Openness and Sharing in Schools; Helpful Or Hurtful?
To start this discussion, let us first define what openness is:
The prevalence of technology in the classroom has brought with it a whole swarm of issues surrounding openness and sharing of student images, classroom work, and anecdotes about life as a teacher. Today it is quite common for a teacher to have a Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook account connected to his/her classroom. Connecting classrooms to the digital world is opening up a debate surrounding whether minors should have their images, or even be featured in anecdotes, presented in a manner that opens them up to possibly unsafe situations, such as stalkers, or pedophiles. I am sure we can all agree when teachers are sharing their student work online, they are doing so because they are proud of their students, want to share teachable moments, or like to keep others’ informed of the happenings in their classroom. These ‘harmless’ situations, however have been known to snowball into larger situations and the outcomes has not been favourable for neither the teacher nor the student.
I am a teacher who is guilty of having a classroom Twitter account, in fact it was recommended that I create one by my school division. Feel free to follow us @MrsReschClass! Perhaps I am guilty of over-tweeting news from my classroom, however before tweeting or posting any images online, I am always sure of a few things:
- I have received parental consent. I believe this is incredibly important because once an image is posted onto any social media site, that image becomes the property of the site and can be shared out, retweeted, or reposted several times.
- I have received student consent. I never want to post an image that is not flattering or could be construed in another way than it is intended.
- The image is worth sharing: what I am I trying to share with others and is an image necessary to tell the story?
Some of these tips coincide with those presented by Janelle Bence in her online article “The Benefits of Sharing Student Work in Online Spaces“. In her article, she also mentions the importance of knowing your board’s policy on acceptable sites and social media use in the classroom. Because it is easily accessible, it is important to be on the same page as your school board!
This brings me to another point about openness and sharing – the digital footprint.
This term refers to the mark each of us makes online. It includes things like any accounts we make, apps we use, or comments we make. It is basically a profile describing who you are online. Whenever we post images of students we are contributing to their digital footprint. As educators, we need to ensure we are contributing to a positive footprint!
Another way teachers are sharing students online is through the use of online learning journals, or portfolios. These take several shapes, whether they be through an open access website, a password-protected student blog, or through apps, such as SeeSaw. All of these tools are used to regularly share student progress and work with family members and peers. The intent to have students reflect on their work and track their progress throughout the school year. Though many of these options are password-protected, there is always an option to SAVE the work and then it can then be re-posted elsewhere.
It is my opinion that these learning journals create a transparency in my classroom and demonstrates authentic learning taking place. Students are posting their work, commenting on each other’s work, and sharing all of that with their parents. In turn, the parents are able to see their child in their learning environment showcasing what they can do. This is so much more effective than sending home a copy of a completed worksheet, or a test. I have taken to building this ‘sharing’ into my classroom assignments. Students look forward to receiving feedback, and I believe, enjoy the process of giving constructive feedback to their peers. In turn, this exercise of sharing work, providing feedback, and receiving feedback is teaching my students an important digital citizenship skill that is lacking from so many of our social media sites today. Maybe by teaching my students how to appropriately share online I am helping to create better online etiquette for when they reach legal age to possess their own social media sites.
Speaking of social media, I have been witness to teachers who have shared student work in a very unprofessional manner: to make fun of student work. We have all seen the hilarious posts or emails where a teacher has taken a picture of a student test and shared it for the world to see. Yes, students are funny, but that does not give us, as professionals, the right to share their mistakes with the world! Taking images with the intent to hurt, rather than help, is downright rude. The same goes with posting images of students and then creating memes with them; those are not appropriate and should be condoned. I used to belong to a teacher community on Facebook for middle-years teachers. I finally had to leave the group because it turned into a teacher vent group where teachers would complain about other teachers, students, and parents. This shocked me because I would never think it would be appropriate to use social media to share details about students, particularly in a negative light. This is yet another example of teachers not using online forums appropriately, therefore not modelling appropriate use for students either.
Overall, I believe openness and sharing is helpful and should be encouraged among educators as long as it is done appropriately. Teachers need to be consistently using their professional judgement whenever they post online. Because other teachers have been open and shared their classroom experiences, I believe I am constantly evolving in my teaching strategies and ideas. Let us remember, openness and sharing creates a sense of community, whether that be between teacher and parents, or teacher and teaching community. When we have a sense of transparency in our teaching we have nothing to hide and we are opening our doors for others to see just how great we are! I believe having openness allows us to collaborate and share with others thereby making us all better teachers and educators.