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.


  1. I like this, George.

    Chris Lehmann said forever ago something similar. He said, “My private life begins after I walk away from the computer.”

    Simple rule to live by, that’s for sure.

    Hope you’re well,

    November 24, 2012
  2. Good point, George. We are a combination of both our personal and professional selves. The critical point is what is private and what is public.

    Thanks for keeping us thinking about these things.



    November 25, 2012

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