Personal and Professional vs. Public and Private

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker

During my time over in Australia, there was a lot of talk about the notion of having both a “personal” and “professional” identity on social media. The “personal” account would be one that is used with friends and family, where as the “professional” account would be one that is used with the work that you do in school.  Although I understand the notion behind what is being said here, I don’t know if this is what I would really be focusing on when working with students or educators.  We should really be focusing on the notion of “public and private” and how that works in our world.

This is not to say that you can’t have separate accounts.  I, for one, choose not to and blur the lines between personal and professional all the time.  For example, on my Facebook account, I have “friends” that are both people that I have grown up with as well as educators I learn from.  On Twitter,  I follow educators as well as celebrities.  What I am always aware of is that no matter who sees what I put out there, anyone can see it eventually, whether if it is through me or someone else.  I don’t “friend” students or their parents on Facebook, but I have no issue of them following me on Twitter, since that is totally open and anyone can see what is up there whether they have a Twitter account or not.

For example. let’s say a student wrote about how much they hated another student and started bullying them online.  Does it matter if the student said, “well this is my personal account”?  Even if the student wrote it in a “private” email, it can become public with a quick screen capture and shared with the world.  To me, anything that is posted online, you should consider “public” no matter what your “privacy” settings are.

Take this recent article from the Huffington Post regarding teachers being reprimanded for some of the things that they posted online after the US election.  Here is one of the statuses posted that got a teacher into trouble:

“Congrats Obama. As one of my students sang down the hallway, ‘We get to keep our fooood stamps’…which I pay for because they can’t budget their money…and really, neither can you.”

Do you think that it would matter if this is a personal or professional account?

What about the Natalie Munroe situation last year?  She actually tried to defend some of the extremely innappropriate things that she had said about students and parents:

Following the suspension, Munroe defended her online postings by writing on her blog that she had tried to remain as anonymous as possible (blogging under the name Natalie M.) and noted that she never mentioned her school or students by name. “I had 9 followers–2 of whom were my husband and myself, the other 7 were friends,” she wrote. “There’s this perception that I was trying to lambaste everyone in the school without heed. That’s bollocks. What bothers me so much about this situation is that what I wrote is being taken out of context. Of my 84 blogs, 60 of them had absolutely nothing to do with school or work.”

I am sure that every educator (and person for that matter) has said something inappropriate, but posting it online is probably not the smartest option.

Although the “Personal and Professional vs. Public and Private” is an important conversation, there are others ones that we should be having as well. I have been challenged before how kids and adults should stay offline totally as they will do nothing but cause issues for themselves in the future and I am reminded of this Bud Hunt quote:

“Do you ever want to say to folks who scream they don’t want their private lives online: ‘Maybe you should just try to be a better person.’?”

As I said before, you are more than welcome to have both but be fully aware of the consequences professionally that can happen from a “personal” account. I really think we should be talking to our kids about what stays offline (private) and what should be public, no matter who they are talking to online.  Also, is it really bad if we mix some of our personality into a “professional” account?  If we are thoughtful about it, could this not help our students and school community as see as more than simply “teachers” but as people?  The best teachers that I know always connect with students on some personal level, but they always keep it appropriate.  Is that not the rule of thumb that we could use online?

It is not that we can’t be ourselves online, but we should just be more cognizant of what we do there. Many of us, including myself, talk differently when we are around our closest friends and family.  I know that what you post online can take opportunities away from you, it could also provide opportunities as well.  I use the example often in workshops of two people applying for a job as a mechanic and one person writes on a resume that they can do an oil change, while another candidate posts a video on YouTube of them doing an oil change. Who would you hire?  In most cases, the one that has put their learning public and you know they can do the job (it still has to be good work), are at an advantage.  There are definitely some things that you want public. Seth Godin shares his belief and how we should put our best work online:

“Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you’re on Candid Camera, because you are.”

The “blur” in our world is ironically becoming clearer to me.  Personal or professional is not necessarily the conversation we should be having as much anymore with our students and each other.  What we make “public” is something we need to be taking more into consideration.

31 thoughts on “Personal and Professional vs. Public and Private

  1. Patricia

    I thought this was a great message, thanks for this. I totally agree, especially with Bud Hunt's quote. @PatriciaVCaroca

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  3. jonelle

    I agree this is a great message for all–if I followed through and committed to Twitter I would RT this. I have had many students tell me that "Facebook is for family and Twitter is for friends." Yikes! I think everyone should consider differentiating between public and private. I don't think it is about "being a nicer person" it is about being wise and using the skills that you have/ can have to place appropriate and responsible postings/images of yourself online.

  4. Devin Schoening

    It is such a huge paradigm shift for folks to think this way, and it seems to be especially tough for many schools to think about how this affects the day-to-day interactions with students. I have had many conversation with administrators, teachers, parents and students about sharing online and how each of their viewpoints are different.

    I am reminded of the February, 2011 EducationLeadership article by Will Richardson – Publishers, Participant All- where he makes the case that learning on the web doesn't end by hitting publish, but by then learning from, and with, strangers online. These ideas personal and professional, pub
    In and private, certainly aren't mutually exclusive.

  5. LIsa Noble

    I love the example of the mechanic being hired – which one would you hire. I talk with my students about using their Web powers "for good, not evil", and I think that's the key. Yes, what you post is going to stay out there. Yes, people are going to be able to get a sense of who you are from what you post. So….?

  6. Stephen Hurley

    Nice reflections, George. One of the observations that many will want to make about the emerging generation of connected youth is that they are less able to blur the lines between public and private because they are already pretty blurry! Perhaps these are constructs that are less apparent for the "connected generation" than they are for others.

  7. mrjtyler

    Great observations George. I wrestle with this regularly as I promote teachers' use of Social Media. I think you are right, the blur is really becoming more clear – whether we create "personal" or "professional" accounts – whatever we do online is there to stay. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Big T / T-Dog / Mr T

    Nice. Right there with you on blurring public & private, no to students on FB, yes if they want to follow on Twitter for all the same reasons. I wish to live in a way that my online persona is not at odds with my identity, values, or character. The Hunt quote hits a huge bullseye, although I do think we need a means of being goofy and irreverent online if we want to be real people in all of our incarnations. Do we always need be tactful and polite dealing with things like workplace incompetence or systemic failures? The ability to pursue a "pure" path, free of a false dichotomy between professional and personal, is complicated by the the gag orders (real or perceived, justified or not) that many people face in public professions (like education). I think about the role of SM in protests and uprisings, and it seems clear that we sometime need to push some boundaries and let allow the personal to scream through to the public. Seth Godin's quote leaves me thinking, too. If the basic premise is to live deliberately and suck the marrow from life, then yes, fill google with the good stuff you do. The tendency for SM to act as an echo-chamber, however, and the constant effort to establish a personal brand, can easily turn it into valid identity-work and turn it into narcissism. There is also the question of whether the grand use of SM for revealing and celebrating self favours the extroverts. Thanks for the thoughts, George… always appreciated.

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  10. tinastar22

    Thanks for your thoughts on this George. I was caught in a dilemma recently when a parent followed me on Twitter but after a couple of messages to you I felt ok about it. It just hit home how open Twitter was but in this case, my student was able to show her father her artwork of George through my Twitter account. She was so proud that her dad had connected on Twitter and he on the other hand, felt more connected with his child's learning through her teacher .
    Timely post George :)

  11. Tim Slack

    Great post and thoughts on this. I agree 100% as I would not post any thing on my personal account that I would not post on my professional account. The rule of thumb should be: If you would not post that on your professional account, maybe you should not be posting it at all.

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  16. Laurie Niestrath

    Ideas that are certainly worth considering and revisiting frequently. The concept of being an ostrich and placing our heads and lives in the sand is only going to work but for so long. As I have preached to my students for so long, there needs to be a pause between the stimulus and the response, so it is with our “online” lives. If we pause long enough to consider, “Is this the best that I can be?” If not, use the backspace button rather than the enter, yes?

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  28. Aviva Dunsiger

    I totally agree with what you’re saying here. I’m often asked if I have a personal and professional account, and I don’t. I use one, and I have parents as well as educators following me. I’ll sometimes tweet about my dinners, dogs, coffee, or parking, and most of the time, I’ll share my thoughts on education. The same is true of my “professional” blog. As I mentioned to someone not that long ago, I’m very aware of my varied audience — for both my blog and my tweets — and I try to think before I post. I’ve read danah boyd’s IT’S COMPLICATED that gives a new spin on teenagers making mistakes in the public realm, and while I understand her points, I do think that there’s lots of value to having adults and students consider what we share publicly versus privately.


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