There is often much discussion around the separation of our professional and personal lives on social media. Some districts strongly encourage this separation while others encourage the blending of both. I have been a supporter of the latter as I believe that if we share who we are online we develop better relationships with others. In December, I tweeted the following:
I struggle w “separate professional from personal in SM”. Prof identity and personal identity are blended. Just be a good person in both.
— Chris Wejr (@ChrisWejr) December 1, 2013
From an organization perspective, I wholeheartedly agree with my tweet. I encourage people to share who they are and be transparent in their views on education.
However, my friend Royan Lee gave me some pushback on this idea when he tweeted,
@Nunavut_Tweeter @ChrisWejr Not all educators have identities or personal lives that are accepted by our dominant education culture. 2/2
— royan lee (@royanlee) December 1, 2013
What I did not realize when I tweeted that, was that my view on the subject was coming from a lens of privilege – the lens of a middle class, white, heterosexual male. Where I fell short in my tweet was that I failed to empathize with those whose lives are considered less acceptable to some.
When Royan brought this side to my attention… I stopped and thought about deleting the tweet, but then realized this is all part of the learning. It was not my intention to be ignorant but by wearing my invisible napsack of privilege… I felt I was.
I immediately thought about my friends who have struggled most of their lives with a target on them for being gay. I thought of my gay friends who are now so happy with their girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives, and kids. I thought of how these important friends that have inspired me and taught me so much cannot always share who they are for fear of being attacked by those who judge and throw stones.
I have been attacked for my views on education and sometimes these became personal; however, I have never been attacked for who I am or who my family is. For those with a personal social media account where they share all of the joy in their lives and happen to be gay (expand to LGBTQ), it is a sad reality that, because of societal views and judgment from others, they feel they cannot share this personal joy in their professional streams.
I recently shared a video of who I am with the families and staff of my new school. It was very well received and it immediately help foster some relationships with families. In reflection, I cannot help but think about what it would be like if I did not have the “typical wife and two children” family. What if my wife and kids were a husband and kids? Would I still share this? I feel we have a fairly liberal society in BC but there would likely still be some families that would shut me out or view me differently. We all love to belong and love to be accepted and although I would hope that I would have the courage to be publicly proud of my family, I am not sure I would as that might be risking this feeling of acceptance. It is reflection like this that help me to attempt to look through the lens to help me understand how difficult it must be for my gay friends and many others who want to share who they are but live in a society that still has some people that look to judge rather than seek t0 understand.
I was going to write another post about the importance of sharing who we are… and I still believe this is important; however, it is much easier for people with a life that is more acceptable in society.
Although Royan’s tweet was not specifically about the LGBTQ community, it was a wake up call for me to change my lens and seek to understand the difficulties for students and adults to post and tweet who they really are. To all my friends, as well as those in my network, for whom I failed to understand their lens…. I apologize. Thank you so much to Royan and the many others who continue to teach me to empathize with others and attempt to view life through a new lens.
It is one of the challenges that we need to find balance on. I tend to share quite a bit, my battle with depression for example, because I am followed by Aboriginal people, young and old, and I feel that it is necessary to show them that I am battling and not giving in. This was both a professional and personal choice, one that I believe may have hurt me professionally but one that I do not regret choosing to do. Would it have been better to keep that quiet? Probably, but I can’t advocate for Aboriginal education, which means a better tomorrow for Aboriginal youth, if I don’t show that I am struggling with the same things they are struggling with.
Thanks for adding another level to this post as well as my lens. As we have also discussed the line of sharing online (particularly about mental health) and how this can impact your work at a school… your story is a powerful one and many can learn from it. Thanks for continuing to show me the power in this vulnerability – many can learn from your words.
I’m moved by what you wrote as I too have always blending my personal and professional lives, allowing students, colleagues and family to be a part of my many challenges and triumphs. It’s so important to consider the experiences of others, especially as a part of our roles ad educators in order to model empathy for our kids. Good read. Thanks for sharing your experience
Thanks, Starr. Empathy can be so powerful and I believe one of the best ways to teach it is to model it. I have a ton to learn but opening myself for others to challenge and teach me has helped me in ways that is tough to describe. So much that I take for granted and it helps when people help me be more wide awake to this so I can better understand others. I am very comfortable blending… but although the focus on this was about friends of mine in the LGBT community, there are so many other reasons why some do not feel comfortable blending their social media presence and we just need to respect and understand this (and try to help, empathize in any way we can).
This is wonderfully written, and something that definitely needs to be said. Kudos to Royan for pointing out what few of us realize, and kudos to you for your empathy.
Thanks Terri – it is amazing the power that one small tweet can have. At the time, it was just a tweet that made me think but I continued to ponder and discuss this with others. You never know who and what will make you stop and think… that is why it is important to read and take some time for deeper reflection. I am very thankful for Royan and all that he stands for as well. Thanks for reading and commenting.
What a thoughtful post! Not only have I struggled with the to separate or not issue, but I recently started a class on Cultural Proficiency that is pushing me to see outside of my current lens as well. Thank you for sharing your learning!
Thanks, Amy. My masters classes were part of a key turning point for me in my growth as an educator and as a person. During those 2 years, I reflected and challenged my current views (due to the push from others) more than I ever have in my life. I would love to hear more about your learning in this course at some point. Please share! 🙂
Another great post Chris. It can be so easy to get caught up in the fervour and sometimes miss differing perspectives. I wrote a post about this a few months back, a meditation upon what I saw as being some of the taboos associated with getting online http://readingwritingresponding.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/a-meditation-on-taboos-associated-with.html
I think that managing our personal and professional identity is still in its infancy.
Hey buddy – yes, we are kind of figuring this out as we go so there will definitely peaks ad valleys and view shifting at many points throughout this journey. I enjoyed your post – lots of great conversation starters and questions there. Thanks for adding to this dialogue.
What a great post. It’s something I struggle with between something as simple as my two professions. ( Educator of young children and Womens Portrait Artist ) It’s also a struggle as a wedding professional who has photographed the LGBTQ community and those who disagree with same love. There can be so many reasons that it can be difficult to share your personal and professional self. Thank you for sharing and getting our minds thinking.
Thanks so much for sharing this, Carol – yet another angle I never thought of. This is the power of social media for me… and the selfish part of blogging – it helps me gain viewpoints and experiences from others that help me grow. I imagine the photos of some of the weddings must be filled with such joy and it is quite sad that some people cannot embrace this love and happiness like others can. I think the more we share, the more people will realize that the photos and stories are of our neighbours, our relatives, our friends… and then it becomes that much more important to see and embrace this happiness. Thanks again… love this angle.
We all have a need to be careful about what we post online. Our intentions may be noble and innocent, yet there will always be some who don’t receive what we say quite as “tweetly” as we intended. I’ve been reading a few blogs lately about this “lens of privilege” and I have to say it has ruffled my feathers a little. Who gets to define privilege? And, when we subscribe to a certain definition of privilege (particularly when “privilege” seems to mean “those who are fortunate enough to be exactly like me”), are we not, in a sense, categorizing/labelling/judging and perhaps condemning all those who are not “fortunate enough” to fit the criteria that someone else has single-handedly defined? Various bloggers on this topic have hinted at their own status of being “born of privilege” by stating that they are white, middle class, straight, American, male, educated, etc. Does this not also hint that all those who can not, for example, claim white as the colour of their skin are, therefore, NOT privileged? And, yes, I have given myself away by the spelling of “colour”; I was not “born of privilege” as an American. I think of a family that was part of my school community for a while. They came to our area as a result of unemployment and the financial struggles that resulted; they left us for the very same reasons. From an economic viewpoint I could hardly define them as middle class. Yet in spite all their struggles (and perhaps as a result of all their struggles), this family had a bond of love and closeness that afforded them a different kind of wealth. This loving mother and father and their five children had a level of gratitude, courtesy, humility, innocence, graciousness and joy that money cannot buy.
Don’t misunderstand – I do understand the intent behind the message of these blogs. There are those who can post online with greater confidence that, for a variety of reasons, what they say will be received with greater credibility and less chance of argument or attack. But, when we choose to post online and make our thoughts public, and when we read what others post online, our lenses come with varied prescriptions…..even the lens of privilege.
Thanks for sharing this post, Chris, and kudos to you and Royan for bringing up this issue.
I feel so deeply for those who cannot “be who they are” in public for fear of backlash, harassment, job security, or even violence. That makes me work harder than ever to help my students find their humanity and empathy.
Also, I wonder how many educators can’t express themselves -share their true feelings about how children learn best, discuss damage from what some might call “education reforms,” and comment on the testing craze – for fear of repercussions at school, too.
All of these concerns, yet there are people out there that believe tenure is unnecessary. When tenure at its purest form provides for due process, it is still very much needed.
Great bit, buddy. I just had this conversation with a gay friend whose spouse is expecting their first child — and yet she doesn’t want us to have any kind of baby shower for her simply because she’s concerned about how other staff members in our conservative southern community will feel.
That sucks times ten.
Hope you’re well. It’s been a long time!
Rock right on,
I battle with divide between personal and professional. It is very difficult as an educator to let our guards down and be human. Sometimes were are held to such a high standard that the only way to reach it, is to pretend that we don’t experience anger, have doubt, failure and moments we are not proud to admit we have faced. Blending personal and professional puts people in a place of vulnerability. If we tell our colleagues we have battled with depression, we could be embraced and thought stronger because of it or ostracized the moment we cry and passed up for promotion with the thought we are unstable. I just think the blending of personal and professional is a risk that is easier to take if your personal doesn’t have any standard deviation.
Well said, Lynn. It is easy for me to say “tweet who you are” as I come from a place of privilege. Having said this, I also can only imagine the struggle some must face with trying to separate the personal from the professional. This conversation has caused so much reflection for me so thank you for continuing this journey for me.
I appreciate your perspective. I have many friends who feel stifled because they are not able to freely express who they are. I have angst that anything posted can be misconstrued. Acceptance regardless of religion, race, gender etc. is the lens that should be used when reading posts.
There is a dark world out there when it comes to privilege and choosing to not see beyond this narrow lens. I am glass someone was able to call me on this as it changed who I am and how I view social media in the personal/professional worlds.
Nowadays this condition is getting very well known across online platforms. i personally know close friends and family members who are having narcissistic traits and after reading many articles about this condition in people i trully understood that this is a real treat when interacting with these type of people. Even if members of familly are having narcissistic traits, we have to learn how to cope with them and their condition. thank you for writting this article.