After effectively launching The Educator’s Room, LLC and spearheading (and then helped write) our first book, “Keep the Fire Burning: Avoiding Teacher Burnout,” a lot of my educator friends always ask me the same question, “When am I going to leave the classroom?” While I am flattered by the off handed compliments, it got me thinking about how teachers can build their brands while still in the classroom. So many times teachers come to me desperately ready to leave the classroom and do something different in education but have no plan on how they will achieve it. Or I get teachers who have a lot of success outside the classroom but are unsure how to translate that to another career or position.
Instead of sitting at home attempting to update your resume for the umpteenth time, think about your plan for branding yourself. Long before doing any of the above mentioned accolades, I always operated on a 12-18 month rule.
Every 12 to 18 months on any job, I always reevaluate my plan needed to either transition to a new position or develop a new set of skills to make myself more marketable.
During times of great uncertainty, I’ve used my plan to change employers and/or positions. While in more stable times, I’ve used this time period to perfect what I do at my craft. My plan literally consists of milestones/goals that I need to accomplish with my ultimate goal being the last thing on my list. Having a plan is crucial so that if something happens (suddenly laid off, contract not renewed, etc.) you already have a plan on how to recover. There’s nothing worse then not having a job AND not having a plan on how to recover from your lost.
For example, this past week I got asked to be part of a program where teachers would essentially open their classrooms to teachers across the district to demonstrate effective teaching strategies. While I was hesitant to join (due to time restrictions, etc.) I eventually decided to apply for two reasons. First, it would allow me to put my plan in action of helping teachers across the city. Second, it would help me further “hone” my presenting skills while showing my expertise. When I made this decision there were a lot of my fellow teachers who told me not to do it. They said things like, “That’s too much work and you don’t even get a stipend!” Undeterred, I knew this was a great opportunity for building my brand and sometimes you have to make decisions that other people don’t understand.
So what does the 12-18 month rule mean for educators whose contracts aren’t guaranteed or reliable? Simply it means teachers should use their time to plan for the next milestone in your career. From the moment they leave teacher licensing programs to the time they set foot into a classroom, teachers are not taught to reinvest in themselves. Instead we’re taught to be of service to everyone but ourselves.
However with school funding continually being cut and teachers being looked to as the scapegoats in education, the days of teachers have secure jobs until they retired is now more and more scarce. Now the best way to use your time in the classroom (outside of educating children) is to invest in your teaching brand. Your plan should be strategic so that this reinvesting does not cost you any money but you still earn enough on your professional return of your investment.
Use these four tips to help you develop your plan:
1. Research the district and school level professional development available to you. In many districts across the country there are a plethora of professional development opportunities across the district that many teachers don’t take advantage of. Instead take the time to research those opportunities whether they come in the form of programs or if they come in workshops and then become engaged in them. Many times these types of PD are free to employees of the district!
2. Apply to national programs such as the Washington D.C. Teaching Fellows Program who are seeking teachers input to change policy and become advocates for education. There are slowly becoming opportunities for educators to leave the classroom (either permanently or temporarily) and affect change via policy. Take time to research these programs and apply so that you can use your expertise in a different way.
3. Continue to perfect your expertise by asking to lead school level professional development. This is an easy, cost effective way to practice leading professional development on a school level. Many times administrators are looking for willing staff to lead professional development, so don’t be shy and pick an area that you are the expert in and email you r proposal. Remember professional development does not have to be long. It could be the first 30 minutes of faculty meeting to a half day at in-service.
4. Use social media to promote your expertise. Every educator I come across who is doing something innovative in the classroom, I always ask them to make a short (3-4 minute) video demonstrating it. YouTube is a quick way to get your message out millions of viewers. In addition, I always encourage educators to either have a blog or contribute to one about their expertise. There are countless other ways for educators to promote their expertise through Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.
In the end, developing a plan will hold you accountable to yourself for building your teacher brand!