Vulnerability, openness and honesty are powerful tools in education

​​One of the things that I pride myself in as an educator is openness, honesty and showing my own vulnerability as a teaching tool.

Flashback: The first class I ever taught (In the 1990s) as a brand new teacher and newly qualified in pre-hospital emergency care was to teach first aid qualified adults how to take a BP temperature, pulse and respiration.  As a brand-new teacher, who was yet to build her confidence as an educator, I was focused on trying to know “everything“ in order to prove my worth as a teacher, unfortunately what I didn’t consider was the students, who in reality should have been at the center of my teaching.

Now, with over 20 years experience in teaching (both paid and volunteer) I would love to be able to travel back in time and tell my younger self what I have learnt along the way.

What made me remember my first teaching experience was working with some young people (13 to 18 years) this week, where we were discussing communication styles, needs and processes. I had set up an exercise where students were required to critique the communication in some TEDTalks and chosen one particularly powerful talk with outstanding skills and one where the message was strong but communication skills were less refined.  I started to set up the computer to watch the ted talks and found that I had actually left the text to speech software I have been using turned on. Immediately one of the class asked me why my computer was “talking what I typed”.

One of my strengths is thinking on my feet, adapting to what is in front of me and turning it into a teaching moment, alongside this, I consider myself a confident and experienced teacher who can manage difficult situations in class. However, this one made me hesitate, I thought to myself do I tell them? Do I move on quickly? Do I ignore the comment?

What grounded me was going back to what I consider a fundamental part of my teaching practice – there are no “dumb” questions just opportunities for learning. I stopped the class and explained why I had speech software on my computer and this became the catalyst for a more engaged and in depth conversation around communication, difficulty and abilities.

When reflecting on the situation I remembered my first experience of teaching as the brand-new teacher where, I probably would have moved on and ignored the question.   I compared this to now, where I saw its value as a teachable moment for my students rather than an uncomfortable situation for me.  Interestingly, this conversation allowed me to connect better with these young people, the dynamic changed, it became more about us learning together.  The short video below is of one of the people I was teaching showing me how to use SnapChat.

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