A question for schools: what does your digital footprint say about you?

Image from http://darcymoore.wordpress.com

In the midst of job search season I’ve been spending a lot of time trawling school’s websites. The process reminds me yet again about how we have such weird attitudes to the internet. Having online presence often gets a bit of a bad rap when it is mentioned in the context of student teachers.

One of the most common memes is principals are using  facebook, google, twitter etc. as a way to check up on the pasts of would-be teachers as a cautionary tale for applicants. ‘Beware of your digital footprint’ our institutions tells us, ‘watch what you do and say online!’  Very fear-based and unwise advice by our institutions.

But here’s something that any school who is looking for teachers might also want to think about, your applicants are googling you.

What does your school’s digital footprint say to prospective teachers?

For both my placements I put some thought and research into where I wanted to go and was very fortunate to get my first choices both times. What’s more before I go into any school, even just for a visit, I’ll google both the school and the principal.  I will also read a school’s ERO report and what the principal has said in the local media, I’ll search for a social media presence, I’ll look around a school’s website and class blogs if they have them. I’ll be honest and say that I will negatively judge a school if its online presence is a looking a bit stale. Having a static website with school newsletters either regularly or haphazardly uploaded just doesn’t cut it in web 2.0.

As a soon-to-be teacher the schools I really want to work for are the ones where I get to follow class blogs and the ones whose teachers are on twitter because they are already starting to engage with me. This engagement gives me a heads up as an applicant to start thinking of ways that I could compliment and contribute to the culture of the school. In short the schools who have an effective online presence are already encouraging me to apply before the advertisements have appeared in the education gazette.

I’m well aware that I’m starting out in the teaching profession as a beginning teacher in a labour market swollen with graduates desperate for work. So anyone who who has had the pleasure of sorting through mountains of CVs from earnest grads like myself feel free to shout out ‘quiet back there in the cheap seats.’ However the employment market might not always be like it is now. What’s more wouldn’t schools want to do more to attract the top teachers by putting their thinking out into the digital space that this generation of new teachers exist in for us to see, think about and, dare I say it, even interact with? It might make sorting through those piles of CVs a little easier especially at the BT level if you’ve already ‘met’ that Beginning Teacher online or ‘seen’ them interacting with your students on your class blog’s comments.

But there’s also something more significant in play.

My friends and I joined facebook way back in 2006/2007.  A whole bunch of us had babies around that time. Since then I’ve watched their children grow up on facebook, transforming on my screen from grainy ultrasound images into newborns, toddlers and now they are preschoolers who are starting to enter the school system. The parents of the facebook generation are likely to have vastly different expectations around what constitutes effective engagement than parents five years ago or even now.

What does your school’s digital footprint say to prospective parents?

5 thoughts on “A question for schools: what does your digital footprint say about you?

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  1. I think its a very valid point that you make and I think that the actual digital footprint that is made and the reality check that you get told about can easily be checked. When I switched jobs three years ago what I was told in the interview and what I knew from looking online were two different things – I was told one thing at the interview (basically how much online stuff the interview I was having told me) but I knew this contradicted with what I had discovered by investigating online (ie I got a spiel about how advanced they were and this turned out to be not correct). I also think we need to consider our own digital footprint – its why I would never go on facebook.


    1. Much like any form of communication FB isn’t the problem but how we use it. But thanks as always for your thoughtful comment, you are right that the internet has put a lot of power into the hands of the applicants but we haven’t recognized this yet as the job market is so saturated.


  2. This is an interesting angle to look at digital footprint. Usually school are looking at applicants’ digital footprint and usually they are looking to “catch” something inappropriate about the applicant 🙂

    However, I do agree that schools need to work constantly on their presence in the digital world and also to express their position on digital presence – are they for it or against it? Or maybe they allow it but monitor it closely. I don’t know how it is in NZ, but in North America, a lot of school districts have banned teachers from being on Facebook or if they are, they cannot be friends with their students. It’s in their contract and these are the rules. And it’s not too much about getting close/befriending your students. It’s about keeping your authority and personal information safe. There are certainly students who would use your personal information to blackmail you and harm you. I am not saying this is the case most of the time, but it’s possible.

    Now, I am a firm believer that technology is a teacher’s best friend and you can use it to the best advantage in your classroom. I have taught many technology courses to student-teachers and I’ve seen happy faces when they create something beautiful and effective. There isn’t a bigger reward for me. However, in order to motivate teachers to use technology, schools must be open to it too. Schools must make the right choices and decisions about technology integration. Very often they end up spending valuable resources for something obsolete or new but useless. That’s because the decisions are made without the teachers’ input.

    So good luck in your studies and job afterwards. Your blog is great. Keep it up!


    1. Hi Learning Buzz,
      Thanks so much for your comment.

      Yes I agree the catch angle is there but is often over done. New Zealand has a very devolved governance arrangement so each school is an entity and wouldn’t take nicely to dictates from government at that microlevel. As for facebook some individual schools have facebook pages that parents can like and use them as ways to communicate with parents. Being friended by a student is an issue for each school and sometimes each teacher to decide.

      Yes there is a need to be wary of how much information you reveal about yourself. Just because you are online doesn’t mean you need to be all out there.



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