Activity: Confidentiality and School Culture

Introduction and Briefing

Teachers’ lounges are places that teachers own. That is, teachers’ lounges are usually retreats for teachers. As a paraprofessional (“teacher’s aide”), you too will usually be welcome in the teachers’ lounge.

Because teachers set the tone, and because schools and districts are so different from one another, the “culture” of teachers’ lounges is also different from place to place. If you have worked as a paraprofessional in just one school or district, you may not realize how different they can be.

What does this have to do with confidentiality?

Teachers talk to one another about their experiences, and their students. Some students in every school have special needs, and these needs make such students especially challenging to some teachers. It’s no surprise, therefore, that in the lounge, teachers sometimes share with one another their concerns about and frustrations with particular students. Students receiving special education services may be the ones about whom teachers are most likely to talk.

Complaining about particular students by name is not productive in general, but teachers sometimes feel they have a right to “blow off steam.” And it’s true that teaching is difficult work. But sometimes blowing off steam begins to dominate the culture of the teachers’ lounge. When that happens, respect for confidentiality all but disappears.

Confidentiality is, at the very least, a legal obligation among educators. But it’s more than that: restraint in sharing information about students is a sign of respect for students and for whatever challenges they face and for the struggles needed to confront those challenges. We owe them that respect as educators.


Visit the teachers’ lounge in two schools, each for half an hour. Collect the following data during each visit:

  1. The number of times teachers identify students by name.
  2. The number of times students (whether mentioned by name or not) are described (directly or indirectly) in positive terms.
  3. The number of times students (whether mentioned by name or not) are described (directly or indirectly) in negative terms.


There are three debriefing questions:

  1. How would you describe the cultures of the teachers’ lounges you visited?
  2. What issues with confidentiality were evident during your visits?
  3. If you were a parent of a student with special needs, in which school would you rather have your child enrolled? Why?

This activity is best debriefed in a group of several educators—you’ll have more data to consider. But deal with the debriefing questions even if you are working alone.

The point of the activity is that safeguarding confidentiality relates to the larger picture of treating students well: in other words, to the larger picture of school culture as a whole (and not just in the teachers’ lounge). Wherever you work as a paraprofessional, it’s a larger picture that you are part of and to which you contribute! Although none of us alone can change a misguided culture very fast, we can understand that it is misguided and help push it in a better, more respectful, and more productive direction. It’s a vital part of our work as educators.