The 9 Lives of a Photo (Pictures are Data)

With the availability of mobile devices in the classroom, photos are increasingly being used by educator teams to document learning. The blessing and the curse quickly becomes apparent as hundreds of pictures accumulate and clog albums and directories. The “perfect picture” just does not look meaningful a week or two later when the activity and student interaction are a fading memory. The longer you wait to review and annotate the photos, the less likely you will use them as part of your professional dialogue and assessment process.

Here are 9 ways one photo can enhance your professional practice.


When the picture is…

…sent home, it is parent communication

…reviewed by the teacher, it is assessment

…catalogued according to who is demonstrating learning, it is tracking and monitoring

…collected and considered over time, it is documentation of learning and growth

…posted on the bulletin board outside the classroom, it is making learning and milestones visible to the other students and teachers in the school

…posted in the classroom, it is making learning and milestones visible to the other students in the class

…shared with the student, it is student reflection

…shared on Pinterest, twitter or through email with colleagues, it is shared practice

…shared with the administrator, it is documentation of practice


An important motto that applies in many areas of life is:

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

This is an important mindset to have when using photographs to document learning.  Following are three considerations for every image you capture and plan to use:

  • Privacy
    Has the family agreed to have school photos shared? Have you asked the family if they would like to receive photos of their child in the class? Do you really need to show the child’s face in the photo or can you just show the work that is being done, perhaps with a hand or finger pointing to something of significance?  The PIM Toolkit (Privacy and Information Management Toolkit) has further direction: Full names of students and other personal information and/or photographs do not appear on work displayed in the school, on websites and/or in newsletters.” For more privacy details, you can check the toolkit out here: https://www.pimedu.org/files/toolkit/PIMtoolkit.pdf  Steps to maintaining privacy can come before other considerations and intentions.
  • Purposeful:
    Is it a “cute” picture or are you capturing a meaningful product, process or interaction? “Cute” makes a great family photo but in the classroom the focus is on purposeful documentation (and is within the privacy considerations discussed previously). Parents see their children every day, but they don’t get to see them engaged in the classroom.  This is your chance to invite them in to your classroom space.
  • Positive:
    With the privacy considerations addressed and the purpose of the photo determined, how would the child feel about their work being displayed or shared in some form? Even if a child cannot be identified in a photo, sharing or displaying a photo that a child feels anxious about undermines your classroom culture and relationship. Find another way to display this kind of learning (perhaps create a sample or mock version as an illustration).
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