Saturday, November 3, 2007

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

One of the themes of this blog has been how I present myself in the online environment. My thoughts about this have extended into the 'real' world and I have been challenged about how I present myself as a midwifery teacher to my students in the face-to-face environment as well as the virtual world. This has come about as a result of three different discussions. The first discussion has been a bit of an ongoing one that I have had with Sue Waters. On Monday we had a talked about the use of Facebook, which is a social networking site. Sue 'allows' students into her Facebook account and feels it is a great way for her to get to know her students and visa versa. I had my concerns - I have felt very strongly that I want to keep my private self and life separate from my professional one, especially the professional self I present to students. But is that a helpful thing to do? Would I be a better teacher if I allowed students to see more of who I really was? How do distance students get to know me and visa versus when we never have face-to-face interactions? How much do we need to know about each other to have an effective teacher-student relationship? Should we have a teacher-student relationship, especially in the tertiary setting where we are all adults - should it be more of a collegial friendship? How does that notion work when teachers still have power over assessments?

The second thing that happened was that I had my annual performance review at work. One of the things that was said was that students think I am fun and one of their abiding memories is meeting me at Carisbrook, our local rugby stadium where I go to support the mighty 'Highlanders'. What perplexed me somewhat was that that happened two years ago and yet it sticks with the students. The third thing was feedback from students that they'd like to do more with us lecturers - to learn what we're up to and have more personal interactions with us. They feel this would promote a more cohesive feeling in the school.

The truth is: I have had some pretty painful experiences a number of years ago as a new teacher that I have never wished to repeat. The way I have kept myself 'safe' ever since has been to keep a distance from students and not to let them see Sarah - the mad rugby fan who reads trashy historical romances, who would do anything to win a competition prize and dreams of being on TV one day.

Maybe it is time to change that? Maybe, now I am an experienced teacher and have worked out my boundaries and how to protect them, I should enjoy the students for who they are and 'allow' them to enjoy me? Maybe, I need to own who I am as a midwife and lecturer, faults and all and share that with my students? I have a feeling that will be far more beneficial for our mutual learning and development. How do you feel about maintaining your professional boundaries in the job you do? As a teacher, how do you maintain a professional relationship with your students that promotes learning yet allows social interaction? As a student, how much interaction do you want with your teacher?

PS: The significance of the photo? My daughter and I are all dressed in our glad rags because we had just won a radio competition two weeks ago which took us on a return trip to Christchurch in a limo to a concert (Silverchair and Powderfinger) with a night's free hotel accommodation. How cool is that!

PPS: In my attempt to be a more 'caring and sharing' person I have put some photos on FlickR to look at. There are some nice photos of the rhododendrons at Glenfalloch Gardens in Dunedin.


Sue Waters said...

If I stop and reflect on the lecturers in my workplace - lecturers who present a very authoritative and my way is the only way approach tell to be more distant to their students and their students often feel uncomfortable discussing issues with them. The most respected and liked lecturer, by students, in our section is funny and shares glimpses of who he is as a person - students feel very comfortable with him and readily approach him if concerned.

For me I have no issue with students know a bit who I am and realising I am a human being, who cares, who doesn't have all the answers -- I would rather they felt they could talk to me about their problems then have them feel they can't.

Sarah Stewart said...

I absolutely agree with you Sue, and I hope I never come across as the authoritative figure, because that is not who I am nor do I see myself as such. I do care, and I do not worry if people see me as infaliable, in fact, I find that a very effective teaching tool, especially in the midwifery clinical context eg this is what I did, what would you do better/different?

However, I have found in the past that there can be a tension between being approachable and willing to deal with problems related to students' learning and being a full scale councilor which is not my job nor my skill. For me personally, I feel it is important for me to have professional boundaries which includes limiting what I give students access to (with regards to the personal me), just in the same way as when I am working as a midwife with women.

Students have to also take responsibility for their role in the student/teacher relationship. If I open myself up, that has to be respected by the students and not abused. This was not the case in the past which was why my response was to close myself up, to keep myself 'safe'. Now I am a much more experienced teacher, I know how to manage these issues better.

Dot said...

This is a tricky one! Here's my perspective, for what it's worth. I like to think my students find me approachable, but I very much don't want to fall into the trap of trying to be needy and seek out their approval: I think I have to maintain a certain dignity so they can have confidence in me as an intellectual guide and a route into the authoritative structures of the university. They need me not to be just like them...and as someone who still isn't very confident in the role of lecturer I find it a temptation to retreat into a silly-little-me persona that could be very, very unhelpful. I'm sure you don't risk that! But if the students are delighted to meet you at a rugby match their delight must partly be because it is a revelation of something they aren't always allowed access to. They feel a bit privileged to know that about you. Different people develop an effective teaching persona in different ways, but I don't think it can be a simple question of the real you versus the guarded you, but of different aspects of what you can offer to your students which have to be held in balance.

Re: self-protection, I chose to blog under the name Dot - which is actually an abbreviation of my second name - because I found one of my students had taken to googling me in a faintly creepy way: he would corner me and tell me something he had found out about me (always very innocuous, thank God). There's nothing in our blog I would be ashamed of, but I wouldn't like an unbalanced student to feel s/he had some special hold over me by reading it.

Sarah Stewart said...

Dot: Thank you for your comments which I think were very balanced. I got my toes burnt, so to speak, when I tried too hard be the students' friend - this back fired on me quite badly. So thats the tension I find at times. But I don't believe its my job to be the students' friend but to be the guide that you talk about. I have seen lecturers do the friend thing and they are loved by the students. But in the long run, that isn't what gets the students through the course.

Anonymous said...

Great discussion Sarah and others. I agree with the need to maintain an approachable persona with students, and anyone in your professional life really. I think it is important to be friendly rather than be the friend.
When it comes to personal sharing I think we all probably make professional judgment calls in relation to this given the context in the the students manage that is something they have responsibility for I guess. We do have power over our own disclosure.
I guess I don't have expectations around students providing me with friendship as such but I do expect to be treated respectfully and fairly and feel it is important to address this if I feel my rights are being imposed on.
I think there is value in acknowledging vulnerability (maybe not the best word) and presenting a humane self that people can relate to especially if we are able to show development or self responsibility and management - or even just that we are engaged in working things through.
There have been times when students have abused my trust I guess or misrepresented me professionally seemingly to achieve their own gain and that is stressful but I doubt I am alone in that and while at times recovery has been hard when i have it in perspective I can recognise it as just a hazard of the job.
I think it is a huge compliment that our students want to an opportunity get to know us better and in a small profession like midwifery I can see that there is scope for enriching our relationships. But likewise we need to consider our safety (staff and students) and ask ourselves whether we are all up to the challenge of managing this when we have had to challenge a student on an aspect of their work or behaviour? I feel some confidence that I am experienced enough to provide feedback in a way that leaves the student intact but it doesn't always go smoothly and not all students respond to these challenges well. Sometimes distance is appropriate or at least easier.

infomidwife said...

Its good to read all the comments and I tend to agree with most of them. As a new lecturer at university I think it is important to be approachable and friendly however maintaining a professional stance. I think there is a diffence between being a students friend and being friendly. I also think it is important to share some of yourself with your students however there is a fine line and above all we have to remain professional being fair and equal to all students.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks for your comment, infomidwife - I agree whole heartedly.

Some people liken the relationship we have with students as a partnership but I do not think it is because of power in-balances - on both sides, I might add.

Jill said...

I have been lecturing in midwifery at uni for about 4 years and still feel fairly new to the world of lecturing. I have always tried to be approachable and have let the students know a fair bit about me personally. I often wonder if I let them into my personal world too much but I am a very open person (which sometimes gets me into trouble) and I think I come across as real and fallible. As a student, I had a wonderful experience with a lecturer when I was studying. She was very passionate about midwifery and I remember thinking how 'real' she was. She inspired me to always show my passion and enthusiasm for midwifery to students as I think it is contagious. I have not had a bad experience with any students but could easily see how things could go horribly wrong.
I have a joint appointment with a uni and hospital where I teach the students on a Wed as the Clinical lecturer in Midwifery and then I look after them in their clinical places as the Midwifery Educator. I am the youngest lecturer (37 years old) and the only issue I find is when I have older students who sometimes find it difficult to take negative feedback from someone younger. I don't know how to overcome this but have on occasion used my older colleague to address the group about an issue that needed to be discussed. Always looking for ways to improve my teaching and would love to hear your comments on the age issue. Thanks Jill

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Jill, great to hear from you. It isn't often I hear from fellow midwifery teachers so it's lovely to hear about how you're going. It's also good to know that a post that I wrote months ago is still being found and read.

As for the age issue for teachers - what an interesting question, and not one I have thought of in too much depth. As you know the average age of the midwife is about 45, so you will be a 'young' midwife for a while.

I don't have a definitive answer for you but (please don't take this the wrong way) I am wondering how much of this issue is about your insecurity as a 'young' teacher as opposed to the students' feelings about you? You obviously have a lot of experience and knowledge, so in midwifery terms are far 'older' than the students. So just keep reminding yourself that you have a lot to offer students. At the same time, the older students will have a lot of life-experience that they bring to their education, which must be honored.

I have been meaning to write a post for ages about how to give 'negative' feedback, so thanks for the poke to do that. As a lecturer I have found the good old adage to be a true one - giving a 'shit' sandwich to students - this is what you do well, this is what you need to work on - this is what you do well.

Use your institution processes at all times - use your colleagues to nut out issues and debrief - document everything you say and do.

I'm not sure if that's any help. But ultimately, I have the 'take it or leave it' approach to feedback. I give students feedback to help them learn and grow - not to be nasty. If they don't want to heed the feedback, well, they are adult learners and that is their choice - I take the same approach to my teenagers! :)

Good luck, Jill, and please keep in touch.

Would love to hear from midwifery teachers or any other teachers on the best way to give feedback to students - how do you give negative feedback in a way that is a positive learning experience?

And to students, what works with you when it comes to receiving feedback about your performance?

infomidwife said...

Hi Sarah & Jill,
this is a very interesting topic, the older student. I have dealt with this both as the older student and as the lecturer for the older student. The only thing I can say as the 'student' I resented the younger lecturer if I felt I was being treated with contempt,and my life experience was not considered. I am not suggesting you are doing this, this is how I felt.
I agree with Sarahs comments in that a good sense of self is very important and a stratagey I use when dealing with older students is to always draw on thier wealth of personal life experience whilst trying to give the new learning information - so acknowelging their life experience whilst teaching something new and using the sanwhich technique for negative feedback. I'm sure yu have heard the saying "feel the fear and do it anyway". I think the trick is to acknowelge the age and accpet that you have more knowledge about what you are teaching and they have more life experience.
Remember to believe in yourself
I hope this helps - Good luck

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,

Just found your blog and enjoyed the post about 'Connectivism' which led me to this post from last year. I am a deputy principal at a large state high school and wear a suit to work each day. Having just spent time on a school excursion - camping, swimming, snorkelling and working to keep us fed - one very smart student and I had a long talk about identity. She will be in my Y11 Advanced English class next year and our first unit will be on 'Authority' - so we were able to talk about a range of issues linked to that as well (we will look at for example). Anyway, she said, I used to feel nervous you because you are the DP but now I can never see you like that anymore. I feel her learning will improve next year, when we study English as a result.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Darcy

Thanks for dropping by-its always good to hear from people facing similar issues from different professions. And I would imagine school teachers have another layer to deal with which is different from those of us who teach adults. I have found that there has to be give and take with my students. I am happy to become more "approachable" for want of another word, but they have also got to give a little of themselves. In the meantime, the students have access to this blog which will give a 'warts and all' story.

ruthdemitroff said...

Sarah, I see two potential pluses:
1. Having their teacher as a facebook friend will give students cause to pause. They are going to clean up their facebook pages when they become professionals so moving that up to including the student years can only be a plus for their careers.
2. You will have the occasional mentally unstable or just plain vindictive student. You do have the option of blocking them or putting an "x" by their picture and deleting them. For the safety of public, it would be very helpful to discover this at the student phase before they are licensed and unleashed on the vulnerable.

Sarah Stewart said...

Actually, Ruth, what has happened is that no undergraduate student has contacted me on FB, not has ever left a post on this blog, which I find very interesting. But I have had a few contact me once they have qualified. I don't think students want much to do with their lecturers in this way-my students have a class account but have deliberately chosen to exclude me, which I think is totally appropriate.