I recieved the following letter from a concerned parent:
I was hoping you could help direct me. I have small children in preschool and the school uses social media for their marketing purposes. While a highly effective marketing strategy, I’m concerned with their lack of guidelines, considering small children are involved. Do you have any resources you could direct me to which would help highlight do’s and don’ts in using social media as an advertising technique in schools?
I don’t know if I can direct you to a specific resource. Ontario is bound by privacy laws that prevent educators from posting pictures or names without explicit parental permission. Was a Freedom of Information form signed? If so, then the school assumes the right to post. If not, then this issue should be brought to the attention of the school principal or supervisor. I’m not sure if you are from Ontario or the US?
You use the word, “marketing”. I know that there is definitely a school of thought that encourages schools to tell the story of their school, and to celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of staff and students via social media. I’m not sure that is what you mean by marketing purposes or are they literally creating brochures and posters that they have shared without permission?
In many cases, social media acts as a window into the classroom. I know several teachers who post, with parent permission, some of the interesting happenings so parents can be more involved in the school day. To include all children, where Freedom of Information forms have not been signed, many teachers take pics of hands, heads, and feet. One of the great side effects of this is that parents not only learn about what’s going on in the classroom, but also learn about the tools that their own children are or will be using so as to bridge the inter-generational digital literacy gap that is sometimes prevalent.
It sounds like, however, your principal did not share the “why” they are posting on social media. I might begin with asking that. When I work with administrators and teachers, I always tell them to communicate with parents not just what they are doing, but why.
In my role, I also encourage students to make decisions about what should be posted and what should be kept private, or what is appropriate or not appropriate to share. I believe, and research supports the fact that adult mentoring is very important to prevent problematic media use. It may be worthwhile to inquire if students are participating in the posting.
I am not sure how much I helped with your question, but I hope I at least gave you insight as to a few different perspectives of how schools use social media as opportunities to mentor young people. How you are feeling warrants a conversation. I would encourage you to book an appointment to ask clarifying questions about the intent and purpose of social media being used.
I have no idea if this response resonated, because I never heard back from the parent, but this email made me wonder if we need to reflect upon why we share pics of our students? Is it to give insight into the classroom? Is it to celebrate their achievements? Is it to mentor their use of social media tools? Or are we using kids as a means to promote our own greatness or market our school?
Are we so focused on “branding” that we are forgetting that we need to be models of effective digital citizenship and digital leadership?
I think about how this situation could easily have been prevented if the principal or teacher had been transparent with parents and explained the why. I love this example of how Brad Gustafson does this when he talks about his school’s use of social media:
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.