When you work in a primary school, every day is littered with magic moments. You are tripping over them – there are photo opportunities at every turn. From “eureka” flashes in learning to a miraculously quiet dinner queue or some amazing artwork, a walk down the corridors provides an embarrassment of riches for the eager school leader who’s keen to share with the world just how brilliant his or her school is.
And in the age of social media, where posting the evidence of an experience is valued almost as highly as the experience itself, many schools are doing just that. Ask a group of senior leaders which social media accounts they use most frequently and they are likely to tell you they’re the ones set up for the school. By linking accounts to smartphones, it has never been easier to snap and post on the daily walk-around and zip those images to followers everywhere.
And what’s so very wrong with that? Parents love to see what is going on in school and it’s a great way to get parents more engaged in the life of the school, right?
Wrong. Where is the evidence that lazily scrolling through a multitude of pictures on a groaning timeline increases parental engagement? How does peeking through the virtual classroom window make parents any more engaged with their child’s learning? Do we know how parents consume these images? Do they sit with their child and scroll through the pictures together, asking questions, encouraging the child to talk about their learning? Or do they glimpse the pictures in the blur of a busy day and move on, the questions left unasked? Are we setting parents up to believe that a quick like or a share on social media means they are doing their part as active partners in their child’s learning?
Content curators rule
It is true that through school social media channels, parents can see what has been happening – but only a carefully curated version of it. Because what school leaders are inadvertently doing is building a brand. They are editing the magic to fit their picture of what a good school looks like. They are the gatekeepers, they decide what is post-worthy and what isn’t. And nine times out of 10, the children have had no say in any of it.
What a missed opportunity that is. The primary school is perfectly placed to role-model careful use of social media. Exploring ideas with children, such as curation of images, thoughtful image posting and consideration of the purpose of the post in the first place, is how we grow responsible digital citizens. This involves giving children back ownership of their own images.
We are raising the most photographed generation in history. For some children, their image is shared while they are still in the womb. How on Earth can we expect to raise young people who protect and control the use of their own images when they are endlessly snapped and posted without agency from their earliest seconds of life?
The magic moments are well worth sharing. But let’s not kid ourselves that it increases parental engagement. Instead, let’s see it as a chance to stand beside our children and work out together what should be shared and why – because that would be a real magic moment.
Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30