Hallelujah Highway

Celebrating the Journey

Daring Greatly~ Kristi

on July 23, 2014


Last summer, I read Daring Greatly by Dr. Brene Brown.  The words transformed me into a Daring Great action hero—shame: the nemesis; failure: the arch enemy; and my super power: vulnerability.  Life provided me the opportunity to do just that as the Advanced Placement World History* teacher at my high school accepted a teacher leadership position at a middle school.  I was approached to teach the class.  (Although I have been an English teacher for the last twelve years, I have a history credential too.)

This was my opportunity to ‘dare greatly’ and move into an extremely challenging teaching position that carries immense responsibility.  A few years ago, my school district was awarded “College Board AP District of the Year” for extraordinary test scores and AP class accessibility for a middle-sized school district.  Great test scores, which are defined as a 50% passage rate, are the expectation.  The students and their parents desire a passing score because it means units in college.  And, the formal College Board AP World History training was over for that year.

The stakes and expectations were high.  I could succeed.  Or… I could fail.

I strapped on my action hero cape of vulnerability, took a leap of faith, and said “yes.”  As expected, there were growing pains.  I taught differently than the previous, very effective teacher.  Students thought the class expectations were too high, and it was my fault.  Parents heard the students blaming me and became advocates.

Failure was the boisterous student sitting in the front row and shame was the class clown in the back corner.  Both were seeking my attention.  To combat these two vile characters, I became more militant and demanding, a contrast to my usual encouraging and upbeat demeanor.  When I was not getting my usual results, I realized I changed my style of teaching because I was afraid.  I needed to revert back to what worked.

So, I worked harder.  I was learning 6,000 years of world history and learning the nuisances of the AP World History test.  In every free moment, I worked on my AP classes.  Most mornings, I was up at 2:30 am working on lectures, developing assignments, or grading.  I would go to school, teach my classes, host tutoring/study sessions after school, take my daughter to her sport practices/games, go home, make dinner, and fall into bed.

Then, one lesson about the Triangle Trade shifted the currents of the class as we found synergy.  The culture of the class was shifting from a blame game to one where we all took responsibility for learning.  From that point on, we replicated the conditions that caused success and continued to learn from the failures.  Asking questions was not a sign of academic weakness, but a sign of engagement and inquiry.  The class was still extremely difficult, but the students and I were navigating the challenges together.

Dr. Brene Brown wrote in Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. Being all in. (2) Unfortunately, my students and I knew both victory and defeat.  We were engaged and working as hard as we could to get the best possible outcome.  Through my tears on the last day of school, I said, “There are some classes that a teacher will always remember.  You guys are one of them because of our experiences together.  I know this year had so many obstacles for you and me, but I am so proud of you because you didn’t give up.  You showed up every day and kept working.  You improved.  You trusted the process of this class and you did it.  I am so very, very proud of the effort and work you put in.  You inspire me.”

This previous school year gave me the best feeling ever—the feeling of accomplishment and success.  I am very proud of the work I did.  The year was not filled with the usual polished lessons that have been refined by years of experience, but the lessons had heart—like I had when I first started teaching.  It was nice to find that passion and to teach history, the other subject I love so much.

This year demonstrated the following Daring Greatly quote.  Theodore Roosevelt stated:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again.

Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…” (2)


Oh, yeah!  59% of the students who took the AP World History test passed.  We did it!


*Advanced Placement is a program sponsored by College Board where students take a college level course level in high school.  They can take a proficiency test in May, and if they pass, colleges will award them college units for the AP class.

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