It’s a word. It really is. I promise.
It’s a verb that means to make someone capable of doing something.
Kids ask me all the time what my job really is. I used to tell them that my job was lots of things on a big, long, disorganized list. Now I tell them that a big part of my job is to capacitate the teachers I coach and the kids I support so that they learn and grow.
I enjoy it for the most part and am happiest when the person I’ve helped capacitate is better or happier because of it.
What is most frustrating is when there’s a wall up around the other person…and while they may lower the drawbridge now and then for a short time, it goes back up quickly to protect them from whatever they’re afraid of.
For some, it’s failure. For others, it’s disappointment or embarrassment. And for others, it’s because it’s more comfortable for the person to wall themselves in and throw rocks at the problem from inside. No one likes to be uncomfortable and face the baggage on the front step.
Failure is probably the easiest one to tackle, honestly. Fear of failure, especially in a gifted person, decreases the amount of risk they are willing to take when a similar opportunity presents itself. The key is to finding, creating, or pointing out lots of ways for the person to be successful. Starting small, with seemingly tiny wins, helps to build the willingness to try something a little out of their comfort zone.
Disappointment or embarrassment are a bit more complicated. I think that for these, it’s about setting criteria for success. What will it look like when something goes well? Does well = perfect? Does it have to equal perfect? What’s good enough going to look like? What’ll you do if you aren’t successful? How will you handle disappointment (because kids have no problem bringing that on without warning…) when something doesn’t go well?
Thinking about embarrassment, it’s important to determine what would be embarrassing about a particular situation.
Is it when one of the kids knows more than you and makes a point to let the other 24 kids in the class know they know more than you do on a particular topic? (This never happens when teaching gifted kids…nope…not ever in the history of teaching. /sarcasm off)
Is it when you aren’t prepared for questions or situations that come up during a lesson? (I’ll never forget, “Ms? What’s heaven?” Email to mom later: “uh..yeah so your child asked this question in class today and I dunno what your spiritual outlook is but I’m a recovering Catholic so I framed it in terms of the era in history we were discussing…I hope I didn’t mess up your kid too much.”)
Is it when you forget to put on makeup or wear pants that are uncomfortable or your school leader chooses the biggest wardrobe fail day in the history of ever to capture you teaching to share with colleagues? (No, I don’t have that top or pair of pants anymore, for the record.)
Disappointment and embarrassment aren’t feelings that you can set aside and not deal with, but they’re not insurmountable either. Bring on the humility, the reflective journaling, and the thoughtful debrief.
Being willing to be capacitated is a professional expectation in any position. An artist needs to accept inspiration when it shows up. Even Freida Kahlo’s work changed over time. So has Stephen King’s. A surgeon can’t improve unless she is willing to seek out new methods or new discoveries to help her grow. A pastor can’t meet the needs of their congregation unless they are willing to learn from others. Peyton Manning didn’t get to be Peyton Manning by saying how much more successful quarterbacks sucked. No. He reviewed tape after tape of other players, other teams, and himself to learn how to do his job better and anticipate what he’d be presented during a game. The best fly fishing angler on the planet has caught their fair share of sticks…and rocks…and catfish…and the plant life behind them. Someone helped them to learn to cast better, differently, and to use flies for a specific purpose rather than just because they’re pretty.
We grow as educators when leaders present us with opportunities to be capacitated. Little things like how to design a testing schedule. More universal things like how to keep records in ways that make sense. Creating forms or changes in a particular practice to streamline things. If you never get to try anything new (failure, disappointment, or embarrassment might be a thing), you get stuck…and stuck in education is never good.
When you drop your drawbridge, you might feel uncomfortable. You might feel awkward. But nothing grows without a little struggle. Embrace capacitation. And if you aren’t being capacitated, ask for it or find someone who will provide you those opportunities.