Education Framework Blog

Focused on the Future of Education in America

Secret to Student Privacy

In previous posts, I’ve shared tips to help you better understand the rules and laws governing student privacy. I’ve provided resources to guide and assist you in navigating the student privacy quagmire, and I’ve offered recommendations to help you proactively manage your student privacy obligations with transparency and accountability. Today I address the importance of educator buy-in; a key component to consider when creating, designing and implementing a successful student privacy program in your school or district.

Managing student privacy is no simple task. Implementing a successful student privacy initiative takes a lot of work. It involves considerable amounts of time, commitment, and resources - three things most schools and districts are already running short of. But despite any perceived limitations, it is vital that educators understand the importance of student privacy and make concerted efforts to ensure student information is safe, secure and protected.

Investing in protecting student privacy is a worthwhile endeavor.

It is important to give student privacy the attention that it rightfully deserves. This starts with fostering the belief that protecting student privacy is, indeed, a valid, pressing and necessary cause, worthy of our time and consideration. It involves cultivating a mindset where everyone understands that protecting student data is no single person or department’s responsibility – instead, it is everyone’s responsibility. It requires establishing clearly defined roles, and thoughtfully laid out plans that incorporate transparency and accountability measures into your everyday thinking. And it demands putting teachers on the front lines as the guardians of student information, while providing them with the support, training and tools they need to learn, grow and excel. Because without teacher understanding, support and essential buy-in, there is little likelihood of success.

Teacher empowerment is crucial to success.

Teachers play a critical role in implementing successful student privacy initiatives, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Teachers are the first touch point for parents and students. They are the ones with the greatest understanding of what’s really going on in the classroom; their fingers directly on the pulse of learning. They know which apps and websites are being used, who is using them, and how they are being used. They see first-hand who they help and who they hinder. And they understand, be it good, bad or ugly, the value that each piece of technology brings to the table. They are the ones with the knowledge. Yet, despite the value that teachers offer, they are often left out of the planning conversation. 

It's ironic that many decisions affecting technology usage in schools are often made outside of the classroom, at the administrative level, and absent of teacher input. But just as IT directors, school and district administrators, state and local policymakers, and even parents have a uniquely qualified perspective when it comes to protecting student privacy, teachers do too. Theirs, in particular, should be of legitimate concern, with administrators and policymakers giving weighty consideration to their point-of-view. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. This discouraging disconnect is a weakness that jeopardizes privacy efforts in schools and districts across the nation.

Protecting student privacy is everyone’s responsibility.

It is time that we start looking at the big picture when it comes data use in our schools. We can no longer presume that someone else is taking responsibility for protecting student data, because more often than not, they're not. The sooner we all acknowledge that, the better we will be.

It’s important that everybody with a stake in education – students, parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers, come together to ensure concrete efforts are in place to protect student privacy. This means properly vetting apps and websites before they are approved for usage in the classroom. It means thoroughly reading privacy policies, understanding what information is being collected from students, and knowing exactly how the data is being used. It also means staying current with local, state and federal laws and regulations, and establishing clearly defined objectives that outline what is acceptable in your state, school or district, and what is not. Communicating this information clearly is key to minimizing confusion.

It’s also important that schools and districts engage participants from the onset by providing clearly defined plans and procedures. This fosters unequivocal understanding of the vision from the start, and minimizes any confusion or misinterpretation throughout its application. Providing regular communication, like posting real-time updates via an easy-to-access school or district website engages parents, teachers and administrators in the privacy conversation and ensures privacy efforts are being addressed at each and every level. Through the creation of easy-to-read guidelines and clearly defined protocols, schools and districts empower their thought leaders to share in the privacy responsibility.

The importance of educator buy-in

A successful student data privacy initiative is built upon a foundation of trust and communication, with integrity, transparency and accountability at its core. It requires dedicated time, energy and resources to thrive and succeed. But in order to function properly, it also needs educator advocacy. 

Giving teachers a say in this matter goes a long way towards making inroads to change. It helps them be a part of the solution, instead of a source of the problem. But in order to do this effectively, teachers need the necessary tools to help them learn, improve and prosper; ones that allow them to make thoughtful, calculated decisions based on empirical data. It’s really that simple.

The secret to properly protecting student privacy is putting teachers in the driver’s seat. This ensures that privacy is being considered from the boardroom to the classroom, with the student at the center of the discussion. It's time for schools and districts to reevaluate the role that teachers play in safeguarding student data and empower them to be the gatekeepers.  The sooner this occurs, the better off we will be. 

Do you agree? I'd love to hear your thoughts! I encourage you to post your comments below.

Loading