Monday, January 20, 2014

Branding in Education

Branding. It's a thing. A thing companies talk about. For profit companies. It's all about being known for something positive. But it involves actively going out and building your brand. Pimping your product. And your name.

Unfortunately (in my opinion), educators are starting to worry about their brands. They are starting to make conscious choices about how they sell themselves on social media to people - and companies.

That distresses me.

Branding has no place in my classroom or in my life. And I don't think it should have a place in yours.

Is there place for branding in education? I think that there is. But that sure as heck doesn't reside in a classroom. But a school? Take a look at what Jason Markey is doing outside Chicago with the @LeydenPride Twitter account and hashtag. The two Leyden high schools are playing an active part in shaping the message that the public gets about their schools.

Take a look at Tim Lauer's Instagram feed: he regularly shows off the beautiful moments that go on at Lewis Elementary School on Portland.

Tim and Jason are playing an active role in the conversation about their respective schools. Any principal that isn't working to actively trying to have a hand in the message about and opinion of their school is missing a part of their job, I believe. And given the amount of teens and parents on social media, why wouldn't a school try to infiltrate that space and try to control part of the message that is going out about them. Seems logical.

But the branding of teachers? Creating a brand for all our students? Get out of here. I want no part of that. It disgusts me.

Let's start with students. I am all in favor of students actively working to create a positive digital footprint. Yeah, get a Twitter account. Tweet relevant things to your life. Don't cuss like a sailor. Don't tweet dumb pictures of yourself or others. Talk to your friends. I get it.

But what is a student brand? Who are they trying to sell themselves to? To what end are they marketing themselves? WHY are they marketing themselves? Colleges or employers aren't going to judge them based on their Twitter followers. Or how many hits their blog has gotten.

Why do teens need to build this brand? Go out. Be a good digital citizen. Populate a Google search in your name with good content that you control. That's a positive digital footprint. Or digital tattoo. (Or, according to some, digital tramp stamp.)

But don't sell yourself. Don't market yourself. There just is no need. And what message is that sending these students when we tell them to go out and brand themselves? Enough people are self-centered in this world. We have no need to go around consciously creating more.

Now on to the bigger problem: teachers deciding to brand themselves.

We all know what it looks like:
  • "Let me tweet my blog post 18,000 times. To 75 different hashtags. Including to conferences and events that I'm not even at. I WANT BLOG HITS!!!"
  • "Let me tweet my website. Even though there is nothing new up on it. I'll throw in a few hashtags too for good measure."
  • "I'm going to choose one trick. I'll tweet about that thing over and over again."
  • "I'm going to be loud. Always right. I'll act like I know what I'm talking about. I won't consider other opinions. Ever. I'm right, dangit!"
  • "I'm going to tweet promotional materials about myself. Over and over again. Who could ever get tired of me?"
  • "I'm going to tweet pithy sayings repeatedly. I'll drop them in education-related chats. They'll be somewhat relevant to what people are talking about. Even if I say the same things over and over again, people will always agree with me and retweet these sayings. I'm building my brand."

I've had discussions with people on Twitter about these actions. About branding. People who I respect. People who think teachers - and students - should be branding themselves. Sorry. I disagree. Strongly.

Let's start back at a few really key questions.
  • Who are you blogging for?
  • Who are you tweeting for?
  • Why are you involved in social media?

Let me give you THE ONLY acceptable answer: to make your classroom - or the classrooms you serve - better.

That's why we all joined Twitter in the first place. Some recently. Some years ago. But we got on here to connect. To learn from other passionate, dedicated educators. From all over the world.

Is your #EduFame making your classroom - or the classrooms you serve - a better place?

Let me answer that question for you: no. No it most certainly isn't.

What if you spent that time you spend pimping yourself or your blog mentoring a new teacher? Holding office hours to help struggling students? Actively making your classroom a better place for your students?

I'm going to channel my inner Jeremy Macdonald here: just do good - the rest will take care of itself. Make your classroom a place kids can't wait to get into every day. Don't waste your time - and more importantly your students' time - chasing down #EduFame.

Do what is right: create the space so that your students crush it in your classroom every day. The rest will take care of itself.


End note: Jeremy's piece, linked above, really made me think. As did Greg Garner's piece linked here. Thanks, gents.