One of the first questions I ask dismayed teachers who are worried about their lack of job security is, “What’s your brand? If you suddenly no longer have a job, what will you do with that brand?” Instead of proudly answering these questions with all their accolades, most teachers are awkwardly silent. They have no idea how to answer questions that asked them to value what they do daily as an educator. Unfortunately, I used to be that teacher. What did I know about being a brand? In my mind, I was simply an employee of a school district who taught children. I was simply trying to educate under-served children and make it to the end of the year in the midst of budget cuts.
Last spring I received an email that made my entire career almost come to a screeching halt. Through no fault of my own, I was going to have to reapply for my position due the district’s reduction in force. I was shocked. I worked day and night to perfect my performance in the classroom all to have it possibly ended due to budget mishaps. I had devoted 10 years of my life to teaching despite having plenty of opportunities to leave for more lucrative careers. However, in a matter of minutes my future in the classroom was now uncertain and my faith in the district I worked for was gone.
Over the next couple of months, I pondered about the direction of my career. What would I do if I was not in a classroom the following semester? I would surely apply for other positions but with the economy still rebounding, I knew that the likelihood of me finding another position would be scarce. As I talked to my friends who had been in education, I realized that a lot of people I knew had already left the classroom. Some were great teachers who left for more pay in better positions, but a good portion of teachers left because they couldn’t handle the pressures associated with teaching and ‘high stakes’ testing.
The more I thought about me as an expert, the more I wanted to increase my brand as an educator. I kept seeing selected educators on the news, and I kept wondering what made them different from other classroom teachers who I knew were wonderful at their craft? I knew of teachers (who despite having students with extreme difficulties in their classes) worked relentlessly to get their kids to excel academically. I knew teachers who were excellent curriculum writers, yet their curriculum was not being used in classrooms across the country. Why weren’t these teachers on the news or working in the state department to ignite real educational reform? The answer was simple. Teachers have to build their brands so they aren’t dependent on a district to validate their professionalism.
According to Entrepreneur Magazine “your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your ‘competitors’. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.”
Brainstorm what you exactly do in the classroom. When I first started building my brand, I sat down and made an exhaustive list of everything I did in the classroom. Of course I delivered lessons and assessed students but I also did things that were not in my job description such as: training teachers, calming unruly students, holding conferences with stakeholders, etc. Write down everything you do in detail. This may take a couple of hours but once you’re complete you will surely see the importance of you as an educator and a brand.
Narrow that list and determine what’s your expertise. This may be a hard task depending on your content area, experience, etc. You can ask co-workers, look through your principal’s recommendations, your portfolios to determine your expertise. Our profession is clear on what our expertise is – we can simply look on our licenses but for teachers who train other teachers or who are administrators this task can be daunting.
What does your brand stand for? If you look at brands like Wal-Mart or Target it’s clear what their brands stand for. Take some time and really think about what your brand stands for. It’s important that despite your product or service, you have a clear mission statement for people to read. If you are writing a book about helping struggling readers then your brand is clear- you want to help struggling readers read well.
Strategize on how to let the masses know about your brand. This is an important piece. You can be the best Reading Instructor in the district but how will people know that? Instead of waiting on recognition from your district, start to publicize your expertise. In this era technology the Gatekeepers of Information are gone. Use free resources such as :YouTube, Twitter, Blogs, Magazines to let people know of your expertise. Once you get a following you may be able to present at conferences or do workshops for fellow educators.
Start to think like a expert. This is more of an attitude adjustment as teachers. For so long we’ve been taught to think only about teaching our students and nothing about making sure we’re fine as professionals. Start to look at yourself as an expert in your content area. Attend workshops both in (and out) of your district, attend conferences and continue to build your portfolio!
Thinking like an expert and building a brand is a new concept for educators. This whole month we will discuss different aspects on building your personal brands and bring you interviews from educators who took a ‘leap of faith’ and built great brands!