Robbing Students of Recognition

Cross Posted at the TechLearning blog

Our district uses its front page to post success stories from our 40 schools. These range from academic achievements to athletic accomplishments of school teams. Schools post the stories to their own Website and submit them to me to post to the district page where generally there is more traffic. This one was sent to me earlier in the week.

Tanner Spencer from Craik, SK, attended team Canada's World Junior top 35 camp in Orlando, Florida from October 5th to October 15th.  Tanner is the youngest Saskatchewan player ever chosen to go.  The majority of the team was from BC, Ontario, and Quebec.  One player was chosen from the Maritimes, one from Manitoba, one from Saskatchewan and two from Alberta.  Tanner started pitching the first game in Orlando, started the fourth game and closed the last game.  He gave up no earned runs on six innings pitched.  Congratulations Tanner.

As soon as I read it I realize they had violated our district policy which states we will never publish a photo of a student with a full name. I also realized in that moment how absurd that policy is.

As we explore the idea of a digital footprint and identity we must consider that at some point we want to our students to own their work and accomplishments and showcase them to a variety of audiences. If I'm Tanner or Tanner's parents I want as many people as possible to know of his accomplishments. I immediately sent out my concerns about our policy to our school technology representatives and one of the school leaders, Angus Mcintosh, responded this way:

It is in Tanner's very best interest, at this point,  that everybody knows is name. He will have offers for scholarships to Major U.S Colleges and Universities and already has a collection of business cards from Major League scouts. The more people that know about him, the more  choices and opportunities it will create for him. People "knowing" Tanners name started somewhere, and the word has spread that there is a very good young pitcher living in Craik and playing ball in Moose Jaw. He has many doors open for him to choose from.

But for every Tanner Spencer, there is the opposite. There are children with  unfortunate backgrounds that need protection in terms of privacy. We know that and will always respect that. But I also think (hope?) they are as rare as Tanner.

And here's the point that is critical.

And then there is the rest. There are kids with special talents that few people know about. What about them? I would bet our schools are full of kids like Tanner but their talent is in Art, or Drama, or Math, or Writing etc. Most kids probably don't even know where their talent is! But if they did, would they be able to open the doors like Tanner has? How does a superior math student get "recruited" to a University? Can a dance student get into the National Ballet if nobody knows what they have accomplished? At some point everyone needs to "sell themselves" in a job interview, or a business proposal, or even a meeting with the bank manager for your first mortgage.   If we can show kids that their accomplishments are to be proud of, and that the accomplishments are not anonymous, we can teach self confidence, and true self esteem.

While this confidence and self esteem can be and should be established offline even more so that online, we do a huge disservice to our students when in efforts to protect them we inadvertently rob them of the opportunity to be recognized.

I get pretty zealous over stuff like this and perhaps I've missed something here. If I have please share.

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  • To some extent I agree with you. However, schools are not currently working with a nuanced, well informed and strategic digital literacy framework. My work around cyberbullying constantly highlights how much work we have to do in terms of getting out basic information, prevention and response issues to staff, students and parents. Much of the policy and procedure that is in place is pretty blunt, precisely because it isn't in the context of digital literacy. Ensuring our kids can take the opportunities and manage the risks that technology makes available isn't just a matter of revisiting the privacy policy. Saying that, there are a host of age related, liability and also power issues at work, even given the most forward thinking provision. What I'd like to see is support for learners to take control of their digital identities and output, as you indicate, rather than more decisions being made for them at institutional level. Tanner could syndicate to the school for example, or the school could link to his portfolio. Let's give our kids control of their own stuff, and the tools on how to manage their online presence effectively. I'm less interested in what your institution feels is praise worthy than what the kids themselves are proud of ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Having used both public and private means of web 2.0 communication in he classroom, I generally side with the power of creating public digital idenites being in students’ hands, rather than prohibted in a blanketed fashion. It doesn’t mean that certain classroom discussions/experiences aren’t fit for traditional privacy, but to be exposed to both the potential pitfalls (which as described above are hopefully rare) and the enourmous potential power of a connected world (which is already a reality of students’ daily lives outside the classroom – as it will be in their future working lives) is something our classrooms need not be reluctant to provide. I can be daunting for such power to shift into our students’ control, but if we do not prepare them for this eventuality, we risk it gaining the ability to control them. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, as it is comforting to know that I might not be “missing something” either.

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  • FYI – at my wife's school they have recently decided that student work that will be displayed in the hallway outside the classroom (but still inside the building) must not have EVEN STUDENT FIRST NAMES on them, only a number! No one is sure why except that a parent that is a lawyer told them it is "against the privacy act."

  • Thasnk for this very informative post, really appreciate people who put some real effort in to keep us up-to-date with current events.

  • Steve

    Thanks for sharing this, I just passed this along to all the Administrative staff in my school. I hope for some good discussion on how we can better advertise the strengths of artists, musicians, debaters and athletes to our local and extended community. 

  • Thanks for addressing a topic that many school districts are grappling with.  My district, for instance, currently has an "opt out" policy for student photos on the Internet, although we've also had years with an "opt in" policy too. I agree that schools could certainly be promoting a positive digital footprint for many students. And given that many students have posted – or – even more likely (and often beyond their control – the possibility that their friends have posted – inappropriate messages, images, or videos online, schools can serve as credible institutes to help neutralize the results of a less-than-stellar Google search.

  • Josie,

    The shift towards student ownership is certainly the preferred route. However, just like parenting children to be independent there is a gradual shift that includes modeling and support. As a parent to a certain degree I control my kids identities.

    Showing them what and how to share is something our schools ought to be doing. At some point, they will have to take that over.

    Also, while I agree it's more important what students think of themselves than what the school does, reputation is based partly on what others say about you. In the end, your work should stand alone as evidence of your abilities and passions but included is what others think. Otherwise, why would employers ask for letters of reference?

  • agree that one of the main roles of institutions can be characterised as bestowing authority and approval on individuals, and of course, in terms of grades and qualifications, in ranking a particular set of abilities. However useful and important a role institutional approval will play in many children's lives, there are a hella lot of kids who don't get the gold stars. Reputation (socio-economic questions aside) can be about qualifications and references yes, but it is also about social participation, conversation and contribution. kids who have issues with the school system for what ever reason are still entirely able to build networks for themselves and establish reputations. It's my opinion that schools who are not supporting children to take good advantage of the opportunities and manage the risks that technology presents are failing children.
    You say "just like parenting children to be independent there is a gradual shift that includes modeling and support". Well, there ought to be, but not every kid is that lucky. The comparison to independence online is a tenuous one here – in fact a huge amount of kids are already online, creating, talking, engaging. I would like to see any research that supported the idea that the majority of kids online identities and activities fell into any kind of initially parental and/or school supported context and then went through any stages of increasing independence.
    The reality is that we have kids online already and we need to focus our attention on supporting them to understand related privacy and safety issues,  to think through presence, and to understand their rights and responsibilities.

  • Josie,

    I think we essentially agree. I also agree that schools are generally not the spaces where reputation is being built, but I would argue that it can and should play a role. Certainly there will be bias in that they may not always provide every student with due recognition and that's why as you say we have to help them figure out how to manage their identity themselves. I just feel that schools to whatever degree, can play a role.

  • Our views as teachers and educators are one thing. We see things from our viewpoint. But kids (and adults) may see things from another way. The photo we want to post because we are proud of them, they may see in a different way. We may not agree but we have to respect their rights. So Josie is right, allow them their feelings and their autonomy to decide.
    This may be especially for teenagers, who may be going through all kinds of emotional reactions and feelings about their body, about their status. Photos are a key aspect of their identity and online mean much more. It is a question of respect and understanding: we cannot take their rights form them.

  • @Graham,

    So are you suggesting then that a school, newspaper or any other media never post anything until they've been given approval? I get your point but the bottom line is we are all free to share, celebrate, criticize anyone or anything. 

    In this specific case, the parents did give permission and I know for a fact the student is very proud and pleased that others are sharing his success. Individuals are now empowered to build and care for their own identity but institutions also do the same and rely on the accomplishments of individual members.

    Regarding the use of photos, I know what you mean and my own children have at many times asked me not to post certain photos. At the same time we can go overboard when it comes to seeking permission every time we want to post something. Students and parents sign a release to allow posting of photos. We don't get permission for each individual photo. That logistics of that would be absurd.

  • Don Dietrich

    Hello – this is an interesting discussion.

    While I appreciate the logistical problems, I think we need to err on the side of caution here.  The default needs to be no names with photos, unless permission is granted (by parents for students who are underage).  That permission could be by student and need not be by individual photo.

    Perhaps an automated (ideally open-source) permissions tracking system could be put in place for this where student numbers warrant???
    Don Dietrich

  • @Don,

    I agree that respecting people's choice is first and foremost. Helping them make informed choices is part of our role as educators.

    If you ever create or know of such a tracking system, that would be a worthwhile tool.

  • I was excited to see this, because this is exactly something I do on a daily basis. No matter which direction I approach this from, it always boils down to three points:
    1) Students and Parents should have control over their privacy and personal data
    2) Students should be recognized for their accomplishments
    3) The process of posting possibly personal data for the purpose of recognition should be easy and quick
    When those three things conflict, I prioritize them in that same order: privacy, recognition, easiness.
    We don't compromise on our prioritization of those three ideas, but we can affect the situation by trying to allay parent concerns about privacy, for example, by allowing parents to opt-in to district publications without opting-in to public information requests for mailing lists.

  • Perhaps someone can enlighten me to the need for "error on the side of caution" in regards to the bogeyman we call the internet? I would suggest that the benefits of our students being exposed is much greater than any risk involved. What exactly do you fear? Show me data that supports your fear.

    Dean, you know that I am as transparent in my classroom as any teacher. I could talk for hours about the benefits that my students have had from their access to the outside world, but I cannot think of one time when my students were harmed.
    I will not forgo the benefits to "error on the side of caution" and I would suggest that those of you that do are doing your students a real disservice.

  • Don Dietrich

    In reply to wmchamberlain, an interesting discussion of the benefits and cautions around posting young persons' photos on the Internet can be found on Alec Couros's blog at  Many of the comments there echo your sentiments.
    My approach is pretty much the same as Dave Nielsen's, simply due to the requirements of Canadian Privacy Law.  Yes there are benefits to exposure to the outside world, but the degree and nature of that exposure needs to be tied to students' ages and their skills at keeping their personal information private.
    Don Dietrich

  • Yes, this is indeed a very interesting discussion. I respect all of the opinions that I read here. All of you have made a very good point. I agree that if the publishing of photo and the full name has the permission of the parents, then it is just alright. I mean, this is something that they can be really proud of so why hide it?

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