Whenever I think of how I first began building my PLN online, I’m reminded of a few posts by a fellow WV educator of mine, Derek Oldfield. He began building his own teaching brand because he wanted to be more than just data collected by evaluations. Let’s face it: We don’t always rock evaluations. Sometimes, things just don’t fall into place. Sometimes, evaluations can be unfair. And sometimes, we just plain mess up. We’re only human, right? Failure is a part of learning from mistakes and making changes to prevent that failure from occurring in the future.
However, with educators only being observed a few times a year, depending on state and district requirements, one bad evaluation can stick out like a sore thumb. We’ll dwell on that one evaluation. We’ll wonder how it will look to others, and we’ll wonder what it will say to future employers, so that case arise.
Just like students, we’re more than a data point.
The question is this: How do we move beyond evaluations?
Answer: Build. Your. Teacher. Brand.
The internet is a place where things tend to live forever, even if they seem like they’re gone. Everyone’s heard the tales of Facebook drama from friends, family, or strangers. Everyone’s heard the tales of tweets that were made by celebrities and politicians without thinking. There are websites dedicated to collecting these bits of information and putting them out there for the world to see. The same, however, can be said for the positive.
As educators, we get the feeling we aren’t supposed to brag about our work. We’re to be humble about what we’ve accomplished so that we’re not “that teacher”. It’s a stigma we’ve created for ourselves that does more harm than good. We don’t want others to shun us if we’re talking and sharing the things that went well in our classrooms for fear the other person will be jealous or annoyed. Sometimes, we’re hesitant to share our lesson ideas with others for the same reasons. This can lead to isolation within our schools and grade level teams. The flow of information and ideas simply aren’t there. We should be collaborating, but instead we lock our ideas inside our heads. Again, we don’t want to be “that teacher”.
This is where the internet comes into play. With the internet, there are many tools that an educator can utilize to build their brand and get their work out there. There are also tools that allow educators to connect and communicate with other educators around the world, no matter the subject. When educators find other like-minded educators, they are more willing to open up within their own schools and districts, bringing the flow of information and ideas to their colleagues without fear.
Without further ado, here are 5 ways to build your brand:
1. Create a professional handle: In our personal lives, we often find ourselves using a similar username online for our activities. When it comes to gaming, social media, and the like, our username, or handle, will follow us. It’s how our online companions know us, and it’s how they may recognize us from another website. In the same sense, educators should do the same thing. A professional handle should be easy to remember, and unique enough that users on other websites have a low chance of having already taken that name. In some cases, it might even focus on an educator’s particular area of interest, but not always.
For example, when I’m joining social media type websites, I always use my tisinaction handle. TIS is short for technology integration specialist, and the “in action” part is pretty obvious. Even though my particular job title has the potential to change, it’s not a handle I will change, simply because it’s how I’m known to others online, and have been for the past 2 years. I want to be recognized immediately by my username, and constantly changing my handle may make it harder for others to recognize or find me.
2. Create a blog: Weblogs, or blogs, have been around for quite some time. They serve many purposes from documenting daily life to focusing on a hobby or sport. Plenty of educator blogs abound online and with a variety of subjects and material as well. With a blog, an educator can talk about their day to day teaching life, reflect on lesson plans, share lesson plans and ideas, discuss new resources and how to use them in the classroom, focus on issues affecting the education world, and more. Many edubloggers have a variety of these topic types within their blog.
If you’re looking for a blogging platform, there are a variety out there to choose from, and all have their own pros and cons. It is best for the potential edublogger to explore what each type has to offer, and its ease of use based on the edublogger themselves. Tumblr is my go to, and I have a few teacher friends who are also users of this platform. However, it’s not for everyone. Blogger, Weebly, and WordPress are other options to explore.
On the topic of blogs, you’ll probably want to come up with a title that gives a hint as to what you’ll be blogging about. Sure, you could simply title it “John Smith’s Blog”. Or you could come up with a catchy title that zeros in on your subject area. My blog is titled Ready, Set, Go Tech!, not only to hint of posting about technology, but also to fit in with the tisinaction handle I use.
3. Connect on Twitter: Social media is a great way to connect, and the educator side of Twitter is no exception. With the ability to create tweet in 140 characters or less in the blink of an eye, and the ease of finding similar tweets with common hashtags. Twitter is a fast-paced world, and it can be scary for educators who have never experienced it. However, there are a few ways to get started without sinking before you have the chance to swim.
First, search online for some of your favorite educational authors or creators. Have a favorite math author? A favorite professional development presenter? Chances are, they have a Twitter account that you can follow. Start off with just a few people at first while you get used to the platform. You can always add more later, and you definitely will. Once you’ve followed a few people, it’s time to find some hashtags that interest you. Hashtags are one or many words strung together that point to a topic. A quick Google search can help you find hashtags in your favorite areas. As a technology person, for example, I always like to keep an eye on #edtech for educational technology happenings. I’m also intrigued by Minecraft in the education world, and was very excited to stumble upon the #minecraftED tag.
Now that you’ve got some people to follow and you’ve found some hashtags, it’s time to begin tweeting yourself. Just like with a blog, reflect on what you’ve done, share your education passions, or share articles you’ve found to be beneficial. A word of caution though: keep it professional. Don’t mix your personal with your professional. Here and there is okay, but if you share too much personal, it may well overshadow your professional posts.
Once you’ve become accustomed to Twitter, adventure into the word of edchats. Edchats exist for states, parts of a state, or a particular area of education. This list from Cybraryman is very helpful in learning about the different chats, as well as the days and times they take place.
Oh, and if you find you have too many educators or hashtags to keep up with, then you’ll want to check out Tweetdeck. This fabulous tool connects to your Twitter account. Create columns to showcase lists you put together or even hashtags you follow. When it comes to hashtags, it even lets you customize what you see. For example, whenever I add a hashtag, I always ask for Tweetdeck to only show the posts written in English since I don’t know any other languages.
4. Connect via Other Social Media Tools: Twitter, though popular, isn’t the only social media tool out there. There’s Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, just to name a few. Educators can utilize these pages just as they did with Twitter. Create a page on Facebook to share your work. Post your blog on LinkedIn. The best way to do so is in tandem. For example, if you write a blog post, share about it on Twitter, Facebook, and any other social media you use.
Just like with Twitter and your blog, work to be professional on any social media site you use. Chances are, you’ve made yourself publicly searchable, which means your administrators and future employers can also find your work. Make sure that what you say about students isn’t easily identifiable, especially if you’re talking about an amazing lesson you’ve taught on your personal Facebook page.
Do you have to use all of these tools? No, you don’t, and if you’re just starting to build your brand, it would be too overwhelming to try using everything at once. Pick a social media tool and start with it. Learn how to use it in the capacity of an educator. If you’re not sure how, do a search for ways to do so.
5. Go to Conferences: Conferences are wonderful places to connect with other educators and learn new information within your field. It’s one of the best ways to keep up to date on the changes and happenings in your area as well. Conferences are active, busy places. There’s always something to learn, and there are many vendors to discuss with as well. Attend sessions and take notes on what you learn. Write about it in your blog even, or share it on Twitter!
Remember what I discussed earlier about sharing knowledge? A conference is a great way to share what you know with other educators. Yes, it can be scary to be up in front of a group of people, but they are there to see YOU. They read about your session in the conference guide, and are ready to learn new things. It’s time for you to showcase yourself!
When you meet new educators at a conference, talk with them about their own work. If they have their own brand, get their contact information. You never know what you’ll find. In the same view, try to meet up with other educators you’ve only talked to online. Before the conference, post about going and see if anyone wants to host a meetup. These can be information gatherings where you share a meal and enjoy sharing your own expertise.
One of my favorite conferences to attend is the West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference. My first year was busy, as I had to attend as part of my technology integration specialist training. I also wasn’t actively building my brand, so I felt alone in a large sea of people. My second year, however, I chose to be a presenter, and the two proposals I submitted were accepted. At this time I was also starting to build my own brand, and showcased this in my presentations. I also went to a Twitter meetup of educators in my state. If we could, we often went to each other’s sessions as support. This year will be my third year, and I’m just as excited. I decided to present again, and I’m actively working with a group to hold another Twitter meetup.
Of course, these five ways to build your brand are not the only options out there. Not every educator will utilize all of them, especially when they are first getting started with building their brand. Keep in mind that even the best known educators online had trouble getting started. Choose the tools that work for you and go from there. By doing so, you’ll be more than just that data point, more than just that evaluation, more than just that good-idea-horrible-execution lesson plan. You’ll be an educator with talents and expertise that will make you both known and looked to for information and inspiration.
Oh and my buddy Derek? Well if you’re interested in a math teacher who attempts new ways to utilize technology, works to grow his own brand, and “teaches like a pirate”, go look him up on Twitter: @Mr_Oldfield.