Student Teachers - Time to Train Your Vulnerability and Here is Why


Vulnerability is not a bad word. In the theater, in fact, vulnerability is a commonplace term. In the arts, in theater, in acting, if you’re not exploring vulnerability then you’re not doing anything. Vulnerability, the willingness to be witnessed as you are, no matter the circumstance, is the keystone to a strong performance of any kind and is tirelessly trained by theater practitioners. We have to retrain our thought processes when it comes to connecting with one another. If you can become comfortable being watched, in time, you can become more vulnerable. This is what allows genuine connection and more authentic communication. Teachers must be seen. If our newest teachers can become more comfortable with their own authenticity the students will become more comfortable in their classrooms. Comfort will allow students to engage with material without fear when they are first introduced to a new concept or skillset.

Though the goal is to give students a comfortable environment a teacher must practice feeling comfortable first. Being watched and looked at can be frightening at times. Our fears are what ask us to run away from vulnerable situations - with good reason! Fear keeps us safe and if you’re not dead then fear has done it’s job. Humans are neurologically hard-wired to be afraid. The survival of our species has been dependent on our neural mechanisms related to fear. Yet in many circumstances, particularly in more affluent communities and economies, the fear mechanisms that are meant to keep us alive are manifested into phobias. The fear we may feel is born out of imagining, not always experiencing, life threatening circumstances, anxiety of interaction, or unrealistic expectations in our day to day. The way to assuage this is to develop strong connections and become more comfortable with being seen by one another - by choosing vulnerability.

Those with whom we are most comfortable are often people we are most vulnerable with. We feel safe. Think of our closest friends. We can truly be ourselves with these folk, the people we can say anything around, the people who are the most likely to forgive us. This is the power of vulnerability. If we can develop our comfort level, and trust, we will be given permission to be seen. However, we rely all too often on others to offer a comfortable space where we can be vulnerable and be seen. We have to give the permission to ourselves to practice comfort before we ask others to help.

We’re all capable of this. Those who give permission to themselves will inevitably give the permission to others to practice vulnerability and find the empathetic space we all seek .

But let’s be honest: allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is hard. It’s not all hugs, marshmallow clouds, and sunshine. That’s why betrayal can be traumatic. When we are intimate with someone we form a vulnerability contract: “ I was vulnerable with you and you didn’t hurt me!" Wow! More please!”. The contract agrees we’ll be witnessed with empathy and that we will do the same in return. Yet if something betrays the exchange of vulnerability we put a kink in the hose, withhold our vulnerable selves, and no longer ask to be seen. We feel less comfortable, we trust less, we stop communication, and finally, we stop cooperating. We cut off access to our vulnerability.

So why put up with all the trouble? Why put ourselves out there in the first place? Well, the answer is profoundly simple. Ultimately we all want to know that our lives have been worth while. The answer is found in a sense of purpose and belonging. The only way to find out where we belong is to choose to be witnessed as we are wherever we are - to be vulnerable. This is where education comes in. Receiving a formal education at any level can be boiled down to learning about ourselves in the world through learning about skillsets and ideas that will help us to participate in the world more effectively -more comfortably- for ourselves and others. Education also permits us to find a sense of purpose and belonging.

Being more comfortable with being seen and vulnerability is trainable. Most theater practices, games, and exercises, are ultimately constructed to help those who practice feel more comfortable in being watched, in making mistakes, and in sharing our ideas. If we are more comfortable with ourselves we will more than likely become more curious about the world around us.

And so…

Teachers have no choice but to be seen - to be vulnerable- so our students are inspired to do the same - to feel uninhibited, shameless, as they learn about themselves and the world they contribute to. Time to practice.

Jim Senti