Dartington Online Writing Retreat Blogs #2 – Fix Up, Look Sharp? Bringing your authentic self to online teaching

The Education Incubator is pleased to host this timely double blog, written by two attendees at our Writing Retreat in May. The perspectives below – written by Malcolm Richards and Lisa Alberici – are excellent examples of how we can bring our authentic selves to online teaching.

We are looking forward to posting more blogs from the Writing Retreat and on the Incubator Café in the coming weeks.

Fix Up, Look Sharp? Bringing your authentic self to online teaching

Malcolm Richards, Graduate School of Education

Over the last few months, lockdown of universities, schools and community educational spaces, restrictions on movement and assembly, and a wholesale shift to synchronous online teaching has presented academics with new and discursive ways to represent their authentic selves to our students. Whereas ‘professional’ institutional cultures and building logistics define the extent to which academics ‘personalise’ their spaces, my recent, and now ubiquitous ‘Zoom’ calls show students, peers and colleagues conducting online teaching and learning in their ‘personal’, domestic and often communal family spaces.

Covid-19 has inevitably brought unforeseen disruptions, which has provided institution-wide opportunity to re-evaluate perceptions of ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ values. How do we maintain and project a ‘professional’ self while trapped in a ‘personal’ space? The spaces we adapt, use and curate can include artefacts which illustrate and articulate further layers to our authentic self, which can stimulate changes in our professional pedagogy. This also introduces personal information, which inevitably adds new knowledge to our teacher-student relationships, continuing to evolve and change during uncertain and challenging times.

When facilitating a space for synchronous online teaching, we should consider that by virtue of facilitating this digital ‘teaching and learning’ using visual technologies, we offer a window into our personal and usually well-guarded, personal space. What do I want it to say? I hope it says that I am consistent in my authentic self, regardless of the space our dialogue takes place in. I remain hopeful that this window is consistent in facilitating a space in which the qualities of humility, the ability to respect others, and the ability to listen to every voice (Freire, 2005) are central. So what does this digital gateway to my world say about our authentic selves? I often look to my students for their guidance, which often informs both my reflection, and my subsequent action.

The advice from an overwhelming majority was simple.

“Be Yourself”


Bringing your authentic self to online teaching

Lisa Alberici, Graduate School of Education

With synchronous online tutorials now being conducted from within our domestic spaces, we think there is a real opportunity to bring a more authentic version of ourselves to teaching. Although it may still be wise to create a ‘performance zone’ (bookshelf, plant, pictures – or even the blurred background option – rather than scattered laundry and cat litter trays), with our non-professional lives happening all around us, how we react to interruptions or disruptions can help build rapport by showing our humanity in a way which is fundamentally appealing. Let’s retain our professional boundaries, yes, but let’s also embrace these glimpses into each other’s’ ‘other lives’ in order to help negotiate an inclusive tone for teaching.

Some thoughts:

  • Embrace the appearance of children or pets by acknowledging and including them, rather than trying to pretend they’re not there. If they need attention there and then, perhaps set a mini task while you sort it.
  • Design ice-breakers and warm-up exercises which use emojis and GIFs to capture mood – keep it clean people, but who doesn’t love it when Homer Simpson puts his specs on to show he’s engaging in deeper thinking…
  • Use humour if appropriate (but not if you’re not funny), and admit if things aren’t going according to plan.

In short, when you conceptualise synchronous teaching sessions online, think about this more rounded persona: plan to embrace any interruptions or disruptions with patience and humour; and think about how you will encourage and negotiate with your students to do the same.  

And none of this:

(A live BBC interview, not teaching, but you get our meaning…)

We think this has the potential to open up a more integrated way of hearing diverse voices – we are, in fact, all different, and yet all in this together. And united by these new glimpses into each other’s authentic and rounded lives, whilst engaging with our professional communities of learning.

Dartington Online

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The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. The article was informative and timely. I many colleagues that are doing a great job of balancing and others that continue to struggle due to some factors that are totally out of their control. Thank you for addressing this topic.

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