Digital footprints: "I wouldn't want someone from school to see my posts"

By John Parkin. Posted

Everyone who’s online has a data trail known as a digital footprint

John Parkin shares guidelines for curating a professional online presence

When was the last time you searched for your own name online? This is a question I asked the trainee primary school teachers I lecture, at the start of the last academic year. Over half had not searched for their name within a year, and one in seven had never done so.

Without an up-to-date picture of their online presence — known as their digital footprint — these students didn’t know what image of themselves they were showing to the world. Nearly everyone has a trail of data online which reveals information about them, including photographs and comments made on social networking sites. 

While maintaining a professional digital footprint is important for everyone — there are numerous stories of people losing their jobs, or missing out on new roles, as a result of ill-considered posts or images — it’s even more important for teachers and school staff. Colleagues, students, and the parents of students may well all search for teachers’ names online. 

To help our trainee teachers, I researched and developed a workshop about how to create digital footprints that reflect them in a professional light — something that can often be a challenge when there is a blurring between the professional and personal online. Here are the key takeaways from the workshop.

Search for your name

You probably haven’t looked for yourself for years, but it is useful to do this regularly, so that you can see what information is available about you when people search for you online. You can then take steps to remove any details you don’t want to be shared.

Privacy settings

It’s worth spending time looking at the privacy settings you have on accounts such as Twitter and Facebook. Privacy settings can often be bewildering, but the South West Grid for Learning has produced some excellent guides to social media privacy settings. You might want to make your posts private, so that only friends and family can see your photos, videos, and comments.

Have conversations before problems arise

It can be worthwhile having conversations with friends and family about not posting anything which could be embarrassing. It is worth having this conversation before anything goes wrong!

Know where to get help 

Social media websites should be able to help if you find content posted that is not appropriate. They will signpost how to make reports, and the Professionals Online Safety Helpline can help teachers and school staff manage a number of problems, including risks to professional reputations. 

Digital resources can help you keep a professional online profile

Change your name 

When you set up social media accounts, you may not want to use your actual name, instead choosing a nickname or just a few letters from your name. This will help to stop parents and pupils searching for you online and asking to be your friend! It is still worthwhile following the other guidelines for keeping a professional online profile, even if you choose to change your name.

Read children’s books 

A number of brilliant picture books have been written to help children learn about digital footprints, but they can also be used as starting points for discussing the issue with adults. Goldilocks: A Hashtag Cautionary Tale by Jeanne Willis is an excellent book, in which Goldilocks takes photos of her inappropriate behaviour which she shares on social media.

The benefits of being online 

It is important to remember that it is not all doom and gloom! You can manage a digital footprint so that it presents a positive and professional image and showcases your skills and talents. You can use social media sites to set up a professional learning network (PLN), which can be an excellent way to connect with teachers around the country, and even the world, to find out what other educators are doing in the classroom. I have picked up many useful tips and ideas for classroom teaching from both Twitter and Instagram. If you want to develop a PLN, you might want to set up a specific professional account so that there is no blurring of lines between your personal and professional identities.

What did the students say?

The students who took part in the digital footprint workshop reported that they found it very useful. One student said: “When I looked at my accounts, and I could see everything on mine, I wouldn’t want someone from the school I volunteer at to then do that and see all my posts. So I’ve made my Facebook more private, and now they can’t actually see much.”

I hope you enjoy using these tips, and that they help you to ensure you leave a digital footprint you can be proud of.


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