Taking Off the Mute Button and Walking in Vulnerability

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” 
― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Vulnerability has been my go to for authenticity to start out this year, and I am thriving in it. To put our true selves out there can be one of the most daunting and scary risks we take. The reality is that the past few years have done much to mute my true self. Between a rash of personal trials and what seemed to be a relentless storm of professional challenges, I began to retreat to safe zones periodically. To essentially live a little less vibrantly and a little more shaded. However, that's not how I am hardwired. I have always been the one to burst into song, laugh too loudly, and go boldly into the world with a fierce belief in the best versions of the people around me. Somehow, I have reclaimed this sense of self in the past few weeks, and I am in a season of restoration. 

So, what does a leader do in that type of a season? For me: Take off the mute button and be vulnerable. 

My passion is coming through in a hot stream to those around me. I have chosen to walk in vulnerability with a staff who expressed division in their ability to trust me. I led out the gate this year with an article published in a local wire that you can find here where I shared personal stories about my calling to education and my personal struggles with my brother's death. At my first staff meeting of the year, I chose to intentionally identify my core values, which you can also read right here.

  1. Family and Faith: My children are my filter for decisions both personal and professional. I place strong value on my parents, siblings, and the call to continue a loving, faithful legacy.
  2. Hope and Joy: Each day is filled with reasons to celebrate the present and look forward to what may follow each season. Singing is key for me, and a musical lives inside my mind and soul. I see Relentless Hope everywhere even in the darkest of spaces.
  3. Service Leadership: Walking in humility and service to others means there are many actions I will take in a day that nobody will ever know about, and that lights my passion for leadership and fills my cup.
  4. Reflection: Each experience carries with it lessons we are meant to decipher. Through triumph and devastation, there will always be something to gain from introspection.
  5. Autonomy: In order for me to operate to my highest level, my motivation lies in the independence to get it done. And I do.
  6. Inspiration: While I do not tackle feats for recognition, such as marathon running, I do for inspiration. Both to be inspired and reciprocate. Educators are inspirers.
  7. Communication: Listen to learn! Honest, open, transparent communication is crucial within every interaction.
  8. Honor the Chapters: I live with an awareness that people enter and exit, events shape, and plot twists occur often in life. Each chapter contains characters and themes meant to sharpen and define our story. In fact, everyone has their own story as well as a contribution to mine, and I love collecting others’ stories. Essentially, it is important to value people and their journeys.
  9. Equity: Regardless of where we come from, we all deserve safe learning environments, and marginalization of people boils my blood.
  10. Growth: People need second, third, and multiple chances with feedback to grow. We are all striving for the best versions of ourselves!

In addition, my staff were the first to know (aside from husband, daughters, and sister of course) that one of my life dreams is coming true to publish a book. This level of vulnerability with two of the best people I know is an anchor for me to continue to remove the muted mesh. To bring the truths of the need for balance in order to live a full life is a message with which my soul burns at high passion, and I am both petrified and exhilarated to move in vulnerability and put these thoughts to paper.

The true prompting for this particular post was what I risked today in authenticity for our students. For the first time as an administrator, I started our back to school assembly with my inner most truths to our students, spoken out loud. The bared reality is that my confidence as a leader through a lot of public dissent of our district muted me for a few years. In this, I realize that our students have gotten an acceptable version of me in small group settings, but they have not been engaged with their leader in ways this vulnerable. My Voxer Notes version can be heard here.  That's right. I said vulnerable, people!

As a passionate leader, I want my energy to burn and the power of this great calling to flow through me every day so that there is never any question about where I am meant to be and who I am serving. Dave Burgess says this in a way that speaks right into me. In Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator, he wrote boldly, “When you have a high enough calling, it is much easier to commit yourself to doing whatever it takes to accomplish your life’s purpose. You have to decide if what you’re doing is worth your complete effort and full attention. If it is, don’t let anything stop you. The word “decide” has an interesting etymology. It means, literally, to cut off. When you truly decide, truly commit, you are cutting off all other options."
My calling is high, and my vulnerability is off the charts. Spooner High learning community and my entire PLN is about to know Sarah Johnson-Unmuted.


  1. Great post, Sarah. Unmuted...look out world!

  2. The authenticity of your communication and leadership comes through in spades in this, Sarah. Leaders who are courageous enough to be authentically vulnerable with their community can be equally bold in their invitations to have others join in the transformation journey -- and with much greater prospects that their invitations effectively spur action. Thanks for the excellent example, Sarah, and best wishes for Spooner in 2017-18!!

  3. You my dear are a wonderful writer and inspiration! 👣


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