. (2010a). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Brown, B. (2012a). Daring greatly. New York: Gotham Books.
Brown, B. (2012b). Vulnerability and inspired leadership. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Leadership Series.
Montessori, M. (Published 1992). Education and Peace. The Clio Montessori Series.

Click here to check out a whole host of books and audio published by Brené Brown