Monday, September 24, 2007

Who am I? How do I present myself as a midwifery teacher?

I have just read the latest entry from Konrad Glogowski entitled "Learning to be myself". In the article Konrad explains how he is presenting himself as a man, not just a teacher, in the blog he is sharing with his 8th grade students. I asked him about doing this in a adult teaching/learning environment and he believes it is a very good strategy, although this approach causes difficulties for educators because they have to reveal themselves as human, not all-knowing which the teacher may feel undermines his/her authority.

One of the exciting things about being a teacher/lecturer is the opportunity for learning from your students. This is especially true when working with adults. They challenge and provoke, which in turn enthuses and stimulates more questions and learning. However, I am not so sure about Konrad's concept of opening myself right up to students. Yes, I agree with role modeling in developing a classroom or virtual community. Yes, I do not want to enforce a position of power over students. But can you really be partners with students when you have ultimate power over them-when you have the final say in whether they pass or fail? What am I-a friend, nurturer, or fellow colleague? I do not know if it is my role to nurture students. I am not their mother. However, I do see that it is important for me to be approachable and a support to them, but I have professional boundaries that I like to maintain which keeps me safe in my teaching practice. I enjoy sharing my midwifery experiences, especially if it illustrates or re-enforces the information I am sharing. Nevertheless, it is vital that my voice is not constantly heard above those of the student. So, whilst I am very interested in how Konrad gets on with 'being himself' I am not sure that I would take that approach - I'm not even sure if my students could cope with me being myself!! Having said all that, if my students read this blog, they will probably get more of a feel of who I am than they would from my classroom presence, so maybe I have totally contradicted myself? Will it be easier for me to be 'myself' in a virtual rather than face-to-face form?

I would be very interested to hear what others think. How do you present yourself in a face-to-face or virtual class? If you are a student, what do you expect from your lecturer?How interested are you in her as a person?


Leigh said...

great post sarah! I fully understand what you are saying and feel it too.. a few things come to mind, which I will have to add links to later.

Assessment - can your assessment be driven more by your students peer assessing? In other words, reduce that part of you that has ultimate say on who passes or fails.

Online you - I reckon it is much easier to be yourself online. I'm still thinking about why this is, but I suspect it has something to do with prejudice in face to face settings. Our age, race, religion, politics, gender, accent, body language, tone and inflexions in speach etc can all take a different order of priority online than they can face to face. People can generally sum each other up pretty quickly face to face, and allow prejudice to creep in. Not so easy online, and so we have more of an opportunity to be ourselves... in head space at least

Carolyn McIntosh said...

I think it depends on what you mean by nurturing Sarah. Surely that is what we do? We are nurturing women, who arrive in our program with their own personal life experience, to become midwives. This does not mean that I have to concern myself with any or all of their personal problems or concerns but it does mean that I take some role in providing an environment, resources, stimulation, opportunities for reflection etc which will help them to become well rounded, thinking, life-long-learning midwives in the future. Is this not nurturing? I probably do have a role in helping them to identify what is personal and what is professional and what of their own personal experience might be useful or beneficial to share. I think this is what Konrad was getting at. He is not talking about sharing intimate personal details, but he is sharing the things that stimulate him to learn and grow as an individual, not just as a teacher. If this is completely unrelated to his subject area is this totally inappropriate use of his own and his students time and energy? Perhaps by seeing him as a broad thinking individual this makes the subject material he delivers more tangible accessible and understandable for his students and situates it within a contest to which they can better relate.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you, Leigh, for your comment. I have explored the concept of peer assessment before. I know it can work really well, but my experience has been that students mark each other really well without really critiquing what their fellow students have presented. However, that is not to say that I would not revisit the notion.

The other 'concern' I have (or influence on my teaching practice) is that the program I am involved in is not purely academic. In other words, I am preparing women for clinical practice and situations which are literally 'a matter of life and death'. I feel I cannot afford to experiment too much or hand over too much assessment to students because I have a responsibility to the midwifery profession and the general public to ensure the students are fit to practice. The other impact on how I feel in my role is that our classes are very small, so I feel I need to keep a little more distance than I may possibly feel in larger class.

When teaching online, I feel the opposite-I disclose more about my myself in order to help connection between myself and students. But the difference with my online classes are that they are postgraduate students. I still am the one who says they pass or fail, but I feel we have more of a collegial relationship than I have with undergraduate students. So is it the online presence that makes me present myself differently or the fact that the students are fellow midwives?

Sarah Stewart said...

Another thought, Leigh. I absolutely agree that I find it easier to be myself online than face-to-face. It is potentially a lot easier to say what I really feel in this blog. Although I know it is public, I cannot see people's responses to me so that is liberating. On the other hand, I am also conscious that I wish to present myself in a certain way in the real world-professional, assertive, knowledgeable, sure of myself. If I present myself, warts and all, here on this blog, how will that affect people's conceptions of me, especially in situations, for example, where I may be applying for jobs.

An hypothetical example: I am having doubts about being a midwife - maybe I had an unfortunate clinical situation or maybe I want to explore options for the future. I want to blog this because I would appreciate people's feedback and different perspectives. Maybe, I feel it would be beneficial to go public in a way that will promote debate. However, would I want students, my boss or even future employers to read this for fear that they misconstrue what I am saying and trying to do? I guess the answer is to be really sure about the object of the blog and how one interacts through it.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Carolyn, thank you for your comment. I think you summarized Konrad's post very succinctly and when I see it written like that, I agree with what he says. What I would be interested to know is: what do our students want from us? How do they want to interact with us or see us present ourselves? Certainly, I believe they want to see that we are clinically credible ie see us practicing what we preach. I just feel we have to be careful how we present ourselves, especially to make sure things do not become about ourselves and our learning, and not about the students: being mindful that I am talking about adult learners here, not school children.

As for nurturing, again I think you are right about how we define nurturing. When I think of nurturing, I tend to think of kaftans and mother earth. I'm afraid thats the last thing I'll ever be. But supporting students to be autonomous and reflective practitioners is certainly one of my greatest aims. I would also wish to support students to nurture each other. I can show them the way but they walk along the road together helping each other along the way. This replicates what happens in practice.

Graeme said...

I am currently teaching a course in OT on Collaboration & Consultation which addresses some of the issues raised in your Blog and the comments from Leigh and Carolyn.
Some of my responses mirror other comments but are worthy of repetition.
I think that you can/should try and work in a collaborative fashion with student be they adult or other but as George Siemins said in his talk you always have to remember that you it is always your responsibility to oversee that the resources etc are in place for learning to occur.
I also see that you must maintain professional boundaries be the person who you are interacting with a student or a patient.
I do not agree that you can do this better online than face to face. I just cannot get my head around this notion that somehow it is easier to interact online with someone. I think it is incredibly hard and is very superficial.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you for your comment, Graeme. I agree totally about collaborative teaching/learning, but in a professional way. This makes me ask: how are you professional in a virtual teaching/learning environment? If being online breaks down barriers to enhance communication (if you think that's what it does), does it also encourage a break down of professionalism?

Graeme said...

I think that the same rules apply or can be transposed from face to face to online behaviours. The only problem I have is that students may find it easier to be unprofessional online whereas they are constrained by social rules when you are interacting in a normal situation.
I struggle with some of the content that I see online. For instance, if you look at the podcast of Sue Waters on PodCasting I think you will agree that there is a fair amount of what I would call unprofessional banter. If I was a student I would baulk at her manner although it may be how she is. I don't want to appear judgmental but that is an immediate example of what I am talking about.

David McQuillan said...

I think we all choose which parts of ourselves that we show to the world, and we may choose to share different aspects with our students than with our boss, or with our parents.

In my class I know that I talk from time to time about things that are not related to the subject material (perhaps in the break, before class, or from time to time during class-time). Sometimes I'm enquiring about some aspect of the life of my students. Sometimes I'm sharing things that interest me, or recent events in my life. I see this as a valid and important way of building relationship with my students.

I guess my point is that I don't think we're ever really purely a teacher. There's always going to be some degree of personality in our interactions, and if we consider our personal blog to be one of the primary means of communication with our class, surely this personality should be reflected here.

Graeme said...

I agree with what you say David but I also have this fundamental problem with what impressions can be given without the important aspects of body language to back it up. Two points.
1) Non verbal communication makes up about (opinion's differ) about 75%-90% of the the impression you have of someone you interact with. Without that, how do you convey personality? Smiley faces? I don't think so. A little story? Too open to interpretation.

2) I was talking to an American colleague who has done a few online course and she said that the big thing she missed was face to face interaction. It was her guess that the people who were more comfortable with online communication were those who struggled with social skills in real life.
I wonder if this has ever been investigated?
I would be interested in all your comments.'