Protecting Student Privacy ONline
As teachers, parents, students, and administrators trust us with so many things. We’re trusted to educate children every day. We’re also trusted to keep them safe and always consider their best interests. As I exist more in the teacher world’s social media, I am concerned about student privacy online.
A few years ago, Europe rolled out new data protection rules and regulations, and I just so happened to be working in the EU at that time. These data rules were intense, but they made me reflect upon the student data I collect as a teacher and the information I share as a teacher.
When I first started blogging, I asked a fellow teacher blogger for advice, and she recommended that I never use pictures of students online. I have since followed that advice. Hopefully, if you follow me, you know absolutely nothing about the identity of my students. That’s the goal. Protecting our students’ privacy is so critical. Here are some pieces of advice about protecting your students’ privacy online.
Don't Use Their Image
Sure, in the classroom, I take pictures all the time. Actually, since GDPR, I take fewer photos. The pictures I do take I upload onto my school computer and drive and then delete off of my phone. I have no images of students on my phone at all. I don’t have them saved anywhere. I don’t have any- none. With GDPR, we weren’t allowed to, and I happen to think that while strict, it is a good practice.
I am not my students’ parent or guardian, and I should not be able to make decisions about where their image is used. I feel that if teachers are going to use their students’ pictures online, they need to have written consent each time AND they need to fully disclose what they are using the image for, why that image, and what benefits they receive by posting the picture.
I even take issue with the blocking of students’ faces. Many times you can still identify students based on what they are wearing or different identifying features. I firmly believe that we shouldn’t take any chances. If parents want to post their children, that is a different story. As teachers, we aren’t the parents.
I even unfollow any teachers who post images of students on Instagram. It’s an automatic no from me. Even if they say, they have permission- no thanks! I know that blogs that use stock photos like my own might seem impersonal, but I would rather that then know all the details of someone’s class.
Don't Share Their Names
One simple way to ensure student privacy online is to not use their names. Names are so unique and such a defining part of our identities. Student names should not be shared online either. I can’t tell you how many times I would have to re-record an entire Instagram story last year because I accidentally walked past one of the million places my kids’ names were posted in our classroom. I ended up always recording them in one corner where there were no features that could determine my location or student identity. That might seem extreme, but why would I let a world of strangers know that information?
As I blog, I, of course, might want to use names to create a picture. On my letters and letter-sound post, I wanted to show an example of a name chart. I chose names at random. I included some Polish names for fun, but I didn’t include the names of any of my little diamonds. Actually, when I am procrastinating on a blog post, I can spend hours on baby naming websites searching for just the right name!
This year I started using the singular they when discussing students online. This way, gender wasn’t even discernable. Now, when I say discussing students, I mean times like this- I thought of a hilarious time a few years ago that I was reading Sideways Stories from Wayside School. When Mrs. Gorf turned the kids into apples, one diamond shouted out, “Why didn’t she turn them into chicken nuggets?!” It was hilarious, and I shared that story on Instagram. I’m not discussing any other student information online.
Stop Recording Yourself Teaching
What’s up with this? I mean that with love in my heart. My time that I am in front of the students is a time when I am their teacher. I am not teaching to perform and share online. I am teaching to educate those little diamonds in my classroom. If I want to share something I’ve done with my class, I can share it another way.
Last year we did flashlight reading, and I wanted to take a picture of it to share. I, of course, didn’t want to share the image of any of my students, so I took a photo alone, in a dark room, with the lights off, holding a flashlight. I felt like a total fool because it isn’t my style, but I would rather feel like a fool alone than record myself teaching in front of kids to share on social media. I jokingly say all the time that I wish specific lessons were recorded because they went so well, but I don’t usually record myself.
I did record a few guided reading groups last year to use as teaching tools for our assistant teachers. I had parent consent before filming and explained that this filmed teaching would stay in the school’s drive. It did. I don’t have those guided reading lessons anymore. When I taught Reading Recovery, I filmed myself teaching to improve on my practice, but I had parent consent, and I no longer have those videos.
Don't Share Specific Data
Whenever I talk about student data, I make it up. I make up kids’ names. When I shared the post about planning for instruction, I made up the details of my class. You don’t need to know the real details of my class. You don’t need to start guessing who is who. Even covering up names when sharing class data is dicey. What if people saw that and started figuring out who was who? Often lists are in ABC order. It wouldn’t be too hard to figure out. That is not a game I want to be involved in.
What’s the purpose of the student data you want to share? What story are you trying to tell? Could you create fake data to tell the same story? And when I say false data, I mean it. When I made up that other data, I just plugged in random stuff, which was kind of fun. I didn’t think about a specific student and then fictionalize them. Nope- then it isn’t made up. I just plugged in random information into a sheet.
WIPS- The New WWJD
Maybe you didn’t go to Catholic school in the late 90s, but WWJD was all the rage. It stands for What Would Jesus Do, and it was everywhere. Guaranteed, I had at least a bookmark and a bracelet with this saying on it. We joked about it all the time, and it came rushing back to me just now! #yourewelcome I might be the only person who finds this funny or remembers it, but number five in this blog post is cracking me up!
So I lived my 5th-grade life following the WWJD motto, and now I follow the WIPS motto. WIPS stands for What If Parents See. I don’t know how much some teachers disclose about their online life to their actual students’ parents. But I think this motto benefits all. I always operate under the assumption that everyone I know will see everything I post. So, if you don’t want people to see it, don’t post it. This motto can save you a world of problems.
SIDENOTE: One time, I followed this very teacher famous Instagrammer who always posted pictures and videos of her kids. One day she suddenly disappeared like her whole account- gone. Then her BFF posted that she had to make a new account, and we should follow her there. A true lover of drama, I went to the new private account. This Instagrammer said a few parents and students found her page, and she had to delete it and start a new one because she didn’t want them to know what she said online. I followed her for like a week more, and she posted kids’ images on her new page! She also told stories and used kids’ names! Like stories, I would guess you wouldn’t want to be shared about your kid. On the account that she hid from parents and students! That’s not good. If you have to make a private account (where you’re still sharing student data) to hide from parents and kids, it isn’t right. At all. We can do better. We need to protect our student’s privacy online- no matter what.
What Are Your Thoughts on Student Privacy?
How do you ensure you’re protecting student privacy online?
If you’re a parent I would love to hear some thoughts on the current social media era of education.