Teach & Serve No. 35 – We Should Be Aware of Confidentiality, But Not in the Way One Might Think

Teach & Serve 

No. 35 * April 13, 2016


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We Should Be Aware of Confidentiality,

But Not in the Way One Might Think

Beware of the word “confidential.” Use it sparingly. Use it wisely. Use it only when you have to use it.  If you say or write the word “confidential” without asking, each-and-every-time, “whose interest am I protecting by walling off this knowledge?” you’re doing it wrong.

There is some kind of deep power in knowing something other people don’t. There is some kind of magic in holding onto a secret, in deciding when to tell, and who. There is some kind of pull to being in the know, in the loop, in the inner circle.

We’ve all felt it, right? At one point or another, we’ve had those moments when we found something out before most others did or when we heard the story prior to it getting out. What is it about being in on the secret that is so enticing?

In school settings, there are hundreds of examples – daily – of things that not everyone needs to know. There are situations with students that should not be revealed. There are personnel issues that should not be broadly discussed. There are decisions that should not be shared too soon. In school settings, there are good reasons to maintain confidentiality – some of them legal, some of them moral and some of them valid.

But not all.

Beware of the word “confidential.” Use it sparingly. Use it wisely. Use it only when you have to use it.  If you say or write the word “confidential” without asking, each-and-every-time, “whose interest am I protecting by walling off this knowledge?” you’re doing it wrong.

Schools work best when knowledge is shared. That’s kind of what they are there for, right? Schools work best when everyone knows as much as they possibly can know. How many times are we going to have to be confronted by stories of school personnel that had knowledge of warning signs about students that they didn’t share until tragedy struck? How many times are we going to see reports of colleagues suspecting something wasn’t quite right with a co-worker and they didn’t tell anyway until it was too late? How many times before we get it?

When I was a dean of students and, later, an assistant principal and a principal, there were many things I didn’t broadly share. Further, there were things that I was constrained to not share at all, by law and true concerns about confidentiality. There were things I didn’t share because they would be damaging or hurtful or illegal to share. There are things that should not and cannot be shared.

But these things are few. And these things are far between.

When the default position of a teacher or administrator when confronted by sensitive information is to hold all those cards as closely to the vest as possible, to prize secrets and horde them, to equate knowledge of what is going on in people’s lives with power, something is very, very wrong.

The work of an educational professional is not to work to keep things secret, it’s to work to bring things to light and understanding.

Those teachers and administrators that get a charge from knowing more than everyone else have forgotten that and they are doing something foolish and potentially dangerous – foolish because, at some point, keeping secrets for no reason undercuts rather than strengthens moral authority and dangerous because, inevitably, things go wrong and things get out. Those teachers and administrators that repeat – as a mantra – “I can’t tell you that. It’s confidential.” are not doing themselves or anyone else any favors.

Teachers and administrators, here’s the thing: what must be, by law, confidential, must be confidential. Period. If it’s illegal to share, don’t share. If you don’t know the law, learn it.

When you know what actually must be kept confidential, file it and share everything else.

Liberally.

Share as much knowledge about students as possible. Share as much about staff as appropriate. Share as much about the state of the school as you can. Create an environment where sharing is the default position.

Beware the word “confidential” and only use it when you must.

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4 Comments

Filed under Education, Education Blog, Ignatian Education, Jesuit Education, Teach & Serve, Teacher, Teacher, Teacher Blog, Teacher Quote of the Week, Teaching, Teaching Blog

4 responses to “Teach & Serve No. 35 – We Should Be Aware of Confidentiality, But Not in the Way One Might Think

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