Building Community Community digital storytelling Photography school culture

Help Your School And Class Become A Family In Less Than Five Seconds

Whether or not you are on social media, whether or not you have a cell phone camera, there are certain days where you better take a picture. Days like:

cade cowboy

A day at the amusement park




A birthday surprise


A breakfast with my son that I want to remember forever. (This is my desktop image)

Cell phones weren’t ubiquitous back in the day, and cameras could be quite expensive, but even back in the day our parents, relatives, and our friends’ parents knew when it was time to take a picture.


My pepere et memere (that’s me in the middle)

first day of school

First day of school (I’m second from the left)

p and me

Graduation day from UC Irvine (my brother Paul on the right)

You’ll notice one thing about every photo. Every photo captured a moment that was important to the picture taker.

How many of you have a husband that wants to take your picture even when you don’t want him to? How many of you get mad when your friend takes a picture “from your bad side?” How many kids would roll their eyes when your mom or dad would bust out the camera or video camera? But no matter how much you complained or rolled your eyes, you understood one simple fact.

Just taking your camera out tells everyone that you value this moment. That you want to share or remember this moment.

We share family photos constantly on Facebook, why don’t we share the photos of our classrooms and schools? Better yet, why aren’t WE taking the photos of our classroom and school? Here are the common excuses I hear:

I’m scared of breaking student privacy/protection rules

That didn’t stop you from taking photos of your kids and their friends growing up and sharing them… you just took precautions. You didn’t put your kids and their friends names under the photos, or you didn’t share your home address or their ages, or when you were leaving them alone with a baby sitter. You took normal adult precautions. It’s not that hard to do for your school, just follow some of the rules and advice for taking student photos in this blog post.

I don’t have a smartphone or a good camera.

Please… my wife didn’t have a smartphone for YEARS and she still knew how important it was to take pictures of ALL of her kindergarten kids to create memory books to give to their parents. Those parents loved those memory books. How much would you give to be able to see pictures of certain moments from the classrooms and school events of your childhood? Either pony up for a smartphone or get a good quality small digital camera like this one. I carried my compact Canon Powershot camera with me everywhere because it was so small I never noticed it in my pocket. Remember, the best camera, is the one you have with you.

I want to honor/not ruin the moment. 

I get it. Sean Ziebarth and I had the good fortune to meet one of our favorite thinkers, writers, creators for breakfast in San Francisco: Daniel Coffeen. Both of us felt that is was a dream come true moment and I didn’t want to break the spell by doing something crass like taking his picture. But the lighting was too perfect, (and so was the poster behind him) so I asked his permission and then I just took about three fast pictures and then put my cell phone away.


(Thanks Daniel, I hope you find the picture as delightful as I do)

But that picture will remind Sean and I of the things we talked about, and how we felt that morning. Just showing you the picture puts you there with us, and might help us tell the story of that moment.

Of course you don’t want to take photos during a funeral, during a teacher evaluation, when a student is reading a beautiful poem about loss, I’m not asking you to always take photos, just ask yourself: “Is this a special moment?” “Do I want students to see that I think this moment is special enough to take a photo of the moment?”


While fellow teacher, Todd Yarnton, was capturing the stage events during our school’s unique Sunday afternoon baccalaureate. I was so impressed at seeing so many of my kind, fellow, teachers there on a Sunday. There because they are rad that way. 

I don’t have time to take photos, I’m not there in the classroom to capture those moments. 

I’ll let you just think about that excuse for a while without any comment from me.

Feel free to ask Joe Sanfelippo and Tim Lauer about that excuse. (PS I had the good fortune of seeing Mr. Sanfelippo present at the FallCUE conference in Napa, CA and every district in America should pay to have Joe speak to your district and site admin. I’m serious. (I’d say the same about Tim, but if you are reading my blog, you already know how I feel about Tim)

PS every student on campus has seen you texting on your iPhone. They see you calling supervision when someone is misbehaving. How powerful is it to capture your students and teachers doing something great. Every parent knows you want to catch and celebrate kids doing the right thing. Why not do that with the cell phone camera you have in your pocket? Kids want attention, they crave attention, show them some positive attention with your cell phone camera.

PPS Teachers don’t mind you celebrating their awesomeness too.

I’m not good at taking photos. 

  1. That never stopped any parent from taking a photo of their kid’s birthday party.
  2. There are some simple steps to take to improve your photography skills.
  3. Just because you take it doesn’t mean you have to share it.

I take TONS of pics that I never share. Photographers take TONS of pics that they never share. In fact there are some moments that happen at school where I take the picture, I want to share the picture, but the picture didn’t turn out or the student/teacher doesn’t look good, or the picture doesn’t tell the story I want to tell, so I just never share any of the pictures from that moment. But taking the photos was a valuable activity and not just for the gained experience. Remember the photos of your family? The most important act in taking a photo is TAKING THE PHOTO.

Taking your camera out tells everyone that you value this moment. That you want to share or remember this moment.

But Theriault, I already have professional photographers and student photographers, and other teachers taking pictures of the event. Yes you do. So now your teachers and students know that the school values the event, that those photographers value the event, but…

Do they know YOU value the event?





PS That final image was one of the images that didn’t show during my FallCUE closing keynote, so I left it out of my keynote, but this topic was important enough to be in my keynote, so I wanted to share these ideas with all of you. Good luck in telling the story of your classroom and school.

PPS So I usually don’t post event or class photos as the event is happening. I go home and later in the evening, when the lights are low, I pull out my cell phone and review the pictures of the day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the day: what worked, what could have worked better. If all you do is take pictures and then reflect on those pictures at the end of the day then I’d be pretty happy with your process. If during that process you feel comfortable enough to share a few of those pics then. #coolbeans

Other Resources:

Check out California Principal @mrsfadeji Twitter photo stream for some awesome sharing

Check out California Assistant Principal @ecsaibel Twitter photo stream for some more awesome sharing

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