Monday, January 25, 2016

Photos and Privacy

What is privacy?

I'm reading Danah Boyd's It's Complicated: The Social Life of Networked Teens as part of TVO's Teach Ontario online book club. We'll be discussing Chapter 2, on privacy, starting January 25. Some of the definitions of privacy, as mentioned in Boyd's book, are: the right to be left alone / a measure of access that others have to you through information, attention, and physical proximity / the claim of individuals, groups and institutions to determine when, how, and to what extent information can be communicated to others. (This is paraphrased from page 59.)

This notion of privacy is very relevant to me right now because of a discussion we're having at my son's school about the ability to take photographs at school events. I'm not going to mention the school or board or principal by name because I'd like to respect everyone's privacy - but I'm still writing about the issue online because my blog is a place for me to reflect on educational matters and gain other perspectives. It's a battle between "private space vs personal expression" (Boyd page 53). 

The administrator at my son's school has made it clear, both at the Curriculum Night Open House and Christmas Concert, that visitors are not permitted to take photographs during events such as these. This will also include school graduation ceremonies. At our recent Parent Council meeting, we were given a copy of the board's policy, which says "The recording and taking of photographic images of a person or persons, on school property, at school events, and during school activities and/or hours, is prohibited without the permission of the person or persons being photographed or the principal or designate". The principal is concerned, and justifiably so, with keeping students safe. Photos can be manipulated, distorted and distributed widely. Sensitive custody battles can be made more fraught with difficulties if adults discover the whereabouts of certain children. 

I understand the concerns of our principal but I cannot help but feel that this is very strict and by banning photographs of students entirely, some community goodwill and educational opportunities might be lost. Our Parent Council chairperson brought a FAQ document about access and privacy in the school system that states, "A school should develop a workable policy regarding the taking of photographs of its students on school property or at school events by non-board employees. Such a policy should be developed in consultation with parents/guardians and communicated to them." To be clear, this FAQ was written by a different school board and the Communications Department of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. I really hope that some consensus can be found so that everyone's needs are met.

As a teacher, I am very careful with my students' privacy and our use of photos. I use photographs as part of my assessment practices - which is very handy when evaluating work in Drama and Dance. I've attended workshops and read articles written by my union that advise using caution when dealing with recordings (but still allows photography) - e.g. posting photos online only of work or the backs of students' heads, or using school equipment to take student photographs, etc. As the school yearbook coordinator, I've touched base with parents for clarification, who have signed "no" to the board's media release forms, and all of them have agreed to allow their child's photo in the yearbook as they pose for their class shot or as part of team and club group photos. As long as the photos are used positively and responsibly, they have no problem with pictures. Online arenas are what scare people. 

As a parent, I also try to be respectful of my own children's privacy. Intensive parents that constantly and intrusively monitor their teens' online activities are considered "good parents", but going overboard with surveillance is oppressive (Boyd, page 74) and indicates a lack of trust between parent and child. Sometimes, parents don't always practice what they preach in terms of online privacy. There are many parenting blogs out there that share too much, especially regarding children that have special needs. What digital footprint or online legacy are they creating for their own sons and daughters? Privacy is not just for adults. Teens also desire privacy, but research demonstrating this is often ignored by mass media in favor of the general stereotype of teens as chronic over sharers (Boyd page 56). I try to keep references to my own son and daughter positive, and I often ask their permission before mentioning them on my blog or taking a photo of them and posting it on social media. (I avoid sharing photos on Facebook because the privacy settings change so frequently.)  Here was a photo my daughter allowed me to post on Twitter - it demonstrates her passion for reading, something neither of us mind revealing to the world.

There are many other points that I want to reflect on after reading Chapter 2 of this book, but I'll save some of that discussion for the Teach Ontario book discussion group. Go to and use your board-designed email address to join.

Monday, January 18, 2016

That's What Friends Are For

This wasn't my original blog post scheduled for today.
I had written something on an entirely different topic, but it was a little "edgy" and I had some initial misgivings about publishing it.
I asked my husband to listen to me read it to him. He expressed some uncertainty around the intended audience and purpose, but recommended that I get a second opinion.

So it's Sunday evening. I like to ensure that I have a post ready for Monday. What do I do?

I turned to Twitter and asked a couple of teacher friends for help.

Melissa Jensen noticed my plea and offered her assistance as well.

Let me make note here that it's a weekend in mid-January. For teachers (and teacher-librarians) in Ontario, this is prime report-card-writing time as well as preparing-for-SuperConference time. Yet, three busy individuals took the time to read my draft and offer some constructive criticism. Some also recommended I get another view from someone closer to the source material. That person gave up part of her lunch hour to read it and offer her descriptive feedback. After much consultation and consideration, I decided not to publish what I wrote. The subject matter is worthy, but it needs a lot more editing and refining to make it appropriate for public consumption. That post may eventually be published, but not now, and not in its current form. I really appreciated how Denise Colby, Alanna King, and Melissa Jensen helped me out with this decision.

All three educators gave me permission to mention them here. I asked for their help in the first place because I respect their opinions; they are thoughtful, reflective, and knowledgeable.  They are aware of the impact that social media has on education. (I guess that book club discussion group on TVO's TeachOntario site must be making an impact on me - we are discussing It's Complicated: the Social Life of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd and I'm paying close attention to the chapter on how online identities are crafted.) They understand the right to be expressive and transparent in my teaching practices with the responsibility to be respectful and private with information. They understand the complicated social nuances of school politics. What I loved about their advice was they never said "Publish it" or "Don't publish it". They made comments. They described their own feelings and observations. They asked if it was possible for A or B to be re-framed or a section to be re-worked.

What are the school implications for this experience? I think that teachers should find and use "critical friends" to help them when they are struggling, be it with a challenging student, a teaching approach to a lesson or unit, or any difficulty they encounter as part of the job. It means it takes a bit longer, but getting a second (or fifth) opinion meant that I was less likely to rush ahead and possibly make a rather unfortunate faux-pas. Bringing in other points of view can help make situations clearer and decisions easier. Find someone you are comfortable with, that you can be vulnerable with, that can see you uncertain, unsure, and less-than-perfect. They don't think less of me, but they help make a better me. Thank you Melissa, Alanna, and Denise!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Growth Mindset and Facilitating Board TL Networks

On Thursday, January 7, 2016, I attended a meeting for teacher-librarians who volunteered to be regional facilitators. It's always a wonderful experience to meet with fellow teacher-librarians from across the school board, because it doesn't happen as often as we might like. The goal of the meeting was 1) to collaboratively establish an understanding of facilitation and 2) to develop a plan of facilitation for your teacher-librarian network. One of the tools that was used to help develop some of the foundations for this facilitator role was a TED talk about growth mindset. You can see the video here: 

I really liked how questions were used to extend our thinking. After watching this video, we had to reflect on "How does growth mindset relate to our goals?" and this is what the group said.

  • make it safe for people to take risks
  • insist that people bring a problem AND a solution to the table (just complaining about the problem leads to more of a fixed mindset)
  • pay attention to the tone of your meetings 
  • be tolerant of people (new TLs and even administrators) who aren't where you are - YET
  • reject a deficit model of thinking
  • establish group norms that incorporate a growth mindset
  • keep conversation positive - make it about what was learned instead of challenges
  • celebrate responses that suggest "I don't know" - YET
  • ask "what's the worst that can happen?" to trying strategies and make it a safe environment
  • be purposeful with your intentions and how to invite discussion
  • praise the process, not the intelligence
I am also really excited about the three key areas of focus for the Library and Learning Resources Department and our Regional Network Meetings:
  1. Inquiry Based Learning
  2. The Library Learning Commons Approach and Mentoring
  3. Digital Learning
Last year, I took a Mentorship AQ course (which I wrote about here) and I really enjoyed it. Mentoring and teacher-librarianship fit perfectly together. In fact, I even wrote a paper about it for Treasure Mountain Canada 4 (a school library symposium that will take place this year in Toronto on Saturday, January 30, 2016). I am beyond delighted that mentoring was specifically mentioned as an area of focus for TDSB TL facilitators. There are over 60 new teacher-librarians in just the east end of TDSB alone. By assisting the Instructional Leaders just a little bit by reaching out to these teachers new to the role, we can help grow the profession. This chart closely resembles the "consult / collaborate / coach" stances from the pivotal book Mentoring Matters: A Practical Guide to Learning-Focused Relationships by Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman (thank you Andrea Payne for bringing this version to last year's TDSB TL Facilitator Team, and to Fran Potvin-Schaefer and Cindy vanWonderen for bringing it to the forefront for this year's team.) I am optimistic (dare I say, I'm using a growth mindset when considering the future) for this year's Regional Teacher-Librarian Network meetings. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Participating in AND Rebelling against One Word


It's very current (or popular / trendy / fashionable / "in", depending on what tone or attitude you'd like to take towards the practice) to select one word that is your focus for the year.

David Fife's word is mindful.
Heather Theijsmeijer's word is reflection. (Last year, it was jump.)
Julie Balen's word is discipline. (Last year, it was innovation. The year before, it was equity.)
Aviva Dunsiger's word is hear. (Last year, it was listen, and uncomfortable.)
Kristi Keery Bishop's word is stretch.

I only mentioned the ones with blog posts attached, because I really like hearing about the process in deciding a word, or the rationale behind the word. It's not easy, as Rusul's recent tongue-in-cheek tweet indicates.
I even noticed that my sister-in-law, a teacher with the Baltimore County Public School system, selected and "Instagrammed" her One Word: "balance".

This sounds like a good idea. Goals are good, right?
And yet, there were some aspects that made me, to borrow Aviva's word, uncomfortable.

What if I'm bandwagoning?
Why declare it now? (Others did it at the beginning of the school year, instead of the calendar year.)
What will the true impact of this public declaration be for me? What will it do?

That's why my word is both supporting and challenging the OneWord concept.


I've already set some decent goals. There's no need to abandon them. Keep going.

1) In August, my husband and I decided to try and take better care of ourselves, by exercising more, and paying closer attention to what we eat. I'm pleased with our progress - when we last checked before the holiday gluttony, James lost 23 pounds and I lost 8 pounds. I want to continue my work on maintaining a healthy body. I'll continue to do it with:
a) daily walks with my colleagues in the community,
b) using Wii Fit,
c) avoiding snacks and eating after 9:00 p.m.
d) reducing portion sizes (and keeping to my weekday yogurt/granola lunches)

2) I altered my Annual Learning Plan to reflect my last performance appraisal, which was in May 2015. All of the goals my administrator wrote began with the word "continue".
a) to work on [my] literacy research project examining the impact of student choice reading awards programs
b) to explore collaborative / research opportunities with staff and outside professional organizations
c) to examine ways to modify / differentiate and support ELL and exceptional learners within [my] program planning
d) to develop and expand [my] assessment strategies / descriptive feedback to better support student achievement and accountability of parents of students taught

3) I went to confession just before Christmas to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, a very Catholic thing to do. I won't list my sins or penance here - after all, I received absolution, and what happens in the confessional stays in the confessional. However, my goal is to continue to address the flaws I see in myself spiritually by:
a) praying (especially at the beginning of the day and the end of the night)
b) reflecting on Scriptures (thank goodness I get a daily email with it, no excuses)
c) matching my actions to my beliefs
(And Pope Francis declared this a global jubilee year, the Year of Mercy. It's not exactly like #oneword, but it's pretty close!)