Where is the line between relationship building and TMI?
- A lawsuit is now pending in Texas regarding an elementary school art teacher who presented students with a slide show about herself including a picture of her future wife. Parents complained that this was part of a campaign to promote a “homosexual agenda,” District Administration reports.
- While building personal relationships with students is generally encouraged, the case raises new discussions about how much personal information students should share with students.
- Many school districts already have policies in place limiting discussions of personal views of religion and politics in a classroom setting, but may need to consider setting limits on discussion of other personal matters which are often left to teacher discretion.
Building a rapport with students usually requires that teachers share a little of themselves in an effort to connect with students and create shared bonds. Teachers may discuss their own pets, interests, travel experiences, and educational obstacles in ways that help students see teachers as three-dimensional human beings. This type of sharing can often enhance the learning experience, especially if the information is shared in relation to topics discussed in the classroom.
However, the sharing of some personal information may distract from the educational goals of the classroom, even if the information is perfectly valid to share in other contexts. Teachers need to be aware that comments about their personal lives can make an impact on students. Discussions of divorce proceedings, custody battles, or certain health issues, for instance, may cause students to worry about the teacher or feel uncomfortable with that level of knowledge. Discussions of personal sexual partners or activities are almost never appropriate in a classroom setting. Experts stress that students should not be treated as friends, counselors or therapists. This distorts the role of a teacher and limits effectiveness.
School administrators and school boards are sometimes left to deal with the fallout when questionable discussions arise, as the current lawsuit demonstrates. Though school administrators may be wary of drawing firm guidelines regarding such discussions, the issue can be discussed with teachers in the context of social media guideline discussions. Most school boards have social media policies for teachers to help deter the effects of student access to sensitive information about teachers and to prevent the formation of inappropriate relationships. Classroom discussions should also have some limits as well. As in all aspects of classroom interaction, personal information should not distract from the educational needs of the students.
- District Administration Setting limits for sharing with K12 students