This much I know about…the importance of reciprocal vulnerability

I have been a teacher for 27 years, a Headteacher for 12 years and, at the age of 51, this much I know about the importance of reciprocal vulnerability.

To teach you need to feel worthy. Too many of us can lose our sense of self-worth when it comes to doing that incredibly complex thing called teaching. And changing our practice is something we don’t do because we hang onto what we know because trying and failing in a school climate where risk-taking is discouraged would diminish our self-worth even further. We are held back by our own deep-rooted sense of vulnerability. I discovered Brené Brown last weekend and I think you should meet her too. Here she is on what her research tells her about people who have a secure sense of self-worth.


Reciprocal vulnerability matters. Metacognition is the Sutton Trust-EEF’s Teaching & Learning Toolkit’s best bet to increase student progress. I have written at length about it here, here and here. I have demonstrated how to teach aspects of metacognition to several colleagues across our school. One of the highlights of my week was co-teaching a jointly planned Year 11 mathematics lesson with a young teacher, where we used my visualiser/verbalising-my-thinking technique. Teachers learn from teachers. Teachers trust what other teachers have to say about what works in the classroom because the teacher-to-teacher relationship is founded upon reciprocal vulnerability and its close partner, authenticity. If we are going to begin to get anywhere near setting up the basic foundations of an evidence-based teaching profession, we need structures for disseminating the evidence, teacher-to-teacher so that it impacts on student outcomes. Philippa Cordingley’s research found that reciprocal vulnerability is crucial for teacher professional learning: [a core characteristic of effective professional learning is] the enabling of sustained peer support and reciprocal vulnerability which increases ownership, commitment and a willingness to take risks and to unlearn established assumptions and habits and to develop new understandings and practices. Teacher-to-teacher is where this research/evidence thing needs to be heading…



About johntomsett

Headteacher in York. All views are my own.
This entry was posted in Research, School Leadership, Teaching and Learning. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to This much I know about…the importance of reciprocal vulnerability

  1. scbeeley says:

    At last, real insight from the world of education on how to apply the best of EQ to the practice of teaching and learning.

  2. Pingback: Safety Announcement | teaching personally

  3. Keef Feeley says:

    John, I discovered your blog today, having bought and starting to read your book last week and I am both DELIGHTED and ANNOYED! Delighted to discover so many articles reflecting much of my own research, which began in 1973 when I started teaching -FINALLY!! Annoyed because I’m now in 63! My ‘mission’ for the last 10 years has been to try to persuade anyone and everyone that our children NEED to have measurements on them on the things that really matter (I refer to them as THE 8 SKILLS) which is referred to in this brief but excellent article (The Brene Brown TED TALK is well worth a viewing). To discover that a school is attempting to develop metacognition is great, but I discovered many years ago that this needs to be part of the measurement of the our cognition skill. Similarly, ‘reciprocol vulnerability’ is a very important part of our skill of self-awareness, which again can and should be measured, and ‘Spiral Dynamics’ explains how this can develop throughout our lives (and criteria to measure it). I discovered over 20 years ago (part of my M.Ed.) that very effective teachers have a higher development in the skill of self-awareness, which is why it is central to effective coaching of teachers (Phillipa is a big advocate of this) which was supported in the 1999 Hay McBer research. Great news!

  4. jillberry102 says:

    Teacher to teacher reciprocal vulnerability is important, but I think it’s particularly impressive when heads are prepared to show their vulnerability too.

    Haven’t come across Brene Brown before, so thanks for the introduction, John.

    And on the subject of self-worth, I remember hearing Ian Gilbert speaking at a conference a few years ago when he said that in order for our self-esteem to be healthy (pupils and staff) we have to feel that we’re both loveable and capable. That’s always stayed with me.

    Thanks for the post.

  5. Pingback: Reciprocal vulnerability – the unconscious curriculum

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