Teacher self-disclosure occurs when teachers intentionally or unintentionally reveal information about themselves to students (Nussbaum & Scott 1979), often concerning their education, experience, family, friends and colleagues, beliefs, opinions, leisure activities, and personal problems (Downs et al. 1988). Moreover, these early studies suggest that teacher self-disclosure is related in various ways to student learning and teachers’ overall effectiveness.
Borrowing the construct from the interpersonal literature, in which scholars describe self-disclosure, the act of revealing personal information, instructional researchers Nussbaum and Scott (1979) reasoned that interpersonal communication is important in the classroom. Thus, they were interested in the nature and effects of teacher selfdisclosure; they found that college teachers do self-disclose in the classroom, and that students evaluate those disclosures as intentional/unintentional, entertaining/self-indulgent, risky/safe, and relevant/irrelevant to coursework.
Subsequently, researchers studied the relationships among student perceptions of teacher self-disclosure and a number of instructional outcomes. For example, Scott and Nussbaum (1981) reported that student perceptions of instructors’ honesty in selfdisclosure, combined with their perceptions of teacher style and communication competence, are highly related to students’ overall assessment of teacher effectiveness. Downs et al. (1988) reported that teachers who self-disclose and use humor positively influence student perceptions of teacher clarity, but only when the humorous disclosures are relevant to course material. In another study, Sorensen (1989) found a positive relationship between teacher self-disclosure and student perceptions of affective learning (i.e., student attitudes toward the teacher and course).
At the end of the 1980s, researchers had a conceptualization of teacher self-disclosure and an understanding of its role in learning. Researchers then started to incorporate self-disclosure into larger theoretical frameworks that attempt to explain the process and product of instructional communication. For example, Gorham (1988) found that selfdisclosure is one verbal strategy that heightens student perceptions of teacher immediacy, a predictor of student affective and cognitive learning and behavioral intent (Christophel 1990).
Fusani (1994) was the first to focus on teacher self-disclosure as a dimension of teacher– student interaction outside the classroom in a theory of extra-class communication. Bippus et al. (2003) subsequently indicated that undergraduates are much more likely to predict a successful outcome to extra-class mentoring experiences when teacher-mentors provide psychosocial functions, which include self-disclosures. More recently, researchers studied the role of self-disclosure in mediated communication. Waldeck et al. (2001) found that “informal and personal communication” is one of three student-reported motivations for using email with instructors, thus revealing another medium for teachers to share relevant personal information that students value.
Too much teacher self-disclosure and discussion of certain personal topics may have a negative influence on learning outcomes. Specifically, students dislike situations in which teachers stray from the subject with their disclosures, use class time to give personal opinions on unrelated matters, or engage in inappropriate disclosures (e.g., about sexual activity, their feelings about other students, and negative parts of their personality; Kearney et al. 1991). And although teacher disclosures appear to be positively related to student evaluations of all teachers, more experienced, award-winning teachers self-disclose less than other teachers (Downs et al. 1988).
Teacher self-disclosure may be measured by (1) quantifiable verbal coding schemes (e.g., Nussbaum et al. 1985), (2) other-reports such as the Perceived Self-Disclosure of Another Person scale (Nussbaum & Scott 1979), or (3) self-reports (Wheeless 1978). With the exception of Nussbaum et al.’s scheme, these scales must be modified for the instructional context. Cayanus and Martin (2004) developed and validated an 18-item Instructor Self-Disclosure scale.
Research on teacher self-disclosure has been confined to the college and university setting in the United States. Thus, our understanding of how culture impacts teachers’ tendencies to self-disclose and students’ perceptions of those disclosures is limited.
Despite the richness of existing work on teacher self-disclosure, more research in diverse and global instructional situations is needed, as is a greater understanding of teacher self-disclosure in the lower grades.
- Bippus, A. M., Kearney, P., Plax, T. G., & Brooks, C. F. (2003). Teacher access and mentoring abilities: Predicting the outcome value of extra class communication. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 31, 260–275.
- Cayanus, J. L., & Martin, M. M. (2004). An instructor self-disclosure scale. Communication Research Reports, 21, 252–263.
- Christophel, D. M. (1990). The relationships among teacher immediacy behaviors, student motivation, and learning. Communication Education, 39, 323–340.
- Downs, V. C., Javidi, M., & Nussbaum, J. F. (1988). An analysis of teachers’ verbal communication within the college classroom: Use of humor, self-disclosure, and narratives. Communication Education, 37, 127–141.
- Fusani, D. S. (1994). “Extra-class” communication: Frequency, immediacy, self-disclosure, and satisfaction in student–faculty interaction outside the classroom. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 22, 232–255.
- Gorham, J. (1988). The relationship between verbal teacher immediacy behaviors and student learning. Communication Education, 37, 40–53.
- Kearney, P., Plax, T. G., Hays, E. R., & Ivey, M. J. (1991). College teacher misbehaviors: What college students don’t like about what teachers say and do. Communication Quarterly, 39, 309–324.
- Norton, R. (1982). Style, content, and target components of openness. Communication Research, 9, 33–65.
- Nussbaum, J. F., & Scott, M. D. (1979). The relationships among communicator style, perceived self-disclosure, and classroom learning. Communication Yearbook, 3, 561–583.
- Nussbaum, J. F., Comadena, M. E., & Holladay, S. J. (1985). Verbal and nonverbal behavior of highly effective teachers. Paper presented to the International Communication Association Annual Meeting, Honolulu, HI, May.
- Scott, M. D., & Nussbaum, J. F. (1981). Student perceptions of instructor communication behaviors and their relationship to student evaluation. Communication Education, 30, 44–53.
- Sorensen, G. (1989). The relationships among teachers’ self-disclosure, students’ perceptions, and affective learning. Communication Education, 38, 259–276.
- Waldeck, J. H., Kearney, P., & Plax, T. G. (2001). Teacher e-mail message strategies and students’ willingness to communicate. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 29, 54–70.
- Wheeless, L. R. (1978). A follow-up study of the relationships among trust, disclosure, and interpersonal solidarity. Human Communication Research, 4, 143–157.
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