Friday, September 5, 2008

The Importance of Self Disclosure

In our profession, as in many, a key factor is openess. If you want the students you work with to try their hardest and commit to their learning, your teaching and improvement, you must allow them to feel unthreatened, and free to "make mistakes" and learn from them. One of the best ways to do this is to "model" it yourself as a teacher and guide. In that initial example of self disclosure you let them know that they will not be ridiculed or deprecated in front of their peers. It is also very valuable to let them know about "you" and what makes you happy, your interests. I try to do this even as a "sub" coming into a class so I look more approachable and less intimidating. It especially works for the younger ones. When I goof, in front of them, I readily admit it and show no embarassment. I admit to my short-coming up front and assure them that I expect them to have some and do the same. A non-threatening environment is the best for learning and making new friends which is also a big part of school.

This past week I was pleasantly surprised to witness this going on at my favorite school with my favorite administrator. Yes, even principals could follow this advice: "Open yourself up more to your teachers and students. Be approachable and accepting of suggestions." This time I peeked in the office and had to wait to be acknowledged because a little 1st grader was sharing his little "bio-assignment" with the principal. This, I found out, is often done at this school. Reward and recognize a student(s) when they do something good by sending them to the principal. Usually it used to be only for something bad...and a tsk, tsk. Catch them doing something good and reward it, not extinguish it. I was told that this principal had recently told each class about her/himself in a sort of bio and how they got to be principal. Then they were encouraged to write back about themselves. Can you think of the positive presidence this sets for the future with this child?

Later that day I was in a class at another school. It was the first time I had volunteered there. I was visited by both the principal and vice principal, shall we say, "observed". With the former, there was no interaction with the students, the resident teacher or me...just checking to see if "I was following the lesson plan". With the latter, much more open and approachable. I was introduced as I was with my small group of "Math Game Players" and I actually shook hands. This is a big new school with at least 5 teachers per grade level.

When I was into my own career and actually studied for being "an administrator". The emphasis then was more on "school manager" not "educational leader or inspiror". What are the qualities of a good leader or motivator? For teachers as well as students? From my point of view, after a few years of observation and working for/under more than a dozen principals, I vote for the "more open and self-disclosing" leader. There can to some relaxed joking and teasing but mostly what you want and expect is "Earnestness" Truth in valid interactions and the absence of "threats" or negative consequences.

I was in my first classroom subbing yesterday. I couldn't help but notice in this 5th grade class, the absence of any of the above. There were at least three systems in place for dealing with discipline and disruptive behaviors: names on the board, warnings, clothes pins pinned in colored areas on a chart from green to yellow to red to black...all with increasingly negative consequences. There was a binder with pages of names, times and incidents already inscribed. On the positive side, there were "group points" for paying attentions and participating...but they were all confused and arguing about which group was which numerically. I even read them the seating chart with the group numbers. No wonder kids starting at these levels are increasingly turned off to the "class experience" of learning. I tried to add a bit of positive fun/games and play to a lesson plan which had none. We played "20 Questions" to reinforce "nouns" and we did some choral, dramatic reading with them after P.E. It was amazing how many didn't want to "risk" getting into character in front of their peers...even at this young age, 10+. This was at a "Middle School" where they are grouped with olders and rotate classes. Lots of "socialization" going on in between classes. Now that's when there is "self disclosure" to each other but I'm afraid it is more "role disclosure" and posing for each other. It might be better to leave these 5th's with their younger "home neighborhood schools" where they can be more themselves without such social pressure and intimidation. What do you think? RRR

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