Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Teacher Brand: Breaking Down the Traditional Perception

(Photo by Richard Shaw)

How many time have you been in either a personal or professional situation in which someone asked you what you do for a living?  As educators, how many of us have become used to answering, "Oh, I'm just a teacher..."  For the last couple of years, this has been my default answer, as if being a teacher was somehow beneath whatever it was that everyone else in the room was doing on a daily basis.

I think, for me, I always felt like I wasn't really part of the adult professional world.  I interact with kids all day long, and very rarely do I get to play with the "big kids" at business or corporate events.  I also fell into the trap of having to justify what I do over the summer when everyone else is working, or explaining how my schedule was not really 8-3pm, although it does appear that way on paper.

The feelings teachers have about themselves became really clear to me during my first week of work with the Digital Harbor Foundation. The foundation took us all to our first ISTE in 2012, and they surprised us with MacBook Airs when we arrived in San Diego. The video below shows the surprise in action. 

If you pay close attention in the video, you will probably notice something striking about this event. Every single teacher in the room is excited, clapping and laughing.  But every single one of us are holding and staring at our new business cards.  Not a single person picks up their computer until they have unpacked these cards.  At the end, one fellow even states, "It's like I'm a real person." This small card did more to empower us than any piece of technology could have ever done.

To many of us educators, we rarely get the chance to feel like professionals.  Yet, the work we do, our experiences, and our opinions are vitally important.  This was brought to the front of my mind again this past weekend as I attended the Education Technology Innovation Summit in New York City.  I was one of (approximately) five teachers in attendance at this event. This seemed so strange to me because without teachers and students, educational technology can't really exist.

I found myself having to respond to the question, "So, what is your business?" or "What's your product?"  There was also a lot of explaining around the fact that I was not leaving the classroom to join a start-up or create an EdTech app.  Some people, at first, were not completely sure why I was even in attendance.

But at this event, I was not just a teacher.  I was my own brand.  Educator, Technology Leader, Mentor Teacher.  What I do each day in my school moves far beyond the scope of just teaching, and I was able to clearly articulate that to the people that are creating, developing, and selling products and ideas in the EdTech world.

I came away from this experience realizing that we as teachers hold so much influence and power. People want our perspective and our advice.  They need our experience.  This is not limited to EdTech businesses, but also the leverage we have to influence change within our own schools and districts. While we can wait around and hope whatever it is we want to fall into our laps, the alternative is to go out and make change happen.  We, as educators, have the power to make this happen.  If we are direct, dedicated, and brand ourselves in smart and powerful ways, people will be knocking down our doors for our expertise. It starts with the confidence to believe that what we do each day is important for everyone else to understand, and then we explain it to them.

So, I challenge teachers to dig deeper next time you are tempted to respond that you are just a teacher. Reevaluate how you present your professional self and people might start to reimagine what exactly the profession of teaching is all about.

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