I was preparing to do a keynote with a colleague of mine a few years back and we were talking about inspiration and sharing in EdTech. I won’t go into the details of the conversation, but this takeaway has always stuck with me. He believed that one of our biggest barriers to sharing and collaboration in education was teachers’ reluctance to self-promote. In short, teachers rarely share the great work they are doing even though they are the first to share when their students accomplish something great.
I reflected on this quite a bit during my conference tour this summer. I attended three different conferences across the US of varying sizes and subjects. At all three, the topic of self promotion in the form of Digital Branding came up as a central theme. Through my reflection, I think I can say with confidence that everyone in EdTech, from As to Ts to Ss (to use Twitter Ed speak), needs to embrace and understand digital branding.
As an EdTech administrator at a site level, coupled with my work with schools around the world, I have found the benefit of having a presence online to be invaluable. This blog post alone will go out on my website, through LinkedIn, and off to all of my twitter followers. It will do exactly what I want it to do: represent me as someone who talks about EdTech, has experiences and opinions of value in the field, and is someone looking to spark a conversation. As a leader, I spread my wings through social media by producing content, curating EdTech articles and links, consuming the great work out their by those I follow, and talking to folks from all over the globe. And when I went to these conferences, I furthered my connections with people I only met on Twitter and added a whole lot more with whom I have started new discussions. The connections made here have improved my administrative work in my school and in outside responsibilities and projects. It has become a central part of what I do by showing the world who I am and what I want to talk about.
Similarly, a number of the f2f conversations I had over the past weeks about branding was with teachers was around expanding their reach beyond their classrooms. I am pretty lucky in my professional and consulting lives to work teachers doing (or wanting to do) amazing things. The most impactful ones I have found encapsulate their great ideas and share them online. They know what they want to offer to their students and talk about it with others, both within and outside their building, through digital formats that allow for asynchronous yet instantaneous exchange. I met folks who had changed their whole teaching models because of the work they’d seen produced by others and now were highlighting their own practice through blogging, tweeting, or other social media. And again, they branded their work with their own signature thus personalizing the impact they hope to have. Most interestingly, nearly all of these teachers looking externally and self branding online do so not for own fame or financial benefit, but to improve the conditions in their classrooms. They speak out and share in order to improve within and learn. Different model than we’re used to, right?
Finally, the need for students to create a brand also bubbled up everywhere I went. The discussion was bourn from the idea that everyone has a digital footprint and that footprint will have an impact on how a person is seen. So, whether a student manages his/her footprint or not, it is still there and it will have an impact. This suggests that students need to take an active role in how they are portrayed online. They need to craft the message, choose the photos, and manage the discussions in which they are involved. They need to avoid defaming materials and work on promoting their strengths. But it is deeper than that. I equate it to student dress. Students express themselves by what they wear. They try to influence what other think about them and how they are perceived by their clothes and haircuts. And this self expression has deep root impact on students’ social and emotional development. The same holds true online. The choice of speech, avatars, content, comments, pictures, or whatever are their choice of dress and their online self-expression. For students to influence the narrative that is how people see them online they have to control their “brand.” They have to spend time planning and organizing what, how, and why they post online. It’s now a part of growing up.
The interesting part for me is that I am new to this practice myself and I wonder why. Though I have present at conferences for years and worked with colleagues from all around, I have never really branded myself. Over the past 8-9 months, I have worked to improve my LinkedIn profile, build a website, add accounts on about.me and the like, start a vlog (which needs more care and feeding at this point to be honest), and to embrace Twitter (which I have avoided for 5 years). My approach has been to be consistent in talking about #EdTech and #EdLeadership from my view as an international educator. I have shared my resources as I have come across them and curated them on my site. I have put my picture out there and my contact information where I go and strangely my Twitter handle is the only thing people really care about.
Through this conscious approach to my digital brand, I have:
- Extended my reach in the field
- Honed my message and in turn my work as an educator
- Assembled or authored resources of value to the EdTech field
- Opened doors to new opportunities for myself and my school
- Connected with brilliant people and learned from them
- Connected with brilliant people and helped them grow
- Raised the profile of my school, my organizations, and the people within them
- Become a better leader within my team
- Helped my students promote their work and manage their messages
- Learned A LOT
I recognize that this whole post sounds like self-aggrandizing and I will be honest that this a worry I have as an educator. We don’t do that. But my experience and my conversations have shown that Digital Branding is not shameless, egotistical, or arrogant. Digital branding is about altruism and reach. A person cannot engage in conversations that will impact students if s/he doesn’t open up their own vault and offer something to discussion. That’s what this is about. Build your tribe and learn together.