Yet vulnerability and courage are powerful touchstones for Academic Leaders now more than ever. No matter how accustomed we may be to the rhythms of the school year, each First Day of School has a shiny newness to it. Some of us may have new roles, and some of those new roles may be at new schools. All of us will welcome new colleagues, new students, and new families to the building. And we’ll all need to have the courage to recognize and embrace our own vulnerabilities if we’re going to successfully strike the right note of welcome and belonging that will usher our communities into a new school year.
At the Association for Academic Leaders Forum this past summer, I found myself invited again and again to step into this brave space alongside people I had just met, some for the first time altogether, some for the first time in person. Being vulnerable with new friends took courage–and seeing their courage as they were vulnerable with me and each other gave me strength.
Whether swapping silly anecdotes table-wide at dinner or offering and receiving feedback on deeply personal vignettes one-on-one with a partner during the Moth workshop, I was reminded how powerful the storytelling impulse is, how much is gained for both the teller and the listener. When shared from a place of courageous vulnerability, personal narratives reveal what we value, how we hope to be seen and heard. When we make time and space for our colleagues and students to tell their stories, we give them the opportunity to reveal not just what they know but also who they are and build more welcoming, engaging, and vibrant learning communities.
I’m holding these ideas close as the new school year begins. It’s hard to be vulnerable as a leader. But if vulnerability is tempered with courage, if I share my stories and invite others to share their stories with me, I open the door to authentic relationships that make the school - and my leadership - better.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)