Note: This post was inspired by an online lecture I gave to primary and secondary university teacher candidates on 4.21.2020. A link to the online slideshow of the lecture can be found here.
Today as an educator there are more resources for professional learning and networks of experienced educators around the world to share and consume information from than ever before. Days are gone when you have only your close colleagues in your grade level and department at your school site as well as your school site and district administrators for professional development. Gone are the days of having a choice of not to rely on professional learning networks. Today, it’s simply not a choice to not continue to develop as an educator regardless of where you may be in your career. It’s our choice to use the plethora of resources and educators throughout our local community and the world to create the best outcomes for our students by continuing to develop as an educator as well as sharing our knowledge and experiences to others.
Teachers and administrators in today’s educational landscape do not have a choice but to grow professionally and utilize social networks and the internet. This is because education is changing and evolving faster than we have ever seen it before; especially during a pandemic, like we are experiencing now throughout the world with COVID-19. As a result, teachers and administrators throughout the world have had to completely change their instructional models to facilitate learning through PK-12 and college in a matter of weeks. As a result, we have seen major disparities in knowhow for online learning and using technology by educators regardless of whether they are teaching in primary, secondary, or in college. This can change if all educators use the resources at their disposal and take the time to build capacity in their craft.
Ultimately, we always want to utilize our school site and district but we also want to augment their professional learning and your network of teachers with social networks and internet resources that span globally throughout the world. To be a teacher or administrator who utilizes these extensive networks and resources to their fullest potential, we must have an “innovators mindset” as described by George Couros to systematically take the information we learn and create new better ideas. To break this down, we must have the mindset and “belief that the abilities, intelligence’s, and talents are developed so that they can lead to the creation of new and better ideas” (Couros, 2015, p. 33). Thus, as we go through the topics of building your own brand, using social media and the internet for professional learning, and digital portfolios to develop an online presence to share and reflect your knowledge to others, keep the innovator’s mindset in the midst of your thoughts. It can transform the way you take in information to use your own unique and creative ways to transform our classroom and world for our students and profession.
Building Your Own Brand
Building your brand is important as an educator because it represents who you are as a person and educator and what you can share with the world. As humans, we want to be known for who we are because we are looking for purpose and impact in some way or form. Think about it, you want to share who you are and what you can share to the world outside of the school and district you work at because learning is not constrained on where you work and live anymore.
Here are some questions to think about building your own brand as an educator should include:
- What values do you have?
- How can you invoke your value in what you do in person as well as online?
- What impactful insights and skills you use with your students and school that you can also share to the global community of educators?
Creating your own personal brand allows you to show who you are as an educator and share your unique talents, experiences, and creativity to your colleagues within your school, district, and the global education community. By building your brand and sharing it, it will lead and motivate you to continue to improve by reflecting your craft and synthesizing what you learn from other educators throughout your school and district and throughout the world.
Using Social Media to Build Your Social Network and Brand
Social networks have transformed learning for teachers and administrators. Twitter, specifically, has allowed educators regardless of their expertise and experience, to connect with each other throughout the world. Prominent educators, as well as, beginners share their knowledge and experiences to others in the field. Generally, educators in the field share research articles, infographics, articles, and anecdotal experiences with their students and colleagues as ways to share their knowledge, experiences, and innovations to others.
To organize topics, #hastags are used to categorize topics and ideas shared to the public. The power of #hashtags has allowed for topics to be organized within categories that can be searched by individual users who are curious about what is being discussed under a certain #hashtage. Thus, to start, if a teacher wants to learn more about Special Education, they can search #SPED, #Specialeducation, #autism, #differentiatedinstruction, etc., as a means to see what others in the field are sharing about Special Education.
Additionally, Twitter chats have evolved out of the use of #hashtags, which are time specified conversations or on-going conversations about a specific topic. Organizations, as well as, networks of individuals use Twitter chats as ways to share information regarding a specific to individuals within the network in addition to others who wish to explore the conversation. For example, #edtechchat is a popular education technology Twitterchat, which explores new edtech being used in face to face and online classrooms.
To build your own brand on a social network, make sure to follow prominent educators in the field you already know. These prominent figures can be individuals in your district, school, nation, and world. You can narrow the niche of education you want to really focus on. For example, say you are passionate about edtech and Special Education. You can follow prominent researchers, teachers, and administrators in the field of educational technology and Special Education. Sometimes, they may even follow you! Also, when you follow a prominent person on Twitter in your specific niche area, look and see the educators who are following them. Individuals even without a large following and provide very insightful content you can utilize in your classroom and school. Look at their biographies on Twitter, personal website/blogs if available, and scroll through their Twitter feed to see if their content aligns with what you want to learn.
Lastly, to further build your own brand, post great and useful content to your followers. This could include daily experiences about your students and school site, blog posts, pertinent research, infographics, and thoughts about a specific topic people may be interested in reading about. Over time, you may become known for producing content or talking about a topic like #edtech, #sped, #duallanguage, #sel, etc.
Resumes are extremely important to get a job, but we need to go beyond just having a resume to apply for a job. In 2020, resumes should go beyond a digital document that covers your work experience and education that you submit for a job. Now, we have the ability to share the content and projects we’ve worked hard for over the course of our education and careers to be showcased to future employers and employers all of the time in an ever-growing portfolio. A digital portfolio like a professional website, social media, blog, and YouTube Channel are platforms where this can take place. Platforms such as WordPress, Weebly, and Google Sites can integrate all of your platforms (social media, website, YouTube page, etc.) onto one platform are prominent website creators that can be used to develop and house your digital portfolio.
Why do we want to share content and our accomplishments with the world? More than likely, you have built and created something that is valuable because we are all unique and talents the world can use. We can share this valuable content to our colleagues, future employers, and the greater educational community, which will show them who you are.
Digital portfolios should include four several important areas. First, they need to provide information about who you are that embeds your current resume into the narrative page you are writing about. This includes your work experience, education, projects/publications, and hobbies. Second, if you have any specific projects or publications you want to share, create a page summarizing them or providing links to where they can be accessed. Third, digital portfolios can integrate your social media and be used as a home base where hyperlinks can be provided directly to their public feed for the public to view. Fourth, digital portfolios can be used as a platform to create content and share content in your social network. Some of the most popular ways to create content are through writing blogs and producing videos on YouTube.
If you do not already have a digital portfolio, look to see what digital portfolios are out there before building your digital portfolio. Emulate digital portfolios of others is a great way to start. Over time, yours will diverge and become unique as you build more content that relates to who you are and your specific talents as an educator. Take a look at some prominent digital portfolios of educators and professionals from all various fields of work in education and beyond:
- Want More Examples?: 47 Examples of Digital Portfolio Websites of Professionals in a Multitude of Professions.
Conclusion – The Networked Educator
George Couros has an amazing graphic illustrating what the networked teacher should be doing to continue improving their craft and building their own brand. Besides just teachers, this graphic can include administrators and all educators regardless of whether they are in K-12 or at the university level. Thus, every educator, regardless of position and level, needs to always continue learning, networking, and sharing their experiences and content with others in the global education community.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to continue to learn, network, and share your brand with your local and online community regardless of your position in the world of education. In today’s world, there’s so much information available that it is a choice to not seek it out. Gone are many of the barriers to accessing critical information and experiences to help you grow. Moving forward, think about having an innovator’s mindset like discussed earlier because it will have the most impact on your students as well as your local and global education community. With this mindset, we want to systematically take new information we learn and create new and better ideas for your students as well as to share the world. Ultimately, you can add so much to your students and the rest of the world because we all have unique talents, experiences, and creativity. Have an innovator’s mindset, and continue to learn and build relationships. Your knowledge and network is your net worth.