Monday, April 20, 2015

Branding in Education

Post by Cristina Zimmerman: Cristina is in her 14th year of teaching Spanish, the last four years at Bettendorf High School. You can follow her on twitter at @CristinaZimmer4

I have read some blogs recently that that speak of the need for teachers to "brand" themselves for the purpose of standing out from other teachers. Several of the ideas mentioned in the articles are similar in thought. Both blogs went on to say that it is not sufficient enough to be great at what we do and fit in with the crowd, but rather to be remarkable and "market" ourselves to our students--and others--so that we stand out. 

I cannot say that I disagree with the statement that all teachers should want to be remarkable. We teachers know that we are not in education for the money, but rather for the desire to cultivate connections with students and to use our creativity to engage these students so that they leave our classrooms with a passion for our subject area. The writers of these blogs are correct when they say that we should connect and appeal to our students; by not doing so, we run the risk of losing our audience, missing valuable opportunities for fun and learning. Where I disagree with the authors is the need by teachers to "brand" themselves so that they stand out from others. 

What is troublesome for me is that in today's social media-filled society, the need by teachers to be "famous" in the education world (brand themselves to stick out from the hundreds of other teachers in their state or on Twitter) is pervasive. I can't say that I didn't fall into the trap when I signed on to Twitter. It "seems" cool to have a lot of followers (initially) and to make new connections with teachers across the country. Collaborating has been an invaluable experience, and one that I would not be doing if it were not for Twitter. I also enjoy sharing what I do with others (not for the recognition, but to help save time for other teachers who are doing the same thing). Who doesn't appreciate an already created unit in a super busy school-schedule? Not to mention the fact that if I spent a lot of hours making something, I want others to use it. This wealth of knowledge and culture of sharing is what turned me on to Twitter; some have called Twitter the best professional development available. I would tend to agree.

However, the longer I remain in the twitterworld, the more I also begin to realize how many teachers have many of the same great ideas and have been doing some really great things, for many years. Those of us that have been in education long enough know so much of what we do is cyclical, because a lot of what we do, works. However, to get more teachers to try it out, the higher powers that be give them new names. (Project based learning and differentiated instruction are some examples that come to mind.) Ever heard of Google Hour? Pretty sure that I had done that as a "research project" back in English class in 1992 but somebody clever gave it a new name, tweeted about how great it is in their class, and now #googlehour is suddenly a buzz word in the education circles.  What we are great at in teaching is repackaging ideas so that they seem new to those who have not seen them before. Thus the idea of branding something/someone that has been around for years seems a bit fraudulent.

I am perfectly content with the fact that I did not come up with--on my own-- all the ideas and activities that I do in my classroom. What is most important is how I am able to adapt what I find to be relevant and meaningful for the people that actually count in my world, the students. They don't care how many followers I have on Twitter, or if I was the first one to do Google Hour because my "brand" doesn't matter to them. They certainly don't care if I participate in #ALedchat, #IAedchat, #TLAP, or whatever other chats exist. They have heard of what Mrs. Zimmerman does in class from word of mouth, good and bad, and only what I do and say in class will change that, no matter the marketing I do about myself (or the cool things we are doing in class) on Twitter.

Which leads me to the question: Why should we, as teachers, brand ourselves? If you do believe in branding, do you do it because you want to be a great teacher, or do you do it because you want others to believe you are a great teacher? If you need to brand/market yourself so that others see you as remarkable, then are you really that remarkable? I would prefer my students' praise BE my marketing and their products my brand, rather than wasting my time creating a brand for Twitter followers (of well-meaning educators who have NEVER and probably will never see me teach). I might have the best links, write a great blog, share phenomenal lesson ideas, but great marketing/branding doesn't always translate into a great--or believeable--product. What goes on in my classroom is between my students and me and it's impossible to brand that

I think it's a gift that we are able to share the things we do in our classrooms so as to learn from each other, but to create a brand based on how you perceive yourself to be in order to stand out from others, in my opinion, is absurd. We all want to be remarkable. Sharing, collaborating, expressing our frustrations and celebrations, THESE are things that might make us remarkable. Branding yourself as a means of separation from those in our school or on the internet, in order to earn many followers in Twitter/blogosphere thus increasing the admiration of  teachers whom you may never meet, in my honest opinion, will not. 

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