The Fine Line

It’s 9 am and the bell sounds to start another day. A steady flow of students enter your classroom, as you greet them with a smile whilst finishing off the last minute preparation for the first session. As they get organised, you check in on their readiness for learning. The first few students to enter are ready to go. They are on time, in uniform, and eager to get their workspace prepared for learning. It’s these kids that are often easy to engage in conversation. They’ll tell you about last night, what they had for breakfast and what’s on for the upcoming weekend. But these kids aren’t your worry. It’s the next few that sporadically walk in, dragging their feet over the next 15 minutes. Often late, maybe a little loud or at the other extreme, totally distant, disengaged and disconnected. The conversation doesn’t come as easy. You battle hard for a bit of eye contact, and you may get a grunt at best. These kids often carry baggage that most of us couldn’t think about lifting.

To ensure these kids don’t fall through the crack, they’re connected with services and supports that provides them with the best chance of making their day a winner. The wrap-around will often include Classroom Teachers, Wellbeing, Team Leaders and an Assistant Principal or two. Each person in the team with the best of intentions and doing their best.

This extensive support may ensure the odd conversation is canvased and steps are taken towards building connection. It’s usually a significant time investment and the conversations are never straightforward. Sometimes it can lead to a straight-up disclosure of sensitive information with an eye-brow raising comment. Alternatively, it’s like decoding a cryptic message or puzzle. Domestic violence, neglect, substance abuse or mental health are common ones. For our schools in NSW and Vic, we’re seeing more and more Covid related challenges. Maybe a family member had been infected or it’s the toll of lockdown?

Either way, it’s important to work through when you should share sensitive information with others.

Although it can sometimes be confronting, it’s generally clear cut when it’s a mandatory report.  What’s more challenging is the borderline stuff. The not so good, but not reportable stuff. Do you share it with your colleagues? If not, why? If so, who with and for what purpose? They are the questions that challenge us.

In schools, we are privy to lots of sensitive information. With this information comes two options; keep it quiet or share it with those around us. It’s a fine line.

The answer is not clear-cut. My preference is to lean towards transparency and the share option. Think about a time outside of school when you’ve been left out of a conversation. You didn’t know the background before you put your foot in it. Ever said the words ‘if only?’. We know it’s not a nice feeling and with more information, we could have orchestrated a better outcome.

Start from a position of trust. We’ll often hold information because we’re worried about breaching privacy. We need to trust each other that and our motive for sharing private information is to help our students. It’s not to gossip. And I don’t just mean sharing amongst the inner sanctum or support group. What about the Teacher on yard duty? The Specialist Teacher or the Teacher who gets that child in an extra?

It then goes to how much is enough? You don‘t need to provide a blow-by-blow account, but people do need to understand. The information needs to be framed, so people know what they need to do about it. Is the info alone enough, or is it info and action?


Check out other articles Simon has written here.