Unit 1: Conditions & Connections

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Unit 2: Physical Well-Being
Unit 3: Social Well-Being
Unit 4: Emotional Well-Being
Unit 5: Mental Well-Being
Unit 6: Academic Well-Being
Unit 7: Character

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Unit 8: Citizenship

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Unit 9: Supplemental Lessons

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Lesson 25: Shame

Large spool of yarn 

3 posters


3 Things You Can Do to Stop a Shame Spiral:


Google Teacher Translate…:


What is teacher burnout?:


Erducator Behavior Charts:


  • I can explain the difference between guilt and shame.
  • I am open and honest in my personal/professional life.
  • I turn outward to give and receive support and love.
  • I combat negative self-image with self-compassion.
  • I listen in a way that creates a soft place to land.
  • I live authentically and feel good about who I am becoming.

Parent Guide

The purpose of this lesson is for educators to consider the impacts of shame both professionally and personally. Teachers will identify areas of concern in schools, practice combating shame with strategies, discuss the power of vulnerability, debate about student discipline, ask for support to prevent burnout, and work with administrators to creatively problem solve.

Guilt is often confused with shame, but they are distinct. “The difference between guilt and shame is very clear—in theory. We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are.” (Lewis B. Smedes) While guilt helps us focus on behaviors that can be improved, shame can paralyze us into thinking that we are the problem, rather than our behaviors.

Shame can seep into every area of our well-being, leaving us feeling less-than in general. It can be hard to identify because it is so deeply rooted in our thoughts; however, some of the symptoms of shame include feeling sensitive, unappreciated, rejected, inadequate, defensive, lost, deeply embarrassed, and isolated. Brené Brown, a researcher of shame, vulnerability, and leadership, has found that “shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying.”

Activity 1: (30 minutes) ALL ABOUT SHAME

Post the 10 shame quotes around the room. Invite educators to walk with their peers to visit each quote and discuss what shame is, in simple language. Invite teachers to add their own thoughts to each quote and to review the thoughts of others. Next, ask teachers to focus on shame experienced in school as you read through some definitions and research.

Gather back together and read the formal definition. Have a discussion:

How do you see shame at play in schools?

Read some research and another quote about shame from the slides. 

Have a discussion:

How do you see shame at play in schools?

Activity 2: (30 minutes) RESPONDING TO SHAME

Watch the video, “3 Things You Can Do to Stop a Shame Spiral,” from Oprah’s Lifeclass. Then sort teachers into small groups. Review the following ideas from the video:

  • Shame feeds on 3 things: secrecy, silence, and judgment.
  • You can use 3 strategies to combat shame:
    • Talk to yourself like you’d talk to someone you love. 
    • Reach out to someone you trust.
    • Tell your story.

To practice these strategies, display the table of teacher topics. Invite each group member to go around the circle and do one of the following:

  1. Pick an idea from the slide and share a story about a time when you felt shame related to the topic.
  2. Describe how you can compassionately respond to a teacher who is struggling in one of these areas.
  3. List 3–5 people at school that you can talk to about this topic or who you can ask for help.

Allow teachers to talk and share until the last 5 minutes. Then gather back together and have a discussion:

  • How does secrecy, silence, and judgment feed shame? 
  • Why do you think talking about our shame can keep it from growing?

Activity 3: (30 minutes) VULNERABILITY

Have teachers circle up in a tight circle, shoulder to shoulder. Using a large spool of yarn, begin with one person in the circle. Have them answer the reflection questions and then, holding on to the end of the string, toss the yarn spool to someone else. Continue until everyone has responded and is holding a piece of the yarn, creating a spider web of connections. Teachers can say “pass” if they feel uncomfortable, but they should still hold onto a piece of the yarn.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is something that you really struggled with your first year teaching?
  2. What is something that you currently struggle with at work? 

Invite everyone to return to their seats and read the Brené Brown quotes.

Have a discussion:

  • Why can it be difficult to say “I don’t know” in our profession?
  • How can the struggle within teaching be unifying for colleagues?
  • How have you seen the people in your “circles” support you?

Activity 4: (30–45 minutes) SHAME IN STUDENTS

Read a list of behaviors that people may do when they feel shame. As you read the list by Arlin Cuncic, ask educators to think about their students.

Have a discussion:

How have you seen your students experience shame at school?

Watch the sarcastic video, “Google Teacher Translate…” by Gerry Brooks. As a group, list 10–15 common misbehaviors that teachers see in students regularly and write them on the whiteboard.

Next, explain that the group will now hear 2 different articles about shame and discipline. As teachers listen, have them take notes on the discipline approaches described in each article. Pass out the following articles to 2 strong readers and have them read the articles aloud to the class. 

Discipline and Shame Articles:

  • Article 1: “Reintegrative Shame: The Dynamic of Harm and Repair”
  • Article 2: “Don’t Shame Children in Pursuit of Discipline”

Next, have teachers collaborate with the people around them to define the discipline strategies for Article 1 and Article 2. Then come together as a group and define the different approaches on the whiteboard, giving each approach distinct names and characteristics.

Now that you have defined 2 distinct discipline approaches, revisit the list of student misbehaviors listed on the board. Pick one misbehavior to discuss at a time. 

Ask educators to stand up and select a side of the room based on their opinion:

  • Left Side: If you think the Article 1 approach works best for this scenario.
  • Right Side:  If you think the Article 2 approach works best for this scenario.

Create a healthy debate by asking teachers from opposing viewpoints to share why they believe their chosen discipline style is best. Repeat this process using several misbehaviors listed on the board.

Leave 5 minutes at the end to gather back together and discuss the questions:

  • If you are upset, how do you keep yourself from getting to the point where you say something harmful to students?
  • How can you best balance discipline with empathy and compassion? 
  • What are the best strategies to teach students dealing with shame?

Activity 5: (30 minutes) SHAME & BURNOUT

Watch the video, “What is teacher burnout?” by Niroga Institute. Then have a discussion:

How can shame and feeling burnout be connected?

Read through the signs of burnout on the slides. Then review the quotes and ideas together. Have a discussion:

  • Why are we sometimes mistakenly given what we don’t need?
  • How can we balance being grateful for kind gestures while also communicating what we really need?

Look through the tweets on the slide from the Cult of Pedagogy where teachers answered the following prompt: 

“So many teachers are saying this is the worst year ever for them, that it’s never been harder. Tell me:

  1. What can your leadership do to make it better?
  2. What can parents do to make it better?
  3. What can your colleagues do to make it better?”

Replicate the 3 posters from the slide and post them around the room. Pass out a marker to each educator. Invite teachers to circulate the room, visiting each poster and answer the following questions. 

  1. What can leadership do to best support you?
  2. What can parents do to best support you?
  3. What can colleagues do to best support you?

Share these responses with the PTA, the staff, and with leadership so kind gestures are even more thoughtful and on point with what your staff need.

Note for Administrators: You can read these articles to explore more ideas on teacher burnout and how to support your staff. 

  • Article 1: “Teachers Are Barely Hanging On. Here’s What They Need”
  • Article 2: “Teacher Burnout: 4 Warning Signs & How to Prevent It”

Have a discussion:

What are some things that you have found help with teacher burnout?

Activity 6: (30–60 minutes) PROFESSIONAL TRUST

Prior to this lesson, send out the Administrator Trust Teacher Survey to teachers. 

Watch the sarcastic video, “Erducator Behavior Charts,” by Gerry Brooks.

Note to Administrator: Describe in your own words what you hope teachers feel from you. Then, list 3 areas of concern on the whiteboard, gathered from the survey, for teachers to collaborate about and problem-solve. The idea for this activity is for teachers to generate productive ideas or alternatives to problems that they experience at school. One example you can review before this activity is found in the article, “Alternatives To Collecting Lesson Plans: A Guide for School Administrators,” by the Principal Center.

Designate 3 zones around the room and label them each with one of the areas of concern. Allow teachers to choose which group to collaborate within, but try to keep the groups as even as possible. 

Pass out the Creative Problem-Solving handout to each group. Teacher groups will walk through the steps, consulting the reflection questions on the second page of the handout, to analyze and ultimately brainstorm some solutions or alternatives. Encourage teachers to focus on solutions rather than complaints in this process. 

After sufficient time, each group can present their proposed solution to the group. Those listening should ask respectful and supportive clarifying questions to best understand the problem and proposed solution.

For increased trust, you can have these groups of educators continue to meet and work with them to implement a plan that works for everyone in the school. Feel free to expand the collaboration to include people at the district level or even beyond. It may even be helpful to find a model school to observe and question that is already using the proposed practice. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Have a discussion:

  • How are shame and trust related?
  • How can we show our students that we trust them?
  • How do we react differently to guilt, shame, and embarrassment?
  • What are the challenges of being open with people at work?
  • Why is it so difficult to admit to struggles or ask for help?
  • What has helped your students to feel less shame at school?
  • Who are some people at school who create a “soft place to land”?
  • How can you support people feeling shame if you have a hard time empathizing?
  • Avoid keeping secrets that make you feel poorly.
  • Talk to yourself like you would talk to a loved one.
  • Reach out to someone you trust.
  • Talk it out and tell your story.
  • Consider sharing your struggles. It might help someone.
  • Be a soft landing place for others.