The Models our Students Need

Dr. Ronald Lalonde

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Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wiser, so I am changing myself.  Rumi

It takes courage to teach. Each day, teachers face the daunting task of leading young people toward the future. Each lesson is a distillation of what we deem important—a valuable piece of knowledge, instruction in a critical skill, an opportunity to engage with human wisdom. We extend what we most value to a set of wonderful but imperfect beings in front of us who may or may not accept our invitation. A teacher’s courage is already the courage to be vulnerable.

As world-renowned educator, writer, speaker and activist Parker Palmer believes “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” In Palmer’s lifetime of work with great teachers, he has come to trust that it is the way in which the teacher shares her or his selfhood that makes for great connections and great learning environments.

So, in addition to what we teach, there is great importance in how we bring ourselves to teach. Each day a teacher models leadership, relationship, and care in order to draw students in and focus their attention. Students notice. Results from PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) show that students with good relations with their teachers are more likely to report greater happiness at school and a stronger sense of belonging at school and are less likely to report feeling lonely or awkward (OECD 2015).

Being thought of as a role model raises a standard that many find uncomfortable. Perfection is part of the popular notion of what a model should be—and, when applied to real, flawed humans, the pressure of unrealistic standards prompts people to hide imperfections, develop defensiveness, or blame results on external forces. Researcher and author Brené Brown counters the anxiety, shame, and suffering that result from the pressure of viewing vulnerability as weakness. Her groundbreaking work offers teachers the opportunity to create role models of imperfection who promote and live the courage of vulnerability.

Through Brown’s Guideposts for Wholehearted Living, teachers can experience letting go of unhealthy expectations and develop stories that can help their students do the same.

Ten Guideposts for Wholehearted Living

1. Cultivate authenticity: let go of what people think
2. Cultivate self-compassion: let go of perfectionism
3. Cultivate a resilient spirit: let go of numbing and powerlessness
4. Cultivate gratitude and joy: let go of scarcity and fear of the dark
5. Cultivate intuition and trusting faith: let go of the need for certainty
6. Cultivate creativity: let go of comparison
7. Cultivate play and rest: let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
8. Cultivate calm and stillness: let go of anxiety as a lifestyle
9. Cultivate meaningful work: let of self-doubt and “supposed to”
10. Cultivate laughter, song, and dance: let go of being cool and “always in control”

Teachers humanize themselves and the learning process when they share something of their own struggles, failures, and growth. Being vulnerable with young people provides a role model doing his or her best to cope with the complex demands of modern life. Isn’t that what students most desperately need?


Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Brown, B. (2017). Rising Strong. Random House USA.

OECD (2015), "Do teacher-student relations affect students' well-being at school?", PISA in Focus, No. 50, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Palmer, P. J. (2017). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley brand.

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Dr. Ronald Lalonde

Ronald Lalonde is the Middle East Regional Manager at the Institute of Positive Education based out of Dubai. He earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Philosophy from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and a doctorate from the University of Calgary, where he focused on critical issues in consulting students.