Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. Hansen, Associate Dean (interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education
Have you ever felt attacked or offended by a student’s feedback about your teaching? It’s hard not to take it personally. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the concept of radical depersonalization and strategies to help teachers listen differently to feedback and criticism. Learn how radical depersonalization can help teachers better understand the needs of students and even help teachers get to know their students better.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun! Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge, I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m your host, Bethanie Hansen. I’m very happy to speak with you today about one way we can reach our students even better. There are so many opportunities to connect with the people we are working with in online education. And one group that we seek to connect with the most is our students.
Our students need us. They really need to feel a sense of our presence. They also want to know who we are. They want to know that they are in safe hands, that they have someone who knows a lot about the subject matter and is capable of helping them get where they need to go. One of the things that makes this really hard—to be responsive to students, to connect with students, and to really help them feel that sense of safety—is when we take things personally.
There’s a lot that happens in that online classroom. And for various reasons, we might get the experience of an angry student coming at us. Or we might feel over time like because we’re working online, that we don’t get seen, we’re not valued or appreciated by enough people. Maybe we really crave some kind of appreciation or attention and it’s really difficult to find that when we’re teaching online exclusively.
If that’s been your experience, I know where you’re at; a lot of us have gone through those feelings of being insignificant or disconnected in our online work. But that is not how we have to continue. In fact, your students may be having a much better experience with you than you realize.
They might be leaving your class feeling like they know you. They love you, they want to learn from you more, they want to come to you for letters of recommendation. Pretty soon, you’re going to hear of these things and wonder what led to that, how did they know you so well? Well, it’s in the way you show up in your classroom, the way you write things to them, or the videos you create, or whatever you’re doing to put yourself more personally in that online education space.
And even though your students don’t tell you directly, they’re getting a lot from you. They’re benefiting so much from what you have to offer, especially when you bring what you’re best at. Whatever makes you uniquely you. Whatever really is your special flair for teaching, or your special passion about your subject matter, that is helping your students connect with you, even if you don’t know it.
There are some ways you can find this out, but what I want to talk about more specifically today is how to stay in the best space possible. And the best space possible would be your best teacher self. Your best educator space. Your most responsive, feel-good place where you’re motivated to do really great work in your online teaching and share a lot, really openly about the subject matter, about yourself. About whatever will help your students connect and learn what you’re hoping to teach them. In my experience, that is difficult to do when you’re online and you don’t always get responses that you hope for.
If you ask questions in a discussion, for example, and students don’t respond back, you can feel pretty invisible. I’ve played with that myself a little bit, to ask questions in different ways, to try different kinds of responses that might provoke more engagement. And some things work better than others. Truly, you can get some of the results you want if you want a lot in return. But today’s focus is more about how you can show up, your best self as a teacher anyway, even if you’re not always getting that payoff that you’re hoping for.
What is Radical Depersonalization
The concept I’d like to share with you today is called “radical depersonalization.” I know that’s a bit of a mouthful, but when you’re feeling especially isolated or ineffective, you’re not really sure you’re making a difference, and it’s really hard to get motivated to get in there and do your teaching again, or it’s hard to be motivated to do a lot of grading. Whatever it is you’re struggling with today or this week, radical depersonalization can help you detach enough to see it in a new light, come back at it fresh, and engage with your students again. After all, when you connect with your students, that’s one of the best things about being an educator and it’s the best way to know what they’re getting out of this experience.
The more you can connect with your students and get some insight back from them, the more you’ll be motivated on this journey. I’ll show the steps for radical depersonalization and talk a little bit about each one.
Reassessing Other People’s Statements About You
The first step for radical depersonalization, and this is about the way we see what other people are doing or not doing—it’s not about disconnecting on purpose from other people. So, the first step in radical depersonalization is to see the other person as a separate being and realize that what they’re saying is about them. You may have a colleague or a supervisor or a student criticize something that you’re doing or say something that seems like a character attack, when really, it’s just them voicing their need for what they need to see in the classroom.
People will say all kinds of things about us. Not all of it is true. If we take it personally and accept it as fact immediately when it is said, it’s going to be debilitating. It will make it difficult for us to enjoy our work every day and really hard to consider that feedback, even if we do need to change. So, that first step to radical depersonalization is to remember that people will say all kinds of things about me, my leadership, and my decisions, and to remember that what they say isn’t about me, even if it sounds like it is.
Listen Differently to Hear What Other People Need
The second step to radical depersonalization is to now tune into listening to the other person. If someone feels like attacking or criticizing, that is the hardest thing to do. It’s difficult to want to get closer to someone who seems abrasive or who seems to be pushing us away. However, when we can remember that what they’re saying is really about them and their needs, and turn towards them and listen more, we’re going to hear what they really care about. We’re going to hear what they really need from us, and we’re in a better position to help meet those needs.
It’s especially useful when we depersonalize the comments and say, it’s not about me, it’s about what they need. They’re trying to tell me something. And then when we keep listening, we’re able to hear an entire story unfold.
We can even cultivate a lot of compassion and empathy for the other person when we’re turning towards them, we’re listening more, and we’re hearing what they care about. Now we can consider from that space, what does that person really need?
If it’s a student complaint, or a student concern, and they’re being somewhat aggressive or even seem attacking in the way they share it with you, and if you turn towards that person to get more insight, to listen more, and to seek out more meaning from what they’re saying, you will have all kinds of ideas come into your mind.
For example, if a student criticizes the way you have graded their assignment, if you turn towards them and get more curious and learn about what they really need, you might find that actually, your feedback was good, but it didn’t land because the student needed you to bridge the gap a little bit more between what you were trying to say, and where their current understanding is.
They might have no idea what you were referring to in your comments, it might really seem difficult for them to digest. So, if you can break it down a little bit more, give them examples and scaffold the path from where they are to where you need them to be, they will take it personally less, and you will take it personally less as well. They’ll also be more teachable. So, turning towards the other person that might seem difficult, will give you all of the information you need, as long as you keep listening.
The third idea, just to review, the first thing is to remember it’s not about you, it’s about them and what they need. Secondly, is to get closer to that person and keep listening and really find out what they need through listening.
Radical Depersonalization Can Bring You Closer to People
The third idea is that radical depersonalization can bring you closer to other people in a way that trying to intentionally be personal with them will not. I’ll say what I mean here just to explain that a little bit.
When we’re intentionally trying to get closer to other people and get to know them, sometimes we have automatic thoughts that come into our mind that are assumptions or judgments that make it difficult to actually get to know them openly. But when we’re depersonalizing, or we’re doing this radical depersonalization approach to remember it’s not about us, we’re more likely to be objective and ask questions about things we would have assumed before or taken for granted before.
Now we’re going to be thinking about what they might mean in a certain phrase, what their understanding of a certain concept is. Whereas before, we assumed that we both were on the same page. So, radical depersonalization can allow us to get curious in ways we might miss otherwise.
The Benefits of Radical Depersonalization
The win in the end is ultimately that we’re going to be able to hear our students more, our colleagues more, our bosses more. We’re going to be capable of coming up with fresh new ideas to help meet their needs and we’re also going to learn more about them. And we’re going to get to know them in ways we otherwise would not.
I hope that thinking about this interesting concept of radical depersonalization allows you to get a little bit of distance in the future, in a situation where you might feel like something’s very personal, or very confronting or attacking. Get some distance and be able to come back at it more resourcefully, and using the gifts, talents and abilities you have, to really build instead of being distant and fearing the encounter with that other person.
Especially if that’s a student, that’s a win-win for both of you, because you’ll be helping yourself overcome a challenging scenario a little easier while building that student’s ability to come back and keep learning as well. So, you’ve helped two people in one situation through this process.
Thanks for being here in the Online Teaching Lounge to learn this one strategy for connecting better with students and avoid taking things personally. I wish you all the best in trying it out this coming week and in your online teaching.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit BethanieHansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.