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Special Event: Strategic communication to build rapport with students

Colleagues,

Join the LINCS Community Professional Development and Correctional and Reentry Education Groups for a discussion about strategic communication approaches designed to build rapport and connection with their students while maintaining professional boundaries. Many adult learners live in, or come from, high crisis environments that include poverty, trauma, and disrupted relationships and have developed mal-adaptive ways to communicate with others.

This discussion will help participants identify the appropriate levels of disclosure with learners, as well as how to utilize specific interventions to teach learners new and healthier ways to communicate. Guest Tracy Palecek will demonstrate her communication approach through exploration of three levels of disclosure:

Level 1: discussion of facts and information;
Level 2: discussion of thoughts and emotions; and
Level 3: discussing personal thoughts and emotions.

We will begin with an interview tomorrow, discussing the effective communication strategies and you can prepare by reviewing the LINCS Resource, Yes I Can: A Mental Health Guide for Adult Literacy Facilitators.

Think about the challenges our students have. Are they 'over' disclosing' due to mental health, or are their other issues? 

I'm looking forward to the conversation, 

Sincerely, 

Kathy Tracey

Comments

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

Good morning, 

Welcome to our discussion about communication and the importance of disclosures. To get started, let's understand a bit about self-disclosure. The article states that self-disclosure plays a key role in forming strong relationships. It can make people feel closer, understand one another better, and cooperate more effectively. 

To begin, let's talk about  why communication is such an important topic to discuss when working with adult learners. 

Chime in with your comments, questions, and ideas. 

Kathy 

Jennifer Kluempen's picture
Ten

Hello, I am an instructor of ESL in Trenton, NJ. I am very interested in this topic of communication in the classroom, in particular the issue of self-disclosure. I think it helps to build rapport between myself and the students, as well as among themselves. I try to share some personal information about myself and my family. Talking about my children and listening to students tell me about their families builds connection. I'm interested to know how other educators handle the sensitive information that can come up in conversation related to difficult personal experiences, separation from family in home countries, health emergencies, etc. It can be delicate finding the balance between encouraging sharing and being sensitive to know what students would rather not share in a classroom setting with other classmates. Thank you for offering this discussion group.  ~Jennifer

Tracy Palecek's picture
First

Good Morning!

I love talking about intentional communication!  It is the basis for building relationships which is the essential for assisting someone reach their goals.  Communication is both about WHAT we communicate and HOW we do it.  When we communicate with respect, with positive regard, and empathy we increase the chances that those we are helping will have positive outcomes.  Self-disclosure can have a powerful role in this.  Benefits of proper self-disclosure are:  Rapport building-essential for relationships, provides validation – can help the student to feel “normal”; can reduce the power differential between the educator and student,  which can  reduce intimidation; helps the student feel as though they are not alone; and can be a wonderful role modeling opportunity for appropriate social interaction.  In addition, when done properly it can connect the educator to their students in a more meaningful way.  This can connect us to our purpose, allow us to see our work as so impactful in many lives.  This in turn protects educators from burnout and toxic stress.  Working with purpose and joy is amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

Tracy, 

Thanks for your respose. Considering the comments thus far about working with students with mental health issues, guidance versus advice, and even sympathy versus empathy, can you provide some background knowledge about levels of disclosure and then provide some examples about Level 1 disclosures? How do we use them? 

Thanks, 
Kathy 

Tracy Palecek's picture
First

 

Hi Kathy,

Certainly!  A level 1 disclosure is the basis for beginning a relationship.  This is where you set the tone for how you will communicate with, in this case, your students and vice versa.  Level 1 is primarily an avenue for information, role, and social norm exchanges.  For example, in the classroom or group setting the teacher will speak first (social norm and role) often introducing themselves and their role, for example "Good Morning, my name is Professor Smith."  Level 1 is also where you establish some social credibility/standing or level of influence; "I have been a Professor of English for over 20 years and have a passion for helping students fall in love with the written word"  Level 1 disclosures also include information about the content of the class, the schedule, grading etc.  The Professor might go around the room and ask their students to provide their name, year in school and what they hope to learn.  This completes the mutual information, role, and social norm exchange necessary for to establish parameters for future communication.

 

 

 

Phil Anderson's picture
Fifty

Thank you, Kathy, for sharing this great resource. Could you point to a particular section of the Guide that will be considered in this interview/conversation? I read Chapter 3: "General suggestions for supporting learners living with mental health conditions and disorders", and noted this: 

Listen:
 listen with empathy and without judgment,
 don’t argue or give advice, and
 validate what the learner is going through

Thanks!

Amy Hatch's picture
First

Thank you for posting this, Phil, I was becoming overwhelmed with the information onslaught. 

Although I can recognize the importance of communication as a form of strengthening our relationships with students, I find #2 on your list particularly tough.  Sometimes, it is difficult not to be straight forward and let them realize they are often being their own worst enemy.  It obviously depends on the circumstances, but it is not easy to refrain from giving advice, when they are often literally coming to you for advice!  

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

I often tell my students that I make an aweful guidance counselor becuase, but that very title - a person guides a student into making their own decision through providing options and choices along the way. When I give advise, I am sharing my opinion on what I believe they should do to solve their problem.  

It is often very difficult when you see indiviudals making choices that we know through experience that won't lead to their outcome. And, while I know this isn't the 'right' thing to do, sometimes I am tired, overwhelmed, and mentally exhausted and I don't take the time to guide when offering advice is so much easier for me.    

As our guest will explore through communication strategies tomorrow, there may be ready made 'scripts' that we can use to help move from advice to guidance. 

Thoughts? 
Kathy 

Amy Hatch's picture
First

Kathy ~ You've hit the nail directly on the head!  Tuesdays are my crazy teaching day, will the communications strategies tomorrow be recorded so I could watch it at a later date? Or is it possible to get those scripts? That sounds like something I need! I have learned to change my own behaviors with scripted self-talk, so I am very interested in that. 

Many Thanks, Amy

Tracy Palecek's picture
First

This is such a great question.  Using scripts and open-ended questions are wonderful ways to handle difficult questions and disclosures from students.  Tomorrow we will go into specific scripts but here are some tips for using open-ended questions: Open ended  questions cannot be answered with a yes or no, or simple one word answers. They create the space for people to tell their story in their own words, thereby influencing the direction of the conversation and supporting engagement. They also build relationships when coming from a place of curiosity, care and concern.  This is the heart of collaboration.  You are shifting away from advice giving into asking questions that allow students to process the best way forward.  Following up with "It sounds like you have some ideas to consider"  or "You have made difficult choices before, I am glad you are thinking this through to make the right decision"  gives them something to process.

Here are some examples:

-What are you already doing to take care of yourself?”

-“What concerns you most about your situation, if anything?”

-“What have you noticed helps you when you are really stressed?”
 
-“What needs to be different this time to get the result you want?”
 
-“How can we support you as you get through this?”
 
-“How have you managed to get through other difficult times in your  life?”
 
 
Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

Tracy, 

Can you give us an example of the three types of disclosures and how they are often used, or misused in the classroom? We have teachers concerned about mental health issues, we have ELL instructors addressing cultural issues, and we have teachers overwhelmed with all they need to do in a day. 

Examples are appreciated.

Kathy 

Tracy Palecek's picture
First

Kathy,

Yes of course!  The 3 Levels of Disclosure are as follows.  I went into detail on Level 1 earlier so I will repost that info with this answer.

Level 1 Disclosure---Information, Role and Social Norm Exchange

A level 1 disclosure is the basis for beginning a relationship.  This is where you set the tone for how you will communicate with, in this case, your students and vice versa.  Level 1 is primarily an avenue for information, role, and social norm exchanges.  For example, in the classroom or group setting the teacher will speak first (social norm and role) often introducing themselves and their role, for example "Good Morning, my name is Professor Smith."  Level 1 is also where you establish some social credibility/standing or level of influence; "I have been a Professor of English for over 20 years and have a passion for helping students fall in love with the written word"  Level 1 disclosures also include information about the content of the class, the schedule, grading etc.  The Professor might go around the room and ask their students to provide their name, year in school and what they hope to learn.  This completes the mutual information, role, and social norm exchange necessary for to establish parameters for future communication.

Level 2 Disclosure--Something Human or In Common

Level 2 is where the relationship is built.  This is where you have laid a foundation of information, role and social norms or expectations and can move toward trust building and connection.  This is where you share, mostly positive, more personal things that connect you or that you have in common.  For example when meeting with a student you might notice she has a photo of her kids on her keychain and say "I love the photo you carry.  Are those your children?"  The student replies "Yes! 2 girls and 1 boy.  They are my motivation for getting my GED.  I keep their photo to remind me to keep going."  You say "Wow! I have children too and I know how hard you have to work to care for them and get your GED at night.  I admire that so much!"  This conversation could go on to share ages and details about your children, and even venture into some challenges like finding childcare or the expense of pre school.  Level 2 is full of validation that you understand hardships and admire choices but is still mostly congenial and topics do not veer into the deeply personal topics of level 3.  

Level 3 Disclosure--Deeply Personal, Potentially Divisive

Level 3 disclosures are really intimate, personal details of one's life and can also be deeply held beliefs of religious, political, or sexual nature.  These topics have the potential to invite divisiveness instead of connection.  These topics are reserved for those closest to us such as spouses, significant others, close friends and family.  Level 3 disclosures are problematic when there is any power differential between people, i.e. teacher/student, boss/employee etc.  This level is not necessary for the connection required  to increase outcomes for students and can in fact be detrimental and traumatic for students.  For example, upon learning your student has three children and is a recently divorced a Level 3 response might be "Wow! I went through a nasty divorce 2 years ago and he took everything! Then he was caught with another woman by my own son!"  This exchange of information is too personal and to emotional to foster appropriate connection and could have felt like an invitation for the student to share details which could disrupt the positive relationship already established.  

To answer your question Kathy, I would say the disclosures are most often unintentionally misused by either never moving beyond level 1, in which case relationship doesn't happen, or going into level 3 by not knowing what appropriate disclosure is.  Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering self disclosure:

-Will the disclosure help the student?  In what way?
-Are there other stories or examples that may be helpful without sharing personal information?
-How might this student respond to self-disclosure? Will it be emotionally difficult for them? Can they accept it, assimilate it or integrate it properly?
-Once I self-disclose, is there an effective way to focus the discussion back on the student’s situation/concerns?
 
Tracy
Paul Jurmo's picture
Ten

Hello, Colleagues.  

This very important discussion raises two issues facing our field: (1) many adult learners struggle with health-related challenges (which can include mental health issues that are often undiagnosed, untreated, and complex); (2) our field has limited capacities to respond to those challenges.  

The good news is that adult education programs and mental health agencies can collaborate in a number of ways, including (1) incorporating education on mental health issues (e.g., dealing with stress . . . ) into basic skills instruction; (2) making adult education programs more user-friendly for all learners (e.g., through confidential counseling and a welcoming  and safe environment) including those who might be struggling with mental health issues; (3) cross training of mental health and adult basic skills providers to improve understanding of how basic skills problems can impact mental health patients and how mental health can affect learners in basic skills programs; (4) joint advocacy to improve policy and resources to deal with these issues; and (5) joint research on these cross-cutting issues.  These kinds of collaborations are described in the Open Door Collective’s “Strengthening Public Health and the Healthcare Workforce: What U.S. Health Partners and Adult Basic Skills Programs Can Do Together “ available at https://www.dropbox.com/s/kjzrvif4rc38v47/ODC%20Health%20Partners%20Can-Do%20Guide%209-30-19.pdf?dl=0

Paul Jurmo, Ed.D.

www.pauljurmo.info

Phil Anderson's picture
Fifty

Paul,

Thank you for sharing the paper by the Open Door Collective. I especially liked Part 3, How Health Partners and ABE Programs can Collaborate.  How can someone like myself request to add some information to the Open Door publication about health care programs designed for the farmworker population? There are some health organizations that treat farmworkers, the National Farmworker Health Alliance in particular, that I have found very helpful. In Florida, where I work, there are mobile health clinics in the south, central and panhandle parts of the state that treat everyone in the service area, not just farmworkers. In an ABE program where I worked, the clinic would come once per month in the evening to the adult ESL class site to provide services to the students and anyone else who showed up. The majority of my students were farmworkers. The NFHA also has excellent publications on health topics in several languages with the English translation side-by-side that are used in ESL programs. 

 

Phil Anderson's picture
Fifty

Sorry, I made a mistake in the name of the healthcare program for farmworkers. The correct name is the National Center for Farmworker Health (NCFH), and the website is http://www.ncfh.org/

Paul Jurmo's picture
Ten

Thanks for your thoughtful question and comments, Phil.  

The Open Door Collective is organized in several Issues Groups and other teams that work on various issues that impact adult basic skills programs and adult learners. One of them is the Health and ABE Issues Group whose members focus on health literacy. Another is the Labor and Workforce Development Issues Group (which I chair), which wrote the the Can-Do Guide cited earlier.  

ODC members come primarily from the adult basic education field, though we welcome participation from other stakeholder groups (in public health, criminal justice reform, refugee and immigrant services, labor unions, and others).  To learn about how you might give input into -- or perhaps join -- the work of the any of the Issue Groups, visit the ODC web site (www.opendoorcollective.org ), click on "Contact," and submit a message.  While you are on the site, you might also visit the "Papers" and "Resources" pages to read ODC documents related to health education, workforce development, and other issues.   

Thanks to the individuals who have facilitated this discussion of an important (and often hidden) topic that impacts so many individuals in the U.S.                                    

Paul Jurmo, Ed.D.

Christine Verolme's picture
First

Kathy,

Can you explain the difference in sympathy and empathy? I know we want to be empathetic towards our students but how does that differ from showing sympathy?

 

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

That's a great question. A great explanation can be found here.  At a basic level, sympathy is "when you share the feelings of another"  and empathy is when you understand the feelings of another but do not necessarily share them. As we discuss disclosure, think about the following: 

A student opens up about homeless. Unless we have been homeless, can we really sympathize? Or are we really demonstrating empathy? Then, the question becomes if we have experienced homelessness, should we disclose that to our students in order to build a greater bond with them? 

What are you comfortable disclosing to your students or peers? 

Kathy 

Phil Anderson's picture
Fifty

I noticed that the first tip in the article about self-disclosure in the workplace is "Wait and Watch: Start by watching the people around you." It was referring to entering an unfamiliar environment. In adult ESL classrooms that have "open enrollment," there may be 3-4 new students every week, each from different countries with different cultural practices. The students all have different expectations about what they should communicate with others and ways to do it. Some will stand up and shout and wave their arms. Others will bow their head and speak softly. As an ESL teacher, I researched the cultural practices of their educational systems but I also needed to simply observe them as individuals, since not every student fits the model perfectly. Students used to say, in a comical way, "Americans like to tell everything about their lives! Even at the grocery store, they tell everyone about their family!" It was their way of letting me know that is something they did not do in their country. As time progressed, as I had students write journals for me to review, it slowly became evident that my students were feeling lost in this new country, lonely, and in a state of emotional crisis. I often said, simply, "That touches my heart," while putting my hand on my chest. Their emotional supports were gone and their cultural signposts had shifted. Even if they fled violence back home, they still left behind a world where they knew how things worked to enter a world where they often could not understand the words or the actions of others. One of the aspects of teaching adult ELLs I have had impressed upon me over and over is that it takes more time for everything to happen. They need extra time to communicate overall. They take more time to answer questions because their minds are working to decipher two (or more) languages. They need more time to share about themselves because they aren't sure if it is safe, or correct, or proper to do so.

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

Colleagues, 

Our discussion about strategic communication approaches designed to build rapport and connection with students while maintaining professional boundaries took us down many pathways so I wanted to reflect on some highlights and common themes. Communication is about the What we communicate and the How we communicate.

Many adult learners live in, or come from, high crisis environments that include poverty, trauma, and disrupted relationships and have developed mal-adaptive ways to communicate with others.

First, we looked at the LINCS Resource Yes I Can: A Mental Health Guide for Adult Literacy Facilitators. I’d like to draw your attention to Chapter 3: General suggestions for supporting learners living with mental health conditions and disorders.  (Page 44) highlights strategies for encouraging individuals to seek information and help, and there are scripts that can be used when communicating with students. As a community member highlighted some key takeaways from this guide and they include:

  • listen with empathy and without judgment,
  • don’t argue or give advice, and
  • validate what the learner is going through

As we work through our second day of the discussion tomorrow, think about how these scripts can help you navigate the complex conversations.  

Additional conversations included cultural competency when having conversations with English Language Learners, especially as it relates to self-disclosure. Some complicated conversations could include separation from family, health emergencies, and/or difficult personal experiences. Self-disclosure can lead to rapport building and can benefit the student /teacher relationships.

Tomorrow, we will explore scripts and open-ended questions as they relate to the 3 levels of disclosure.

Level 1 Disclosure---Information, Role and Social Norm Exchange. This is where you set the tone for how you will communicate with, in this case, your students and vice versa. 

Level 2 Disclosure--Something Human or In Common. This is where you share, mostly positive, more personal things that connect you or that you have in common. Level 2 is full of validation that you understand hardships and admire choices but is still mostly congenial and topics do not veer into the deeply personal topics of level 3.  

Level 3 Disclosure--Deeply Personal, Potentially Divisive. These disclosures are really intimate, personal details of one's life and can also be deeply held beliefs of religious, political, or sexual nature. These topics are reserved for those closest to us such as spouses, significant others, close friends and family.  Level 3 disclosures are problematic when there is any power differential between people, i.e. teacher/student, boss/employee etc.  This level is not necessary for the connection required to increase outcomes for students and can in fact be detrimental and traumatic for students. 

Tomorrow we will continue the conversation with scripts on each level of disclosure and discuss how culture plays a role in disclosures.

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

A Level 1 Disclosure in communication is about information, role and social norm exchange. This is where you set the tone for how you will communicate with, in this case, your students and vice versa. So, let's present a typical scenario. You are meeting a new student in your class and you want to welcome them and make them feel comfortable. You notice your students has body piercing and tatoos so you want to make them comfortable and you start by sharing the following: 

I like your tattoos. Both my kids have them. In fact, my son has a full sleeve. I told him that was fine but he would probably have to wear a long sleeve shirt for job interviews! How does your family feel about your tattoos and piercing? 

While setting the stage for rappor building, a couple of things just happened. We moved straight into a level 2 discousre without setting the stage AND we inferred some judgement while opening up a communication we may not be ready to respond to. 

What do you think? I know I'm 'guilty' of moving quickly to build rapport with students. What might an appropriate level 1 disclosure look like and why sould we start there? What are some examples of scripts to start with? 

Sincerely, 
Kathy 
 

Jennifer Kluempen's picture
Ten

In the ESL classroom, I am in less of an advisor/counselor role than others in this discussion group. It's easier for me to avoid level 3 disclosure and I don't think it's necessary for building good connection and rapport. Some of the level 1 questions I often ask are: Where are you from? How long have you been in NJ? Do you have a big family? Where do you work? However, I am always aware that even these simple questions can touch on sensitive or painful issues. I guess I try to be ready for difficulties to be attached to really almost any topic. I share basic personal information about my life without going into deeper level 3 kinds of conversations.                      I appreciate your example with the tattoo. I can see how a comment with some judgement in it can make the conversation uncomfortable. I had a similar conversation about hair color. One student had purple hair and I said I like your hair. My daughter dyed her hair blue. She likes trying new hair colors. That's all I said, because I agree that adding more about whether I like it or not, or how it might affect job applications, etc doesn't help.  

 

Tracy Palecek's picture
First

Good Morning All!

Kathy I love your comment about rushing Level 1.  This is so easy to do!  In fact, in many cases it is the student who rushes to level 2 or 3 for different reasons.  ESL or students living in the crisis of poverty or trauma sometimes have difficulty with the social norm expectations.  ESL students are just learning the cultural norms and high crisis students often operate in the present moment.  If a high crisis student has determined that you are "safe" they often "overshare" and jump the levels.  I find it helpful to have some memorized phrases or scripts that can guide them back to a safe level of disclosure.  This can also serve as a wonderful opportunity to role model appropriate communication.  For example:  

Teacher-(Appropriate Level 1 Disclosure)  "Good to see you, Tina!  What did you think of the homework?"

Student-(Jumping to Level 2) "Whew, I barely got it done!  I am so overwhelmed with my job, school, kids.  This is really getting to me..."

Teacher-(Meeting the student at Level 2) "I understand, I was a single mom when I went back to school.  It was difficult.  What have you done in the past to get through tough times?"

Student-(Going to Level 3)  "In the past I got drunk and drove my kids around.  I am wanting to give up and drink again.  I drank a lot last night. This is getting out of control."

Teacher-(Responding to disclosure, offering an alternative time for privacy and referral, bringing back to task and Level 1) "I hear you. It sounds like you are really struggling. Are you free after class to strategize support for 10 minutes?  Are you able to participate in class today?  Do you need a break before we discuss the homework?

This requires that the teacher is prepared with several referrals for situations like this : addiction, abuse, economic hardship, counseling/emotional support.

This is an example of a script for that 10 minute strategy for support session might look like:

Teacher-(Offering support and validation but remaining in Level 2, avoiding soliciting details, being clear about role,  offering a referral, and what support the teacher can offer in the educational setting)  "I am sorry you are going through such a rough time.  I want to offer you some support.  Would you like some referrals of (programs or people) I trust to help in these situations? I want to support you in this space while you are working toward your goals.  I would be willing to schedule a weekly 10 minute meeting (adjusted to teacher availability etc.) to see if we can strategize how you can reach your goals here while you are going through this tough time?"  

This script should be customized to how the teacher speaks, and what can be expected from the teacher and the student.

 

 

 

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

Tracy, 

Thanks for that script and example of how to move students back to safe disclosures while referring the student to services. I'd like to ask about how to address the oversharing, what you call Level 3. Or is this really a disclosure - or a student seeking help?  what's the difference and how do we navigate these compexities.  Let's look at this example that I call doorknob confessions, or things students tell me at the end of class - and my response determines if they come back to class. (Below is an actual conversation.) 

Student: Well, I'm not sure I'm going to keep coming to class. I have to get a job - we don't have anything to eat at my house. I'm so tired of not having anything. I just want to give up. 

Now, is the student disclosing personal information or seeking help? How do you respond to that and keep it at a professional level? 
 

Your insight is very helpful. 
Kathy 

Tracy Palecek's picture
First

TraHi Kathy,

That's a great question.  I tend to think of Level 3 as details that are graphic or intimate, descriptions that are not needed to convey the situation.  I think in some cases a student can give too much infomation AND be asking for help.  As educators in the adult education space we should expect high crisis students to be expressing struggles with basic needs; food, childcare, transportation and housing.  It is always less stressful for the educator to have something prepared to say and or to give them when this happens. In the scenario you described above I think you operate in level 2, validating feelings, complimenting strengths, then move toward your open ended questions focusing on helping the student process how they might overcome the struggle AND continue with their educational goals.  Finally, describe the support you can provide and bring them back to your role of educator. Here are some scripts that might be useful, first some validating phrases:

"I am so sorry you are going through this."

"I admire how you have been able to come this far."

"Nobody should have to go through this."

Then some open ended questions:

"What have you already tried to solve this?"

"What has worked in the past?"

"What can we  do in the next two weeks to keep you in class?"

Finally, offer the support you can and what they can expect in the educational setting:

"Would it help if I referred you to a program that can offer emergency food until you get on your feet?"---Offer Referral

"I can give you a list of food pantries?  Many students have to use these while they are job searching."

"I believe you can get through this and still reach your goal here.  Can we schedule a 10 minute check in next week to see how things are going?"

 

Again, the scripts should be written in your own way of speaking and to the situation.  You are probably using even better scripts with students---please share!  The most important thing is to have something intentional, professional, and supportive to say when confronted with tough disclosures.

 

Hope this is helpful,

Tracy

 

 

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

Tracy,
This leads me to another question about disclosures in Correctional spaces. This environment is different by nature and any examples you have would be appreciated.

Kathy

Tracy Palecek's picture
First

Hi Kathy,

This certainly is a different environment.  I would say that all of the advice would still apply with exception to some Level 2 and 3 procedures.  Students in this environment can have a variety of emotional regulation issues, developmental and environmental trauma, and many have developed serious maladaptive coping skills that can pose safety risks to educators.  That being said, they are also most vulnerable as they are in an environment that in which they have little personal choice or autonomy.   With this in mind, it is advisable to be particularly careful when self-disclosing at Level 2 to make sure there is no identifiable information such as where you live, where your family goes to school at work, even local places you frequent such as restaurants etc.  You should still connect at Level 2 but in a more general way.  For example, instead of saying "Oh, we live near Canyon Lake Park, too! We love feeding the geese there."  You might say "I love getting outside with my family.  It is so good to look forward to spending time together."  In addition to being careful with identifying information in Level 2, when a student goes to Level 3 you may want to have a stronger re-direct about inappropriate disclosure or off-limits subjects.  For example a student shares inappropriate information you might say " I know that you deal with a lot of stressful situations in here but I am not the person to share this with."  Fortunately, in the corrections environment they often have access to a counselor or social worker so this would be a good time to say " It seems like it might help to talk this out with someone who can provide support.  Can I make the referral to the counselor?"  

In addition, many facilities have strict rules about interaction so I would love to have some others in this realm comment!

Michelle Candy's picture
Ten

Hi Tracy,

I feel that you accurately reported the issues regarding sharing in a corrections setting. In our facilities (North Dakota), all employees go through Correctional Officer Basic training, and one of the things that is stressed is to be a friendly professional rather than being a friend. This is a helpful way to reframe our thinking. Most of us come from schools, and we're used to sharing personal details at stage 2. We definitely have to be careful at first as we rethink our interactions. We are encouraged to set and keep boundaries. For example, I will occasionally talk about my husband because he also works in corrections education and there is some overlap between his students and mine. However, I will never talk about my children, even when I'm asked point blank if I have children. They both work in areas in which they could come in contact with former students of mine, and I'd rather protect their privacy as much as possible. I will talk about various places I've lived and worked, as I've moved a lot, but I don't talk about specific locations (for example, I'll say I worked in Oregon but won't say what city or school).

I've found that my students don't necessarily expect Level 2 sharing, even if they are sharing at that level--and they understand if we empathize without sharing personal experiences. Sometimes, they just need to vent about something happening outside the facility over which they have no control and they just need a listening ear. If they need more than that, I often refer them to their case manager or their counselor, and usually they are already in conversation with one of those people.

Your "validating phrases" are very helpful. Often our corrections students just want someone who is listening, even if there is nothing we can do to help.

We laugh and have fun and joke with each other, but I always keep in mind what I will or won't talk about. Since I've worked in corrections 4 1/2 years, it has become more or less second nature. But when I was going through CO Basic with another new teacher, she quit training once she realized the level of sharing she couldn't do. She didn't see a way to connect with students without being personal. I felt that there had to be a way to connect without getting too personal. We have to be careful, always, but we don't have to be so closed off that we have a wall between us and them. Rapport is essential for good teaching, and we have to look for ways to build rapport that don't involve personal information about ourselves.

Thanks for this topic this week!

Michelle Candy, Instructor (ND DOCR)

Tracy Palecek's picture
First

 

Thank you, Michelle!

I so appreciate your insight in this area.  Some of my favorite work over the years was working with incarcerated folks.

Thanks so much for your work!

-Tracy 

 

 

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