Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown

Beginnings of an Idea

In July 2020, I had recently started reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and happened upon this PixL Leadership Book Club podcast episode where Rachel Johnson, Nav Sanghara and Aziza Ajak discussed their reactions to Dare to Lead, Brené Brown’s latest book. I was so inspired by the episode and the examples shared that it prompted a further conversation with my own head teacher about armoured leadership among other things! I decided that I’d finish Daring Greatly then read Dare to Lead.

A few months later, Steven Hope tweeted that he had purchased Start With Why by Simon Sinek and Dare to Lead by Brené Brown for his team at Leeds City College. Having just finished an online book club reading Sinek’s Start With Why with my colleagues, I suggested we read Dare to Lead next (although I still hadn’t finished Daring Greatly). As a lesson for others in why we should always think before we tweet, somehow this led to running a joint book club across our teams!

Collaborative Online Book Club

Thankfully, there are a wealth of resources for running a book club available on the Dare to Lead Hub. We had our first meeting over Google Meet in the middle of December then met fortnightly from January for an hour each time. Recognising that everyone is busy (eg. navigating remote learning, working from home, partial then full return to school buildings, etc!) participants were only expected to read the set pages and attend the fortnightly meetings to share their thoughts in whole group activities and smaller breakout room discussions. Using trust-building strategies from the book, such as Permission Slips and Container Building, helped to foster an (online!) environment where we felt able to share honestly, reflect, ask questions, and develop. If we hadn’t managed to get through the reading material or had to miss a meeting, it was okay! Due to the structure of the book, discussion topics, and non-judgmental support from the group, you could still take part. An open invitation was sent to team members across both settings which meant the participants varied in positions, some leaders of people and others leaders of learning within their classrooms. Despite having never met in person, I looked forward to these sessions which offered a safe space in which to reflect on the reading and how we live our values in our professional lives.

As the participants shared their experiences and thoughts with the vulnerability that Brené Brown advocates on the trust and understanding that “what’s said in book club, stays in book club”, the rest of this blog post focuses on my own reflections of reading the book.

Part One – Rumbling with Vulnerability

“To feel is to be vulnerable. Believing that vulnerability is weakness is believing that feeling is weakness.”

Brené Brown

Part One is slightly different from the rest of the book as it is separated into five sections:

  1. The Moment and the Myths
  2. The Call to Courage
  3. The Armoury
  4. Shame and Empathy
  5. Curiosity and Grounded Confidence

Reflecting now, I think the section on Shame and Empathy has stayed with me the most. Prior to reading, I wouldn’t have identified “shame” as something I spoke about or felt often, choosing more to describe it as “embarrassment” instead. Brown writes about this, saying “we’re all afraid to talk about shame. Just the word is uncomfortable.” During this book club meeting, we really had to lean in to what shame is and how it shows up in our lives. We considered and discussed the following prompts:

  • When I hear the word shame, I think of…
  • If shame were a colour, it would be…
  • If I could taste shame, it would taste like…
  • If I could smell shame, it would smell like…
  • I physically feel shame in / on my…
  • My shame symptoms include…
  • I know I’m in shame when I feel…
  • When I’m in shame, I feel…
  • When I talk about shame, I feel…
  • I can talk about shame with…

Unsurprisingly, this isn’t something I’d ever done before and it led to a really interesting conversation around what shame is and how it shows up in our schools and colleges. 

Taken from the Read Along Workbook available on the Dare to Lead Hub

We discussed each of the ways that shame shows up, as shown in the above photograph taken from the Dare to Lead Read Along Workbook. It was interesting to discuss how shame shows up among the adults, then reflect on what this looks like for our learners. Something that really stood out for me, and I continue to reflect on, is the need to link self-worth with productivity. I’ve written in previous blogs about my attempts to find a better balance and reading this caused me to pause and lean into why I find myself working a lot.

I also really loved the discussion around empathy, what it looks like, how we practise it, and if it’s different now we are interacting more online. 

Image by Urban Wild Studio

There’s something really powerful about working in a team led by leaders who practise Daring Leadership rather than Armoured Leadership. This is the main thing that stood out from the podcast episode I mentioned at the start of this post. Leaders modeling that it’s okay to be human and that being vulnerable is encouraged creates a culture where team members feel safe enough to be themselves, admit when they have made mistakes, and ask for help when they need it.

Part Two – Living Into Our Values

“Know my values = know me. No values = no me.”

Brené Brown

We talk about school values a lot with our learners, but I’ve never specifically reflected or written down what I feel my own values are. As part of a book club meeting, each of us spent ten minutes reviewing the list of values provided in the book and decided on two that represent who we are. We then identified behaviours that supported our values and slippery behaviours that are outside our values. I found this a really challenging exercise. There were hundreds to choose from and lots resonated. Eventually, I thought about past experiences when I didn’t feel I was being true to myself and reflected on why. Based on this, I’ve identified the following as my core values:


I could write a whole separate blog post about each of the above but, for now, I’ll just leave them there. I wasn’t sure whether to even share them here but decided to be #TenPercentBraver and practise the vulnerability I’ve been reading about!

Another part of the book that has really resonated with me is the “assumption of positive intent” where we “presume people are doing the best they can.” I found this section uncomfortable to read as this is something I often struggle with. I can be a bit of a perfectionist about certain things but I’m working on it!

Part Three – Braving Trust

“What boundaries need to be in place for me to be in my integrity and generous with my assumptions about the intentions, words, and actions of others?”

Brené Brown

I read this section after writing a previous blog post about boundaries and was then annoyed about the timing! In it, Brown shared the BRAVING inventory, a conversation guide and reflection tool based on seven elements or behaviours:

  • Boundaries
  • Reliability
  • Accountability
  • Vault
  • Integrity
  • Non-judgement
  • Generosity

I’m currently listening to Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game audiobook and there’s a chapter in that called Trusting Teams. So much of that chapter resonates with this part of Dare to Lead. Lots to reflect on, not just as leaders, but also as members of teams. How do we show up? How do we practise our values? Lots of personal and professional reflection prompted by this part of the book.

Part Four – Learning to Rise

“Creativity: Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world. And just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change it’s worth or ours.”

Brené Brown

Reading this section reminded me of what Mary Myatt said at NewEdLeaders that I wrote about in my last blog post, “Humans first, learners second. Humans first, professionals second.” Discussing Brown’s six “offloading strategies” we may use when we are being driven by our emotions led to an interesting conversation about context, so many of our decisions depend on the context and situation we are in. That being said, I gained so much from reading this book with passionate education practitioners within my own setting as well as those in a completely different one. At first thought, you may not think that a primary school in Aberdeen, Scotland, and a Further Education college in Leeds, England, would have much common ground to discuss but that turned out to be very wrong! Ultimately we are all working towards improving outcomes for our learners. By doing this work internally, the hope is that this then ripples out into our wider teams and the learners in our care feel the benefits. I’d thoroughly recommend book clubs with settings different to your own, and am looking forward to the next one. For now, I think I might actually focus on finishing Daring Greatly!

Every day is a school day

There have been a number of professional learning events over the last few weeks that I’ve engaged with that have challenged my thinking. I’ve summarised a few of these within this blog post.

DiverseEd – World Book Day – Thursday 4th March 2021

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Hosted by Hannah Wilson, this event showcased diverse authors sharing their journey to get published and they talked about some of the barriers to getting their voices out there. I didn’t take many notes within the session as I found it really inspiring just to listen in. The common themes of courage and defeating imposter syndrome came through here. I don’t remember which panelist said it, but when asked about getting over the fear, they spoke about how important the message is. The message was too important for them not to share! I’m reading The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek at the moment, reading about organisations having a just cause which keeps its people going, these authors have a just cause. Karl Pupe shared the story of one of his students learning that he’d written a book and how proud this made him. It really highlighted the power of representation. Whilst I’ve really tried to ensure a diverse library in my class, Andrew Moffat made me reflect on what I’m doing with them. It’s not just about having the texts, it’s about the lessons and discussions that go along with them. I have used picture books, such as Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker, to prompt discussion around aspirations for people of colour and the girls in my class, and regularly choose whole class novels which promote kindness and celebrating our differences, such as Wonder by R.J. Palacio, but I have more work to do in this area.

You can watch the recording of the event here.

NewEdLeaders – Saturday 6th March 2021

“Humans first, learners second. Humans first, professionals second.”

Mary Myatt

Whilst I’m probably not the intended audience for the event, I felt I had to attend because there were so many people I wanted to hear from! Hosted by Emma Turner and friends, the event was aimed (as the name suggests!) at new leaders within education, but as the saying goes “teachers are leaders of learning” so there were definitely a number of sessions I found inspiring. In her session “Curriculum: the good, the bad & the ugly”, Mary Myatt encouraged us to question why we are teaching what we are teaching and what specifically we want the children to learn, whilst also driving home the message that we are all humans first. I also loved Alison Kriel’s session where she talked about the “unmeasured curriculum”, which highlighted the importance of a strong health and wellbeing curriculum. She referred to meetings with large companies about the skills and competencies they were looking for in future employees, lots to consider with our Developing the Young Workforce work.

Unsurprisingly, I am really interested in professional learning and I have recently taken on a new role to develop this further within my school. With this in mind, I was looking forward to Tom Sherrington’s session, “Does your QA culture support Professional Learning?”. Tom shared the need for systems to support a professional learning culture, whilst highlighting the importance of teacher autonomy here. Teachers don’t need to attend CPD sessions that are irrelevant to them or their practice. We are fortunate, within Scotland, that a large part of our CLPL hours are self-directed. Whilst I know there are times when whole-staff / authority-wide professional learning is necessary and beneficial, identifying our own areas for development and actively seeking out learning opportunities, with the support of our SLT, is really empowering. This session then led on to Tom, Emma, and Kathryn Morgan discussing distributed leadership and delegation. I found myself reflecting both on how my own SLT practises this within our school, where we are trusted to develop our practice and work on collegiate projects, and also on how I work with my stage partner, who is an NQT. I forget who stated that giving teachers’ responsibility with parameters makes this work better. It really is powerful to know that your leader trusts you to do something, but it definitely helps to know what the parameters or expectations are before you start. I find delegation difficult, particularly in areas where I feel passionate. Reading Dare to Lead by Brené Brown has also prompted me to reflect on this and I’m working to develop here.

You can watch the recording of this event here.

WomenEd Book Club – Sunday 7th March 2021

“We need different voices to make a great team, with similar values but different experiences”

Dr Melissa McCauley

Hosted by Kiran Sunray, this @WomenEdBookClub event featured the authors of the second WomenEd book, Being 10% Braver, sharing their stories. When the second book came out, I decided I couldn’t buy it until I’d finished the first one… I ordered it as soon as this event ended.

Similar to the DiverseEd event, I didn’t take many notes during this event, preferring to listen and reflect on points that chimed with my own experiences and those I’d never considered before. Many of the panelists talked about confidence, imposter syndrome, the power of mentorship, authenticity, mental health. There really was a lot to reflect on. I found Ruth Golding’s contributions about ableism and the experiences of people with disabilities really thought-provoking. She recommended Alice Wong’s book, Disability Visibility, for those who wanted to learn more which I’m now looking forward to reading. I’ve heard Penny Rabiger speak at a few different (virtual) events and I loved what she said about being a catalyst for change. “It’s not all about you. Get the ball in the air, then pass it.”

I felt really inspired by the whole event, especially after hearing Bukky Yusuf’s call to action, “Okay, you’ve read the book. Now what?”. I’m excited to find out.

You can watch the recording of this event here.

Northern Alliance Innovative Approaches to Curriculum Delivery – Thursday 11th March 2021

A series of sessions facilitated by Audrey Buchanan, this professional learning group offers an opportunity for practitioners across the Northern Alliance to connect and share best practice. The focus of this series is retrieval practice and how we can utilise digital technologies to embed retrieval practice in our teaching. Having recently attended an online event by Kate Jones (recording available here), I have really enjoyed being able to discuss retrieval practice theory and strategies with teachers across different stages. I left this session inspired to start a new practitioner enquiry when we return to school. My plan has also been informed by a collegiate professional learning discussion my colleague facilitated a few days earlier, where a number of us met to discuss the teaching of maths online and what we would like to continue when we return to the physical classroom. This is a further example of the distributed leaderships and opportunities afforded to teachers in my school. I will write more about this enquiry in a separate blog post.

WomenEd Scotland – Connect and Communicate – Saturday 13th March 2021

Hosted by Lena Carter, Christine Couser, and Parm Plummer, this session was more of a networking event than strictly professional learning but I just had to include it in this blog post as it was such a great start to the weekend! The hosts shared some of the history of WomenEd Scotland and then we went into breakout rooms to share thoughts around the topic of women in leadership in education. It was great to get a chance to hear from educators that I follow or have engaged with on Twitter and I really enjoyed the format of the breakout rooms. They followed the #SpacesForListening structure which was a really powerful way of ensuring everyone’s voices were heard:

There were a number of common themes that came out of all the breakout rooms and I’ve pulled some of those together in this word cloud:

As we return to our physical classrooms, this week, I am looking forward to seeing my class and my colleagues in person. Reflecting on the last few months, I’m pleased I have developed some positive habits (with my one word for 2021 in mind) such as reading, painting, regular baths, long walks in the park. I’ve been fortunate to engage with a number of professional learning events, podcasts, and ongoing dialogue with education practitioners across the world. I’m hopeful and excited to see what the next few weeks will bring.

I’d love to hear from you if you also attended some of the events I’ve referred to above or if you have recommendations of other events / reading material / podcasts you have enjoyed. Comment below or follow me on Twitter, @ClareAnnePirie.

Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools by Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I decided to try out Gretchen Rubin’s strategy of pairing in an attempt to develop the habit of going for a walk every day. For the last few weeks, I’ve only allowed myself to listen to the audiobook version of Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools by Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts when I go for a walk. I can’t say that I’ve managed a walk every single day but I’m definitely walking more now than I was before I started this. This was the perfect book to start with because I kept wanting to hear more. Even in the snow, I wanted to hear the next chapter and I often found myself doing an extra lap of the part just to finish a particular section. Having just finished the audiobook, I thought I’d share my key takeaways as I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve recommended this book to. At the beginning of the year, I started using Goodreads to keep track of my reading. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in education or improving the lives of children and young people. The rest of this blog post is made up of my Goodreads updates (written as I read it with further details in brackets) to give you a feel for why you need to read it for yourself!

Introduction – I LOVED the overview of chapters so much that I want to skip ahead. 

Chapter 1: The Engagement Myth – The first chapter is already really thought-provoking and I have added Why Don’t Students Like School by Daniel T Willingham to my “Want to read” list! I appreciate the crossover of research in this and other books / articles I’ve read – today, it was Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. I’m reflecting on how these principles can be applied to online learning, something we have been working on as a staff. (During a recent In-Service training, we worked in our level groups to identify aspects of effective learning and teaching. Then we matched them to the 12 features of high-quality lessons identified by Bruce Robertson in The Teaching Delusion as well as Rosenshine’s Principles.)

Chapter 2: Disadvantaged Students – Every teacher needs to read this book! So much to think about for all students, not just boys. I need to look into Becky Francis’ research on ability grouping. I’ve always felt passionate about mixed ability groups but curious to know how this would be possible in secondaries. The parental engagement section gave me ideas to write to my HT about and I didn’t want my walk to end! (As a result of reading this chapter, I pitched a family learning event idea to my HT which we ran for 40 parents with others watching afterwards. The focus was on supporting their children through online learning but we hope to continue with other events as time goes on.)

Chapter 3: Peer Pressure – I enjoyed listening to this during an early morning walk in the snow. I need to look up Kate Myers’ research.

“Implicit messages are just as influential as overt ones.”

“Schools may not be able to change the world, but they can challenge, encourage, and widen horizons.”

Chapter 4: Mental Health – Another thought-provoking listen with chilling statistics. Pleased to know that a number of the recommended strategies are already in place in my setting. Appreciated the mention of teacher modelling openly talking about their emotions and shoulder-shoulder talks, which made me think of a Pivotal podcast that I listened to in my first year of teaching and has stayed with me since..

Chapter 5: Expectations – Unsurprisingly, I’ve now decided I need to buy a physical copy of this book. I also need to read up on Mary Myatt’s work highlighting changing the language from “ability” to “attainment”. I found the whole mixed ability over setting section really interesting. As highlighted earlier, I would love to find out about secondaries that are making this work as I use this mixed ability approach in my primary class. (If you know of any secondaries that use a mixed ability approach – please let me know!)

Chapter 6: Sex and Sexism – A hard listen with some chilling statistics. Interesting section talking about the use of language and how we can address inappropriate language being used.

Chapter 7: In the Classroom – Practical tips for the classroom. The seating plan section made me laugh… creating a seating plan really should feature on teacher education courses!

Chapter 8: Violence – Some really thought-provoking questions asked as part of a suggested approach for dealing with violence in schools: Explanation – Reflection – Expression (E-R-E). This could be particularly helpful re playground incidents. I also appreciated the highlighted need for conversation and support for those who walk away from a confrontation as I hadn’t considered the impacts of this before.

Chapter 9: Relationships – Hard to hide my shock at some of the examples of teachers undermining their colleagues. So damaging. Some great behaviour strategies shared at the end of this chapter, including “The Dot” – definitely need to try that one when we’re back in the classroom!

Chapter 10: Other Voices – This was a slightly different chapter made up of short sections written by a variety of authors – teachers, leaders and parents – each with very their own stories to tell. I had to listen to this again (not on a walk) to take a note of all the quotes in it!

Whilst listening to Hadley Stewart’s contribution, I was surprised to learn how recently Section 28 (a law which effectively prevented teachers talking about homosexuality, even in cases of bullying) was still a feature in schools (2000 in Scotland, 2003 in the rest of the UK).

“Schools are not the only drivers with regards to societal norms around gender but they certainly have the opportunity to dispel archaic workplace gender stereotypes.”

So much of what Malcolm Richards wrote about his school experience as “a young black boy who defied the stereotype of young, black academic underachievement” chimes with another book I’m reading, Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala, where the author writes about (among other things) his school experience of not fitting into societal expectation of what a black boy should be. Both books have really challenged my thinking and the examples given of treatment by teachers has made me really reflect on what expectations I have of the learners in my class, do I have unconscious bias and what can I do about that?

“We are more than slavery, segregations and sit ins. We are scientists, artists, and writers.”

“We must challenge assumptions, motivations and values… We need a critical dialogue, which can only occur in education spaces based upon universal values or preconditions of hope, modesty, respect, courage and love.”

Having attended DiverseEd’s online events and bought (but not yet finished) the first WomenEd book, it was fascinating to hear more about Hannah Wilson’s work and some of the initiatives she has put in place to develop her learners into global citizens and all round good humans! I gain so much from following Hannah on Twitter so I loved listening to this section.

Currently Reading:

Up Next:

  • Retrieval Practice: Research & Resources for Every Classroom by Kate Jones
  • The Teaching Delusion: Why teaching in our schools isn’t good enough (and how we can make it better) by Bruce Robertson

Have you read this book or any of the others listed above? What were your key takeaways? I’d love to know. You can connect with me on Goodreads here, follow me on Twitter, or leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

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