The people in our lives, educators or otherwise, who really stand out, who we most admire, tend to be those who are especially courageous or brave in some way. They are friends who tell us the truth. They are family who hug us even when we’ve hurt them. They are students who fall and get back up again and again. They are colleagues who say what we are afraid to say. They are leaders who say ‘no’ when it’s just easier and safer to say ‘yes’.
But bravery is a character strength that we all have and that can be cultivated.
Dr Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, suggests a question that we can ask ourselves as we try to live as authentically and bravely as possible:
Today, when I had the opportunity, did I choose courage over comfort?
“Most of the successful people I know have tons of bad ideas.”
— Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram.
This is as true in education as it is in entrepreneurship. Success and leadership is less about always being right or always having the great idea — and more about being willing to be wrong and having the courage to pivot at the right time.
The education ‘system’ is engrained and rigid. When, as an educator, you choose an unconventional strategy or challenge the status quo or disrupt the system in some way, there is only one guarantee – you will be judged.
When Paul Richards, Superintendent of the American School of Dubai, decided to (successfully!) abandon email as a form of internal communication, he was judged. It’s brilliant, and it worked, but there were (mis)judgements made. When Salman Khan launched and popularised Khan Academy, he created a new paradigm of mass education – and he was criticised and judged.
In every school, there are leaders and teachers who are willing to ask brave, challenging questions, to think differently, to push boundaries. It is these educators who are gradually edging us towards an exciting new horizon. And in each case, there is someone eager to criticise them.
Whether you’re a Year 8 kid or an experienced teacher, it takes courage to stand up, to stand out. But there’s always an easy alternative. Sit down, fit in and say nothing.