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Is Social Media Good for Schools?

Is Social Media Good for Schools? | gomominc.com

The start of the new school year has arrived and this year I’m particularly aware of an increased use of social media by individual schools. And frankly, it has me asking if social media is good for schools at all.

As an involved parent with kids in multiple schools (including college), I follow the Wake County Public Schools Twitter Feed. If you’ve never checked it out, it’s particularly brilliant during exams and with weather delays. When the student dialogue is at its highest, the staff banters with the kids with equal parts clever and information they need to know. I also follow the Twitter accounts for a number of local schools.  This method of communicating is definitely helpful, especially when it comes to high school and college because its an easy way to stay in the know. Don’t be surprised to find that administrators, coaches, club leaders, class presidents, and just about everyone in secondary education is now using Twitter as a way to provide real time updates for the school community.  And when your kids are older, they will likely be checking Twitter for updates from these sources as well.

While this kind of real time communication can be fantastic for individual schools and the school system as whole, I question whether individual teachers should be sharing classroom updates on social media outlets at all.  With so many other county sanctioned communication portals such as Blackboard, Edmodo, or numerous other tools known to be secure and designed to communicate curriculum and classroom updates, I don’t see the need to defer to, or as often is the case add in, social media outlets for kids to check too.  

I also question the use of social media outlets by staff other than administration in elementary or middle school. Perfect for providing bus delays, announcements for upcoming events, or shout outs for school achievement, Twitter in particular can be a great tool for positive communication and public relations. But neither Twitter or any other social media outlet has a seat at the communication table for students and teachers when it comes to student privacy, safety, and honoring the terms of service for social media outlets overall.

We are already fighting an over exposed technology epidemic with our kids ~ having to navigate a social landscape full of parents who disregard terms of service for social outlets only to find all kinds of 10 year olds on Instagram and IPhones in the hands of elementary school students. The last thing parents need is to have to fight that battle at school if children are directed online to social media outlets to find out the latest classroom news.

Just in case you are unaware, here is a great graphic from my brilliant colleague Linda Sellers that outlines the minimum age requirements for account holders on a plethora of social media sites and apps. For schools to involve children under the legal age on these platforms is a concerning message to send.

social-media-age-restrictions

So back to Twitter.  As we prepared for the first day of school, I noticed one particular school tweeting photos that included pictures of students in orientation sessions.  My spidey senses went up immediately because my first thought was…

“There is no way the school has all those photo release forms processed and on file to know if those children’s parents gave permission for them to be featured.”

And then my second thought was…

“Why are schools sharing pictures of students via social media during the school day?”

Because this caught my eye, I checked out this school’s feed yesterday to find pictures of students posted again. Which means that there is a staff member assigned to tell the school’s story digitally during the school day.

And this blows my mind.

So I reached out to WCPSS via Twitter  (read from the bottom up) :

Is Social Media Good for Schools? | gomominc.com

Is Social Media Good for Schools? | gomominc.com

…and was put in touch with a very knowledgeable, helpful communications team member who shared more about both the WCPSS social media policy and the Photography/Video Privacy Release Form that depending on how you sign it, could have your child’s image and name shared in all kinds of social media outlets.

In the “The More You Know” category here is what I learned.

WCPSS Policy on Social Media Updates Including Student Photos

Schools are not supposed to share any pictures of students without having a Photo Release Form on file ~ plain and simple. This means that prior to sharing a photo on social media, the school website, or elsewhere, school staff needs to identify the students in any picture to be sure parents have approved that child’s image being shared. However ~ you knew there was one ~ there are some exceptions.  Schools can share crowd shots as long as there are no faces in the photo. That’s why especially in elementary school you’ll see shots from the shoulders down. Schools can share crowd shots as long as all the kids backs are turned towards the camera. Schools can share photos taken at public gatherings such as sporting events even though those happen on school property. And schools can share photos of students off campus while walking to school because that’s considered public domain. Thus the countless bus stop shots we see at the beginning of the year.

Note that when the county goes in to film or take photos, they vet all the students photo eligibility status prior to shooting. Once inside the classroom they’ll use stickers to make certain that the camera crews know which kids are a yes and which are a no.  The county also rarely retweets from their account any photos that include students because its too task intensive to quantify the photo eligibility status. Unless they are public gathering photos where there might be a special event onsite for a school achievement, special event, etc.

Photo Release Form Terminology

You can find the current Wake County Public Schools Photo Release Form online in the New Student Enrollement Packet.  I wasn’t able to find the form posted independently elsewhere.  I also found that many WCPSS schools have a form from 2011 posted on their websites versus the current form that was revised in January 2014.

Something notable?  Apparently once you sign this form ~ think Kindergarten for most of us ~ its valid for as long as your child is enrolled in public schools. Which means even if you don’t sign a fresh form every year, the last form you signed is on file and the one they defer to. Which also means that as your child ages up from elementary to middle and middle to high school, the file the new school receives from the data manager at the old school has that information.  And if you said yes in the beginning but want to change it to no, you have to sign a form to DEACTIVATE your child’s status.  I’m uncertain if just updating the form to NO for this year counts. But…that’s something I had NO idea was in place as a Permission to Photograph Default.

Taken straight from the form itself:

  • The WCPSS uses internal and external media to highlight the K-12 experience in a variety of ways, which may include the use of photographs and videos of students. For example, student images may be published or displayed in printed materials (such as brochures and newsletters), videos, school websites, and information about school events and activities provided to external organizations and media outlets. Parents have two options for granting or denying consent:
    • Parents may deny permission for any display or publication of their student’s image. You should select this option if you do not want your student’s photograph to be used on the WCPSS or individual school websites, in WCPSS or school publications, or in release to external organizations (such as PTA and booster clubs) or the media.
    • Parents also may grant permission for their student’s image to be published or displayed in print, video, and/or digital media. Selecting this option means that your student’s photograph and name may appear in WCPSS or school publications, on the WCPSS or individual school websites, and may be released to external organizations (such as PTA and booster clubs) or the media.

And here is how the permission/deny permission options are worded:

  • I deny permission to use my child’s image for display, publication or release to external organizations.
  • I grant permission for use of my child’s image in print, video and/or digital media. I understand that my child’s image may be used or released by the WCPSS without additional notification and that my child’s name may appear along with his or her photograph.
  • I grant permission for my child to be identified by name on the school or district’s Internet websites.
  • I deny permission for my child to be identified by name on the school or district’s Internet websites.

Are you seeing double yet?  Its confusing and far reaching so it I figure that if even someone who works in social media would have all these questions ~ me ~ the rest of you out there might have some questions of your own too. So I have a few suggestions for parents of school aged children anywhere for how to make sure that when it comes to Photography/Video Release Forms, you have full understanding of what you are signing and greater control over the use of your child’s images.

1. Clarify what your county means by “digital”.

I asked how many parents truly understand that agreeing to “digital” media use means social media outlets.  The communications team staff member responded that it’s not different than understanding any of the other terminology or processes, like what time to catch the bus.  I told her I’d be surprised if a parents realized how far reaching the permission for digital use goes and that it needs to be clearly stated that digital isn’t limited to websites, it’s online in any and all formats, specifically including social media, without prior notification.

2.  Give parents more options than simply all or nothing.

If you check YES on the current WCPSS form, this means your child’s image could be shared via Twitter which is the most likely social media outlet a WCPSS school might use. And there is a bit of a loophole here because the county-wide platform for school websites includes the Twitter feed, so if you say yes to the website, Twitter is on the website, so in essence you have to say yes to Twitter.

If you say no, your child can’t be included in any kind of photo shared by the school or county.  Unfortunately this includes the school website homepage and as they grow, when they are part of a team, club, or group of students be recognized for something, that photo is really special.  According to the communications team member, there’s nothing in between because knowing the varying permissions would be too task intensive for staff to manage.

We already have to juggle the social issues around being one of a handful of kids whose parents don’t allow wide open social media access.

This all or nothing policy means denying your child the same public recognition their peers might get because its too complicated for the school to navigate varying permission levels.

And apparently the values in the Gold home surrounding social media are not the norm.  Reportedly, parents of younger students are increasingly asking the county to provide video and photos of their children throughout the day so that they can see what’s happening and rarely do they have an issue with parents denying photo sharing rights.

REREAD THAT PLEASE…

Parents of younger students are increasingly asking the county to provide video and photos of their children throughout the day so that they can see what’s happening and rarely do they have an issue with parents denying photo sharing rights.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I’m just going to lay it out there ~ if you need a daily feed to let you know your child’s every move then consider volunteering daily or even homeschooling as a better option for your family needs. 

Social media updates from schools sharing pictures of our kids throughout the day is NOT necessary and frankly could be dangerous. And it begs an honest, research based answer to the question asking if social media updates are offer any educational value whatsoever that could justify the staff being focused on that instead of students.  With all the teacher salary reductions, freezes, staff cutbacks and overcrowding, I want to know who on earth at a Wake County Public School has time to be TWEETING during the school day?

With all due respect I told to the communications team member…

“Just because people ask for it doesn’t make it right.”

I want the communications team for my county to understand that while technology is their world, just because there is an over abundance it at our fingertips doesn’t mean we have to use it at school for entertaining but non essential social media updates. And that when it comes to my child’s safety, and that of every other child in Wake county, it’s even MORE important to be willing to NOT follow the trend just because it’s what everyone is doing. And just even typing that I hear my parents…

Just because everyone else’s family does it doesn’t mean ours will.

If everyone jumps off a bridge will you?

Apparently, some Wake County Public Schools have staff that are doing what everyone else does ~ sharing mundane updates on social media ~ when they should be focused on work that changes lives.  If even for just a short time, there is a school based staff member more concerned about telling a digital daily story through photos or a catchy 140 than than my child’s safety and education,  something has gone very wrong with the priorities that should lead our public school system.

AT&T has a brilliant, albeit alarming, digital media campaign that makes it clear no post is worth a life.

This generation of children knows that the adults in their lives are more often than not distracted by what is on the phone in their hand, too often finding that device more important than the moments, and people, right in front of them.  If students grow up with an education system that just as unfortunately distracted, focused on promoting what students are doing rather than making sure the students are doing it well, they will end up receiving a fractured education built on misguided priorities.  No post is worth risking my child’s safety or ruining the quality of their education.

I want to be clear that I am a long time supporter of Wake County Public Schools and the education professionals that make it work.  Even when I don’t agree with where things are sometimes ~(Can you say Common Core?) our children remain in the system and continue to thrive thanks to the hard work and dedication the staff and administration are willing to put in. My husband and I also believe firmly in the inherent value of the parent/school partnership that is our responsibility to make sure happens at home. I have close friends and family across the country who serve our children selflessly in spite of our nation’s public education flaws and we are all blessed beyond measure that they do.

And from a professional point of view, the Wake County Public Schools social media team is just beyond fabulous.  I appreciate and admire how HUGE their job is and the fact that they do it so well.  They represent a school system with more than 155,000 students in its care. Seriously that is just an insane number of children and families to inform while they keep the goals of education and safety front and center.

But I’m greatly concerned that the lack of consistency in social media excellence surrounding site based social media use, meaning how individual schools use social media in their communities, is impacting the digital footprint of countless children without their parents realizing it. All in the name of public relations.

I’m so completely not okay with that.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for social media’s impact on education. So far, I’m not a fan. If you are a parent, teacher, or school employee, tell me…

How do you feel about unfettered social sharing at the school based level?

Thanks so much for stopping by ~ we’ll see you next time!

 

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Comments

  • Nicole Feliciano August 26, 2015, 1:44 am

    That social media age graphic is so helpful!

    • Molly Gold August 26, 2015, 8:30 am

      Thanks Nicole! I’d love to see Wake County take a proactive role in educating parents about what they do at the county and school based levels that also educates parents on what they should be doing too….including NOT letting their kids get on social networks before the TOS age limits indicate its okay.

  • Jessica @The Mom Creative August 26, 2015, 7:47 am

    Thankful for your thorough coverage of this! So important for parents – and schools – to read.

    • Molly Gold August 26, 2015, 8:29 am

      Thanks Jessica! I’m just trying to navigate the paperwork like every other concerned parent and this issue has all kinds of red flags for me.

  • Melissa @ The Staten Island Family August 26, 2015, 7:59 am

    This is a MUST-read for all parents- and school administrators!

    • Molly Gold August 26, 2015, 8:28 am

      Thanks Melissa ~ I hope so too! As in so many cases with social media, site based use is a bit of a wild west here in Wake County. The problem is it risks our children’s safety.

  • Destiny August 26, 2015, 11:04 am

    Wow this is so informative. My daughter is heading into K so this has me ready to ask a lot of questions to my school. Thanks!

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