Digital Tattoo

This weekend I participated in a Twitter chat #satchat with the theme of digital citizenship. One of my posts shared how I look at a digital footprint – I actually look at it as a digital tattoo. That post in three days became the largest re-tweet or liked tweet that I have ever had on Twitter.  Seeing the reach that thought had in its 280 characters, I wanted to expand on that thinking and make it the theme of my next blog post

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In my opinion, when the phrase “digital footprint” is used it is in reference to the trail left by the things you do online. For example:

  • our social media activity
  • information on your self-created website or blog
  • your browsing history (yes, your browsing history)
  • online subscriptions
  • online photo galleries and videos

The list could go on, but essentially, anything on the Internet with your name on it is your digital record. Unfortunately, individuals (and not just students) rarely think twice about putting their names on things online, so their footprints can be wide. As a principal who looked on-line to hire and now as a district leader supporting students online use I wanted to bring up a few things to think about. I will do it in Dr. Phil style – just saying it like it is.

  • Everything you do online is stored in a remote area that you may never have known about.
  • You can do many things to get these erased but they may never be totally erased.
  • If you visit a website, the website usually looks at what websites you were on before and after you looked at theirs.
  • Anything that you search on Google can be looked up.
  • If you want a job in the future but you have a negative digital footprint, even though you would have gone to college – its chances are you’re not getting the job.
  • Every computer has a number, so if you put something bad online they can track you down.

Every time you hit post on Twitter, update or add to Facebook, share a photo on Instagram, or even “liking” a page or a Facebook or any social media adds to your digital footprint. 

When you walk on a beach and leave a footprint, and the wave rushes over – it is kind of Hollywood to see the footprint go away.  

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With everything you have read so far, it is not easy washed away so that is why I say Digital Tattoo

As someone with multiple tattoos I know the thought that went into them, the planning, the time, and if I wanted to remove it – the effort, time, and money it would take. This is not an episode of “Scared Straight” because I encourage the use of online work, encourage online storytelling through blogging or web creation, and encourage students researching and branding great ideas.  This post is more about knowing that what you put online is not easily washed away. Another great chat was the Sunday #hacklearning chat about digital storytelling. I fully support and encourage that work.  Again, with the them of being thoughtful around what you post because there is NO GUARANTEE information/data has been shared online will ever be removed from the Internet.

I want to continue to promote the use of digital tools and media but also will continue using the term Digital Tattoo because it is more accurate. So, how can we encourage a positive online image. Herm Edwards former NFL coach, ESPN personality, and current ASU football coach had a great line to rookies “DON’T PRESS SEND”. 


I agree to a point. However, we do want to encourage digital tools and online platforms for student and educator learning.  So, I am going to take the liberty to change coach’s quote a little – “DON’T PRESS SEND until you reflect on your work”

Here are some reflection key questions to help:

  • What impression are you giving? If you didn’t know you, what would you think about this post? What impression would you have of the person who posted it?
  • Tattoo ‘ink’ is permanent. When you share something online, you turn over control of it. Even if you delete a photo or post you can’t guarantee that it hasn’t been copied or downloaded by someone else. Don’t forget how easy it is for other people to copy what you share online, change it and share it without you knowing.
  • Am I over sharing? The more you share, the more people learn about you. You can’t control how someone else uses the information
  • Would I want someone to share this fact/idea about me? It’s important to think about the impact what you post online might have on others.
  • Does it pass the newspaper test? Before you post something online, think: would you be happy to see it on the front page of local newspaper.

Another, and sometimes overlooked point when talking about digital citizenship is to site or give credit. Technology is all around us and in schools used for research, writing, and many other tasks.  If you do not educate yourself on the changes in the industry you will fall behind. This is important for educators that incorporate technology into their lessons or student projects. It has become very easy to post work, thoughts, ideas without acknowledging the original creator. If you post someone’s content and do not give them credit you are essentially stealing their work. Avoid this issue by giving credit to the creator or by only posting your own content. For example, I read a lot over the weekend to frame my thinking including ISTE blogs, eSchool News, Tech and Learning Leader Blog, K-12 Ed Leader, and a study by Career Ambassador: Juliana Conklin, Junior in Business Administration-Marketing at North Carolina State in 2017. Combining my thoughts and experiences with read content helped me frame my thinking for this post.

I have had the pleasure to work closely with Steve Ouellette @OuelletteSteve  Director of Technology, Learning, and Innovation for Westwood Public Schools. The Guiding Principles for Instructional Technology Westwood Public Schools use a great acronym CLEAR to support a safe and positive digital tattoo.  CLEAR: Considerate, Legal & Ethical, Appropriate and Responsible. Steve and his team do some amazing work in this area.  Click here to view the CLEAR document and click here to view the full Guiding Principles for Instructional Technology document.

In My district Milford, we modeled our policy after Westwood and use the acronym SMART.

  • S: Safe
  • M: Mindful
  • A: Appropriate
  • R: Responsible
  • T: Thumbs Up A thumbs-up gesture indicates you are being SMART with your digital tools and resources.

Click here to read the full document. 

Social media provides excellent opportunities for students (and teachers – hello Twitter Chat) to network with others from all over the world. If you get the chance to meet a professional in your desired career field, search for them on Twitter or LinkedIn and connect with them. It is empowering for students to post work, projects, or ideas on the web to use resources online for positive growth. Building a pool of contacts is a great way to get your name out there and promote your thinking or brand.

At the heart of this blog is not to push anyone away from online use, but to pause and think before you hit send/publish to creating and maintaining a positive online presence.

Today, nearly everyone seems to have some type of presence online. Schools should explore ways to help students intentionally build a positive digital identity. Student portfolios, blogs, and other online tools provide avenues to assess learning while simultaneously allowing students to develop a positive online presence. Students can use these tools to showcase their learning while also highlighting their strengths and personality. Having a positive identity that represents their authentic self will be valuable when the student applies to college or for a job.

Rather than just teaching children about internet safety and reducing their digital tattoo, we should also encourage them to design and Ink a positive digital tattoo which will be an asset for them in their future.

Here are a few images I have seen on #AussieED twitter chat and on Pinterest to support this work in schools.

*images not sited found on

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