Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Creating a Culture of Consent

Our school has 1-to-1 iPads from Kindergarten to fourth grade, and we are very serious about how they are used. In class, they should support the curriculum with purpose and in ways that augment the student experience and gives teachers new insight into the thinking and creativity of their students. In all situations, they are to be used respectfully. Building a culture of respect for each other with digital tools is foundational to building a culture of consent.

At the beginning of each year, before the iPads are rolled out, I meet with every class with our focus being the “most powerful app on the iPad”: the camera. From the earliest days with iPads in our school, the fall of 2011, as soon as the iPads were handed out there would be an incident in which a child came running to the teacher to complain that another student had taken his/her photo and was now drawing a mustache on it. It quickly became apparent that we needed to get ahead of this behavior and the atmosphere of bullying it could engender. 

Every year our classes sit with me to create a Class Agreement about photos. The discussion begins with the scenario, “A friend asks you if he can take your photo. What do you want to know about that?” The answers are usually “How do I look?” and “What will you do with it?” This response indicates a fundamental concern we all have with controlling our own image. We want to know how we look, and where our photos are being posted. Most of all, we want the right to say no, or to refuse to have our photo shared or used by others. At the root of all of this, we want to be assured that a true process of consent will be followed.

To create the agreement, I bring volunteers up to act out the scenes. I let the students tell me what each step should be. While the older students have done this for many years, the answers the Kindergarteners give are remarkably similar. It speaks to the universal desire for this deep concern with respectfully controlling our images.

These are the steps we go through:
  • If you want to take someone’s photo, ask permission and tell them why you want it.
    • If they say “no”, then move on. No always means No.
      • If you ask all your friends and they all say no, then take a selfie!
    • If they say “yes”, then take the photo, but show it to them first.
      • If they don’t like it, then DELETE it and take another one. Do this until your friend likes the photo.
    • Remind them how you will use the photo.
      • If they’ve changed their mind, then No means No and you delete the photo
      • If they’re happy to let you use it, you must show them the project first.
        • If they don’t like what you did to their image, you must delete it.
        • If they approve, then everyone is happy!


There is always a sigh of relief when this agreement is completed. Students look around the room and make sure everyone who needed to hear this message really heard it. As teachers, we are able to establish this simple, but significant expectation to be respectful and to understand that consent means respecting the wishes of others whether that makes you happy or not. 


We have been practicing this form of consent at our lower school for four of the five years we have had iPads on campus. Once these agreements began there have been no missteps with the cameras, and students feel confident about standing up for their right to control their own image. We find that we can extend this message on the playground - “Did he say he wanted to play or are you chasing him without his consent? Unless he said “yes” when you asked, you have no right to chase him.” We also incorporate this message when we begin to work with children about citing sources for research materials and images. Creating a culture of consent beginning with the right to control your own image will, we hope, have positive ramifications throughout our students’ lives. 

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