Christen Pentek on Vulnerability

Greetings friends! I’m Christen Pentek, a youthworker in the Twin Cities. I rather stumbled into evaluation, trying to figure out how to nourish critical consciousness in community in sustainable ways. This is a post about vulnerability, inspired by the grounded research of Brene Brown.

Rad Resources: One ‘rad resource’ is Brene Brown’sTed Talk, capturing reflections on how people build genuine connection. Evaluation can be a process that can open potential for beginning greatness; a more concrete explanation of this might be captured in the continuous improvement flywheel that Jim Collins uses in his book, Good to Great.

Lesson Learned: My favorite questions are the ones that begin with “I am not sure I am allowed to ask this…” Why? Because these questions help pinpoint where we have work to do with ourselves and the things we care most for.

One of the issues that I had when I started doing evaluation work was the desire for people to posit me as a professional, and therefore, as expert. Humans, it seems, are apt to ask incredibly complex questions of perceived experts. I started saying “Let us figure that out together.” Vulnerability works toward solutions when we come together in conversation. And, each of us cannot do this work alone.

As evaluators, we join with people to help them find answers to their pressing questions. I am sometimes asked questions that I am not qualified to answer – but I can work to connect with whomever is qualified. Sometimes I am asked to speak to questions where the person asking has more insight. We each have the power to call out greatness when we experience it, as well as to remain silent and not acknowledge each other. Evaluation can be about separating who holds which knowledge, and how these crucial pieces of information can be and already are shared in useful ways. Evaluation can also be the place we create together, to investigate, act reflectively, and question.

And know, it is okay to encourage and ask the ‘dangerous’ questions; the strengths will come through this too. Evaluation is where we might lean into the spaces where we are vulnerable – where we can ask hard questions. Give yourself permission to claim what you want to do better.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


3 thoughts on “Christen Pentek on Vulnerability”

  1. Hi Christen,
    Thank you for sharing your ideas and the resources! I am a fairly new teacher (Nursery, Grade 8, Adult Education experience) who is currently enrolled in a Program Inquiry and Evaluation course. In the future I hope to move in to a role in administration or curriculum and programming. I read through the link you provided to Jim Collins’ Good to Great and I watched Brene Brown’s TedTalk.

    As a teacher, I am somewhat of a program evaluator, not an in-depth one, but still an evaluator of both students and programs. Your post reminded me to become more vulnerable in my profession. When programs change or are being newly implemented, I do have some difficult questions that come to mind. However, it is rare that I share them due to my being afraid of reactions to the questions.

    When you summed up that evaluation can be a place where we can create, investigate, reflect, and question together, it gave me hope. I realize that those hard questions need to be asked in order to create, investigate, reflect, and question together. If I have a difficult question in mind, I am sure another staff member does as well. With vulnerability we can create connections in the school environment that will create better programs and relationships among staff and students.

    As my future in education will lead me away from classroom teaching and more into an administration role, it is important for me to understand evaluation of programs. Understanding evaluation of programs also means that I need to acknowledge that I will not always have an answer to questions that may arise throughout the evaluation. I also need to be vulnerable by admitting that to my colleagues and asking them to share their knowledge and ideas so that we could come together as group to find the answer.

    In relation to Jim Collins’ Good to Great, I can see how being vulnerable is a must to ensure a program can change from a good program to a great program. Collins’ mentions that there is not going to be a miracle moment when the change from good to great occurs, rather it is a long process that slowly builds momentum and requires the right people to be on board. As an administrator, I will need to be cognizant of the people who are involved with programming. If they are committed to learning, growing, and giving their best, then those are the people who will turn programs into great assets in our school.

    Also, I would need to be cognizant of the routines that teachers employ in their classrooms and the routines that we employ as a school. There will come a point where we will have to ask ourselves if we need to stop doing our routine(s) even if it is something we had always done. Maybe certain programs aren’t working as we thought they would, maybe teaching methods are outdated, and the list can go on. Those can be some difficult questions to face, especially if that means questioning routines and methods that have been there for years, and veteran teachers live by.

    Once again, thank you for sharing!


  2. Hello Christen,

    My name is Patrick Lee, and I am currently taking a course in Program Inquiry and Evaluation. Our assignment was to find a post on AEA365 that impacted us and respond to the author.

    I appreciated your post about vulnerability. All too often, we see the “experts” who has all the knowledge and we either get intimidated by them because they seem unapproachable or defer to them for all the answers. As was mentioned in the book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins talks about having the right people in the right spot. This approach acknowledges that not all people have the right gifts or skills. This does not mean that they are not valuable. It just means that they were placed in the wrong position and we all have different expertise.

    As an evaluator, I think it is important to understand this and help the organization see the value in people. This can create a culture of trust and an ability to improve the capacity in people. Adding further to this, if the leader is being genuine and vulnerable to share that they are not the only expert, it could give opportunities for people to rise to the occasion. Great organization are created by people buying into the vision and a leader who wants to help lead this group versus leaders trying to demonstrate that they have all the answers.

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