On Modeling

Earlier this morning, I tweeted this:

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.” ?

And I realized that I didn’t quite say what I meant there.
I believe that privacy is important and special, and that there are plenty of moments in my life that are my business and perhaps my family’s or close friends’ or colleagues’ business. That said, I think anything public is fair game for public. And I think my public persona, the person I am at work and in the world, be it the store, or church, or at the park or anywhere else, should be the same public persona online.

Because that’s who I am. Or who I’m becoming, at least.

I made a choice when I went online in 2005 that I was going to be the same grown up online as I was in the physical public. For the most part, I’ve kept to that. If I’d say it in a classroom, I’ll post it to the web. If I wouldn’t, I tend to keep it to myself. Sure, I’ve stumbled and posted in anger or frustration, but not as a habit. (Maybe. You’re certainly welcome to disagree with me here.) And I’ve made a trade – I don’t say everything that I might wish to say.

Modeling is perhaps the greatest teaching tool that we have. The actions that we engage in say as much and more about us than our directions to students ever will. I’ve never asked a student in one of my classes to do something that I wasn’t willing to do myself. And I’ve constantly sought out ways to show my students that I am engaged in the world in the ways that I want them to be – my students caught me reading and writing and thinking about things all the time, just as I asked them to read and write and think. I went to math class and struggled through geometry tests. I participated in science experiments. I got excited about things.

I tried to model for them what learning looked like. And I try to do that in my online public persona as well. So when people say to me “I don’t think I want my students to see my [insert online profile],” I wonder what it is that they’re uncomfortable about.

We all stumble as people and don’t quite do the things we’d like to do, or behave perfectly. That’s human. And there are boundaries between personal and professional, between public and private. But those boundaries are far from hard and fast lines.

I’m sure that I’m not anywhere close to where I’d like to be in my actions. But I think it’s worth it to struggle to be a better person. And I think that struggle is human and worth sharing. We can all be better people, and education is a big piece of how that happens. And modeling is a big piece of education.

These ideas are still developing for me; I wonder what you think about them. What stays private? Public? What do you do online that you wouldn’t want your students to know about? Why not? As more of ourselves finds its way online, will these conversations stop being binary in nature?

36 thoughts on “On Modeling

  1. Karl Fisch says:

    I wish I had something pithy to add to this, but I’m pretty much stuck on “well said” or perhaps “I agree completely.”

    This is pretty much what I’ve tried to say to the folks in my building. I try to be careful not to push them anywhere they don’t want to go, but when they’re ready to but are nervous about it, yours is the approach I take. If you’re worried something you’re doing is not okay for students (or others) to see, then perhaps you need to examine whether you should be doing it in the first place. But if you feel comfortable with what you’re doing, then why would you be concerned with students (or others) seeing it? We should all try to be our best selves, whether that is online or off.

    Modeling is definitely key, as well as the acknowledgment that we’re all human and are occasionally going to make mistakes (both offline and online). As long as we’re as honest as possible about that, then I think we’re on the right track.

    Like so many of the discussions we have around technology, I think there’s an artificial separation between our online and offline lives. Just as I think we don’t really need new policies to police student behavior online (because I think the same “offline” policies are just as applicable online), I’m not sure we need separate rules of engagement of our online personas. Yes, it’s a different space. And, yes, our “digital footprint” is usually more permanent and accessible than an offline conversation. But that doesn’t alter the fact that we shouldn’t be changing our actions just because we might get “caught” or “noticed” in a digital space. I’ll say it again, we should always try to be our best selves, online or off.
    .-= Karl Fisch´s last blog ..How Do You Use Google Forms Instructionally? =-.

    1. Bud Hunt says:

      Thanks, Karl. Keep saying it.

  2. Sean Nash says:

    One thing I don not allow my students to do online is to respond to a post with: “Oh, wow. Excellent post. I agree completely.”

    However, to be perfectly honest, in this situation I almost feel as if I could have tapped out the same post.

    I didn’t see your previous tweet, but when I read it here I thought: “yeah… I DO agree with that… but I doubt I would have been so bold as to just say it like that.” However, the post that follows rounds out your argument nicely. In fact, I’d say that tweet followed by this post is once again… modeling for the very thing you describe so plainly and yet eloquently above.

    Your words about making a conscious decision of how to “be” online really resound with me. I think I remember almost the exact situation. And really… when I put it in those terms for myself, I think I felt the clarity that comes along with finally naming something strange.

    I do not have the “public” persona online, and then then “private” persona online… the one where I get to be “me.” That is all pretty much smashed together into one. When you read my blog (or far more applicably Twitter) you get me the educator… me the biology nerd… me the techtool curious sort of guy… me the daddy… me the human. No, it’s not a 100% stream of the thoughts I think. It’s not everything I would tell me wife or mother in confidence. But it is a massive chunk of who I am and what i think. Somehow it feels like there is freedom in that.

    Furthermore, the way you characterize yourself as “lead learner” in the classroom makes me want to sit in your room as you work with kids. I’m pretty sure it would be fun. An an instructional coach I sit in all kinds of classrooms from time to time. Out of all the high-performing teachers (and their classroom persona) the ones I tend to gravitate towards… the ones I just pop in as I’m walking down the hall and have 15 min. to kill before the next appointment… those are the ones who operate by many of the ideals you describe here.

    Thanks for writing this. You helped teach me one more tiny sliver about how I… yes I… feel on issues like this one. Nicely done.
    .-= Sean Nash´s last blog ..The End of The Line =-.

    1. Bud Hunt says:


      I don’t know that I understood entirely what I was doing when I started out on my online work, but I’ve come to understand it over time, through doing it, just like you and I learn much when we try to explain just what it is we are doing.
      You’re welcome in my classroom, what and wherever that looks like, any time.

  3. A-yep.

    And sure, it is occasionally a bummer when you’re at a party like a reunion of some sort, and someone takes a picture of you with a glass of wine in your hand, and you think, “Ugh… my kids will tease me about that.” But I don’t have a problem saying to students, “I’m 38 years old, and I am allowed to have a glass of wine at a party. What’s your point?” Other than that, yeah… be one person.
    .-= Chris Lehmann´s last blog ..ISTE Proposal: Beyond Tools: Thoughtful 21st Century School Reform =-.

    1. Bud Hunt says:

      Isn’t it funny, Chris, how so many of us think about pictures of us and alcohol, when these types of conversation happen?

      I think more about places like your office, full of people most any hour of the day. That’s worth modeling and sharing. But harder to do.

  4. When we introduced blogging to our 6th graders this year (yes, all 150 of them), I chose to discuss blogging with them via the use of images–not a PPT of bulleted text. One of the images was of a guy in a library with what at first glance looked like a megaphone. He was belting out his words. Upon closer look, a student in the class when I asked what was happening in the picture and what that was in his hand said “It’s a voice changer.” Sure enough, it was. And what an incredible segue into the conversation of being online who we are offline.

    Bud, you write with such integrity online, and knowing you somewhat offline this is what I value most: I am called to be a better person when those like you around me model great character online and off. Your students are lucky, and the rest of us “blessed.” Integrity is what our kids need to see from us.
    .-= Laura Deisley´s last blog ..What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? =-.

    1. Bud Hunt says:

      They do need to see integrity. They also need to see us using our voices. You’re kind.

  5. Brian Crosby says:

    Agreed! People are pretty freaked out about this. I know last year someone took a photo of me with a beer in my hand that my 6th graders found on Google images ,,, and I thought I was being so careful … 🙂

    I’ve taken photos of teachers at classes I’ve taught to show them some activities you can do with them and had some be VERY uncomfortable with that even though I wasn’t putting them on the web. One made me delete it from my computer at the end of class so she could see that it was really gone. I didn’t think of it then but after she left I searched the web and found photos of her on Flickr and elsewhere. I guess that proves the point that you should “Google” yourself every once in awhile.

    I do think that we are far enough into this publishing student work on the net thing (blogs, vids, photos, Voicethreads, and the like) that we can show teachers (and admin and parents) that ALL these teachers and schools and school districts are enthusiastically publishing to the web. Not just a few dangerous teachers that don’t care if their students’ safety is compromised. So maybe this is OK. (well I can hope!)
    .-= Brian Crosby´s last blog ..Re-Post – So How Could I Still Teach My Students If School Was Cancelled? =-.

    1. Bud Hunt says:

      The environment sure has improved in terms
      of examples, hasn’t it. And yet.

  6. Well said! I remember years ago when my husband and I were married he said I could always count on the fact that he would act and behave as if I were standing beside him regardless of where I happened to be. I see online behavior the same way. If the space is a public place, act accordingly.
    .-= Lusette Casey´s last blog ..While I Was Sleeping =-.

  7. Mark Ahlness says:

    Bud, thanks for saying this. I see this constantly these days at school, especially with social media – and young parents and teachers. Our elementary school is on FB now, and many parents are there. So naturally many things are tied together and easily accessible to pretty much everybody: tweets, blog posts, profiles, pictures, you name it.

    The folks who are out there and all of a sudden want to put up walls around this or that of their personality, well… they can try, but it’s useless. Gotta go off line, own up to they are, or as you so nicely put it, just shape up 🙂

    Reminds me of my initial discomfort over my flickr pictures of my incredible hops being out there. Just got over it, though. And um yes, I do use them 🙂
    .-= Mark Ahlness´s last blog ..Dream Come True =-.

  8. Chris Craft says:

    The issue of modeling here deserves a bit more attention.

    I wonder how the issue of modeling is changing given a more online persona.

    I’m leaning heavily on Bandura here, since he did so much work regarding models, and you chose that term to use.

    First, in order for a model to be effective the model must be deemed credible. In a teacher/student classroom environment this is slightly easier. The classroom teacher can establish credibility with students with a kind word, a respectful speech, and a pleasant demeanor (among other things of course). But how do we do this online? I would say that it likely takes much longer, or much less time.

    For example, does someone begin to regard someone else as a model based on a few witty tweets or blog posts?

    Or does it require a personal interaction and an investigation of one’s life?

    I simply do not know the answer to this.

    Second, a model must be viewed as competent to be effective (and by effective, it means that a model will be emulated).

    Not only that, but in order for a model to be credible, the model must be perceived to be similar. If a model is quite dissimilar it will not likely be emulated.

    So all that said, without these characteristics, there will be no motivation to engage in tasks related to a certain goal.

    My concern here is that as some of us move away from direct contact with students, how does this affect our being a model? How likely is it that we will be considered credible or competent if students are not able to see us regularly?

    I keep thinking back to David Jakes telling me years ago that it has to be all about the students. I sometimes wonder that if so many of us are considering leaving the classroom (or perhaps recently have left) that we are becoming less credible models.

    And then there’s the issue of how we impact each other. But I suppose that’s a whole ‘nother comment.

    .-= Chris Craft´s last blog ..links for 2009-09-19 =-.

    1. Bud Hunt says:

      Is modeling only about the classroom, Chris? Lessons to teach and learn in plenty of other places, too.

      Lots of questions and references here for me
      to think about. Thanks.

      1. Chris Craft says:

        Oh heavens yes, modeling applies in many more situations, hence my mention of us modeling for each other online.

        I simply chose the classroom given the context of your post, Bud.

        Modeling in parenting is quite a similar story, although with different ramifications.

        .-= Chris Craft´s last blog ..links for 2009-09-19 =-.

        1. Bud Hunt says:

          Fair enough. As to your question about being away from classrooms – I think there’s plenty of teaching to do in district offices and board rooms. They need models, too.

  9. “I’ve never asked a student in one of my classes to do something that I wasn’t willing to do myself.”

    Well . . . I expect my students to sit every day for 45 or 90 minutes in chairs I would never sit in myself ;^ ).

    But seriously . . .

    Just as the democratization of media is erasing boundaries between ‘authorities’ and ‘experts’ on the one hand, and everyone else on the other, so too it is erasing the boundary between public and private. ‘My private online life’ is more than a little bit oxymoronic.

    If you don’t want your students to hear it or see it, don’t say it or do it outside the confines of your own home, with all electronic devices turned off.

    Because otherwise, they will.
    .-= Eric MacKnight´s last blog ..From a former student =-.

  10. monika hardy says:

    i love this post bud. thank you for sharing.

    transparency – it’s like our new currency.
    .-= monika hardy´s last blog ..monika hardy shared as favorite network summer camp planning wiki – home =-.

  11. Al smith says:

    I could not agree more! Not only is attempting to maintain honesty in your public persona refreshing and constructive Otis so much less work! Building a ‘front’ in our real lives is so destructive and regressive. Your effort to model your true persona online is what all the naive, insecure and codependent teens you teach need-someone REAL! Thx Bud

  12. One thing I have always tried to impress upon my students (be they adult students or children) is that the “submit” button is the same as “commit” – they are committed to the information potentially being in the hands of others – be it by a retweet, copy/paste, tag, or any other digital manipulation. They are committed to the fact that the Terms of Use of Facebook, MySpace, etc., does not mean absolute protection of their digital information – even the deleted stuff.

    All of this is shared with them not to scare them, but to make sure they choose their public face intentionally. For the young, their digital footprint will be a long one. They need to think about their choices long before those choices will seem relevant to who they are to become.
    .-= Lisa Chamberlin´s last blog ..An OpenPhD Wordle =-.

  13. jo says:

    Very interesting indeed. The lines do get blurred when you are in this field. Why do others not realize this? Why do they choose to flaunt “indecent” behaviors? I don’t understand that. Do they want to feel like they can relate? They got “street cred” because they are holding beers and wearing revealing clothing? Just don’t get it.
    .-= jo´s last blog ..Learning =-.

  14. Matt Rundle says:

    I agree that modeling is a great way to show students your expectations about assignments. I also would never have my students to do something that I am not willing to do. I think that when students see a teacher model an assignment it helps to prepare them for the days lesson and, I hope, get them excited about learning.

    Also, I agree completely with you that we need to be the same person we are in public as we are online. I liked how you said that “If I’d say it in a classroom, I’ll post it to the web.” That is such an important rule to live by!

  15. Nathan M says:

    I am recently new to your blog Bud, and I am so glad I stumbled upon it. The integrity of a teacher is extremely important to me. As I enter into the education field, one of the greatest things I can offer to my students is an understanding of who I am. An undergrad professor once said to me, “you are what you teach.” Its simple, but has stayed with me as I went through student teaching, substituting, and now entering into the classroom. I am the same individual in the classroom as I am at home on my couch, at church, at dinner with family, on facebook, or on twitter. I strive to live my life with integrity and build relationships to get to know individuals for who they are and what they bring. I have nothing to hide, which is why it surprises me so often when teachers try to hide in every aspect outside of the classroom setting. I hope to model a strong character in my classroom, which I pray will lead to strong, young, individuals. Thank you for sharing on this topic.

  16. I practically exploded when I saw your initial tweet–out of context, it’s scary.

    In context, however, I’m still disturbed. Let me preface this with stating up front that my online persona is pretty much who I am.

    And I think my public persona, the person I am at work and in the world, be it the store, or church, or at the park or anywhere else, should be the same public persona online.

    Here’s the problem, and where modeling matters. We have multiple levels of intimacy/behavior in different settings.

    What I say to a colleague in an elevator may be different than what I say to her in a pew, both public spaces by your example. The database searching capabilities have smashed our online personae into an extremely public figure–one with a megaphone screaming at anyone who cares to listen.

    Part of becoming an adult is learning situational awareness. Lumping our online persona into some common public space sounds great, but there is no single layer of “public” in our real lives. (It’s like “global awareness,” another impossible task that sounds so cool.)

    I may hijack your post (with accreditation and links and many thanks)–this is a HUGE topic and widely misunderstood.

  17. The challenge I feel like I face has less to do with “What do [I] do online that [I] wouldn’t want [my] students to know about?” and more “What do you do online that reveals you as a human being who occasionally doesn’t fit the mold of what administrators or parents expect a good teacher to look like?” Being willing to admit when I’ve messed up in the classroom or when I don’t know the answer to a question or when I’m wrestling with a particular issue comes as no surprise to my students because we talk about that kind of thing all the time, but I think it does sometimes unsettle parents or admins or other adults who aren’t used to doing anything other than putting their best foot forward, especially online.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is that along the way to being a better person, I’m going to need some grace, and I don’t always trust that I’ll receive that from the online “public.”


  18. Dawn Hogue says:

    Last night with friends, who have no online life whatsoever, I told them I was now on Twitter and they couldn’t understand why the heck I would want to do that. I tried to explain, but it didn’t matter, that my online life is my life, the people I know are my professional colleagues in ways the people in my own building are not. I’ve put myself out on the Web since 1998 and I’ve never been anyone other than who I am. I don’t believe in cute, cryptic screen names. I figured a long time ago, that if I was going to be open and honest, then be it. Use my real name. WYSISYG, right? I totally agree with you, Bud. Good post!

  19. Karl Fisch says:

    So, Meredith, perhaps you are modeling for those parents and admins and other adults as well? Modeling living honestly, making mistakes, learning, having grace, even trusting. That’s pretty powerful modeling, isn’t it?

  20. Rebecca says:

    Integrity is something we all should strive for, teacher or not.

    But what about the people taking and posting the pictures? Something that has been bothering me lately is the invasion of our personal space in public places. A lot of people hate getting their picture taken. Period. Now those poor people have to worry that it will get posted on Facebook for anyone to see! And they should worry because that’s what people are doing.

    I think it is important that we teach and model asking permission before taking someone’s picture or video and then ask again before posting it somewhere public.

  21. April says:

    My concern is less of what I am saying or doin, but more towards what my students are saying and doing. There is a part of their lives that, frankly, I am just not sure I want to know.

  22. MsEstep says:

    I thought I’d be a lone voice of opposition when I started reading the comments. Thankfully, Michael Doyle came up and I feel less alone.

    I’m the same person online as I am in the classroom. But different situations allow for different conversations, both in person and online. I say things on facebook that I wouldn’t say on Twitter because those are different spaces…just like I’ll say things in the teachers’ lounge that I wouldn’t say in the classroom. Different audiences…different conversations.

    I hope that even makes sense…not enough caffeine in my system at the moment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.