In a blog post for @TeacherToolkit, Jack Gulston argues the case for sharing personal information with students.
“I think with the children having an understanding of my life, they understand what obstacles I have had to overcome, so that can inspire them to overcome any obstacles they might face. I can see why not everyone will love this idea, but I have found that it works for me and the area and school I work in.”
Jack Gulston, @TeacherToolkit
Click here to read the full post.
Gulston justifies his sharing through the challenging context of his school. His students from difficult backgrounds need positive role models with whom they can connect. Although I totally agree, I would take it further. I argue that it is best practice for all children regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds.
Relationships are important in the classroom. I don’t think anyone can argue against that. Perhaps the ability to build and maintain relationships is the most important attribute of any teacher.
“Relationships have always been, and will always be, of the most utmost importance in our schools. They are the catalyst of our work.”
Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney, Kids Deserve It!
How can we build relationships if students don’t know us? I believe that sharing glimpses of our personal lives is an essential part of building rapport. To give some examples, my students usually find out where I’m from, where I live (roughly), about my childhood, my pets, where I have travelled, my hobbies, my fears, who my girlfriend is, etc. This information is not usually presented to them. Rather, it gets mentioned authentically through conversations.
Ok, I’m slightly more reluctant to share information about my love life. I don’t share this willingly but I also don’t lie about it if I’m ever asked. My girlfriend works in the same school and Hong Kong is far too small for secrets! Inevitably, students find out eventually. I can honestly say that it has never been an issue. If we treat our personal lives like a big taboo, our students will too.
Perhaps the biggest eye-opener on this topic, for me, was December last year when I adopted a puppy. Ever since, my kids have been crazy about him and absolutely love hearing about his latest antics. Teddy has been the topic of many conversations with students, especially with those who also have dogs. It has also been an opportunity for them to teach me. Many of them have more experience of dog ownership. If a puppy can excite so many children and spark so many conversations, imagine what a baby could do! I’m not there yet, but my teaching partner often talks about her baby girl.
The children know that I live on Lamma Island, one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands (a lovely day trip if you ever visit Hong Kong). They don’t know exactly where I live (and I wouldn’t want them to), but they often ask about Lamma and enjoy sharing their stories about times when they have visited. Again, it’s a conversation starter. Conversations with students are vital for building relationships and trust. As students get to know me, I get to know them.
In contrast to Jack’s school context, I teach in a private IB school. Our students are generally very privileged and often take many luxuries for granted. I like to share my childhood and my background to offer a different perspective and keep them grounded. My definition of a ‘normal’ childhood is, in some cases, vastly different from theirs. For example, many of them enjoy regular travel around the world. I think it’s important to share that my family always holidayed within England and that this was equally valued. Apart from one high school trip to Paris, I didn’t go abroad until I was already an adult and it only became a regular thing after I moved to Hong Kong. I will never take this privilege for granted. Similarly, my parents have never owned a car. Students with several cars and personal drivers find this hard to believe.
In the original post, Gulston acknowledges that people will disagree. There needs to be a balance. It is still a professional relationship; we are not aiming to be friends with students. There is an extent to which personal information should be shared. However, as long as the line is drawn, I really don’t see any harm.
Online, I make a clear distinction between personal and professional accounts. My personal accounts (Instagram, etc.) are private. However, any platform that is used professionally (like this one) can be accessed by students. They are not the intended audience, but I fully expect many of them to go snooping. As I explained in a previous post, this is a powerful way to model digital citizenship and another way for students to get to know me. I don’t mind.
To summarise, we’re all human. We have lives away from school. I don’t think it does any harm to share snapshots with our students. In fact, I believe it’s an essential part of building relationships and helping students to relate.
What do you share? Where do you draw the line? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
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Your blog post reminded me of the Johari Window model. This model helped me consider how well we know ourselves and how well others know us. Are you familiar with this? If so, what do you think? If not, check it out!
Thanks for the comment. To be honest, I’ve never heard of the Johari Window Model. It sounds interesting. I’ll do some research and get back to you.
I think your post is so relevant.Rapport is so important, but everyone may not be positive sometimes. Children are really curious and they show empathy and understanding later. Guess it s better to follow school policy. Rapport and humour are the best traits.
I agree that rapport and humour are important. Does your school have a policy on this? I’m curious to know where you (and other educators) draw the line. What are you unwilling to share with students?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Great post! So true. On so many occasions sharing my life with my students has strengthened my relationship with them allowing for teaching, learning and especially behaviour management to happen with greater ease.
You make a great point about behaviour management. Someone on Twitter once tweeted that we should rename it “relationship management” and this thinking has stuck with me ever since. I think you’re absolutely right.