VLCs: How Connection and Collaboration Creates Healthy Vulnerability in Education

This spring, CTQ bloggers are exploring the theme: How do VLC’s (virtual learning communities) impact our profession? We invite you to join us here in our own VLC, the Collaboratory, with your thoughts and comments, and share ideas using the hashtag #CTQCollab. If you like this post, check out more VLC wisdom here.


Teaching is a really hard gig. This is especially true as the final weeks of school drain us of energy and we push to make sure that we have done our best work with the students who sit in front of us.

After reading Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection this spring (a book I would recommend everyone add to their summer reading list), I had the epiphany that one of the main reasons teaching is so challenging is that it requires us to be incredibly vulnerable.

Vulnerability is a word that is often associated with weakness. This is not a fair correlation. True vulnerability requires bravery and authenticity. It requires a person to own the successes, and inevitable mistakes risk taking leads to.

Each day I am in front of my students, I am asked to place my best thinking in front of an audience of diverse learners who, depending on a variety of factors, will respond with enthusiasm, apathy, or any number of emotions in between.

Brown suggests that practicing healthy vulnerability is best done within the context of a supportive community where a person can see the reality of her situation reflected by her peers so that the hard times don’t feel as hard and the good times are properly acknowledged and celebrated.

The past few years, this daily show of vulnerability has been exceptionally challenging for me. I’ve decided that I need to work on a better balance between my professional and personal life, so I have begun to practice saying no so I can be more selective with the extracurricular networks and projects I say yes to. I feel like I have found more space outside of the classroom through this process. However, the unintended consequence of this decision is that I have occasionally found myself feeling isolated in my professional world as I step back from many of the communities I rely on for support.

An important truth has come from this place of professional loneliness. I have realized that the more I turn into my own world, the more that I feel like I am the only teacher who has to cope with angry parents, or disengaged students. In addition, when I do something well, I worry that no one will notice or care.

Having long been a part of Virtual Learning Communities here in the CTQ Collaboratory and elsewhere, I know that VLCs offer a place to escape from these feelings of isolation. VLCs also provide a safe place to practice healthy vulnerability as we get to participate on our own terms. Even selective participation in these communities can help me to start the process of turning outward to join others in benefitting from the connection and collaboration that VLCs offer.


Connection requires vulnerability because it requires authenticity. To truly connect with others, we have to show them who we really are.

Connection in education is the result of transparency in our practice. At its most basic level, this can be achieved by being open with our students about the pedagogical decisions we make on their behalf. On a larger scale, this is sharing our personal and professional strategies, goals, and experiences with system stakeholders as we ask them to engage with our ideas.

I have learned that connection doesn’t have to be flashy. It can be as simple as logging on to the vast VLC that is Twitter and realizing that others are feeling the same way that I am about a particular policy or season of the school year. This kind of connection affirms and validates my thinking, which inspires me to add my “me too” to the conversation being discussed.


Collaboration requires vulnerability because it requires an outward facing perspective. To come to consensus on an idea or to take the advice of a peer requires a person to trust those she choses to engage with.

Learning is best when it can be shared. Studies highlighting best classroom practice point to the value of students’ exposure to collaborative thinking opportunities in the classroom. As teachers engage in their own learning, it is important to remember that this collaborative environment is good for learners of all ages. Teachers who regularly engage with thought partners develop resilience and a strong sense that they aren’t alone in the hard work they face.

VLCs provide a larger variety of people to partner with as the typical boundaries of time and space are no longer barriers to connection. Taking advantage of the asynchronous nature of VLCs gives us the chance to plug into the brains of teachers from all kinds of situations and perspectives, even if we only have a ten-minute chunk of time to work with.

I am eternally grateful to the VLCs that I have been a part of in my career. Even though I have been a quite member of these communities recently, every time I log on to places like the CTQ Collaboratory, I am reminded that I am not alone. I have wonderful teacher friends who sit next to me every day and others that live halfway around the world. All I need to do is reach out and grab on to the collaborative partnerships that my communities offer.

My CTQ teacher friends have much more to say about VLCs in this month’s roundtable conversation. Their stories encourage me to remember how powerful it is when educators speak up and are met with opportunities to connect and collaborate with communities that can affirm and support them in their attempts to be vulnerable.

I know that this collective voice is the key to saving me from feelings of defeat. I look forward to dipping my toe back into my VLCs so I can remember that I am not alone in my celebrations and struggles and continue to work towards being a connected, collaborative, and vulnerable educator.

Image created using www.canva.com

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  • Marcia Powell

    Doors Wide Open

    Jessica, I love the ideas that you allude to in this piece.  (That same Brene Brown quote has been on my wall for a long time)  But it is true that a building can often becomes a series of silos, not really interconnected by anything but activities and the teacher's lounge.  I find that in a truly connected society, we are lonely, because the connections we have are less effective than we would have imagined.  That is why places where great VLCs exist is important to me.  It allows me to say that I am in need, that I have doubts, that I have tried things out in my classroom and I want to share how they work.   That is the gift that keeps me ready to continue teaching.