The first time I learned about creating a personal brand for teachers was in university. As I progressed through the education faculty, I was always told to maintain a professional portfolio. It was expected that I would have a hard copy of everything I have done through my studies to show potential employers when interviewing for jobs. This would allow me to stand out against other candidates.
I showed up to my first ever interview, portfolio in hand. I sat there answering questions and having a discussion for some time, and my portfolio was never addressed. My current principal and I then went on a tour of the school. I carried along my portfolio waiting for it to be asked about.
The tour ended. We shook hands. I got back into my car to reflect on the stressful situation I just went through, and quickly realized that this binder I spent hours on preparing was just extra weight I lugged around for the entirety of my time in front of him.
And to this day, I still have not opened that binder for any administrator.
Do I believe that a portfolio isn’t necessary? To a point, yes. Many university instructors and administrators may scoff at my idea. But hear me out.
The physical portfolio is a thing of the past. The opportunities for teachers to build their portfolio begin way before they enter their first job interview, and continue as they progress through their career.
And the best part is technology allows us to continuously update that portfolio as we go! We have so much at our disposal to share. So why are so many teachers reluctant to do that online?
What is a Personal Brand? Why do Teachers Need One?
A personal brand is YOU. It allows you to stand out in a field, display your expertise, personality, experiences, and passion in a certain area. Personal branding is the process that allows you to showcase those things to the world. It is how you manage how people view you, whether it is physically or digitally.
Building a personal brand is important for everyone regardless of age, skill set, or amount of experience. However, I believe that maintaining a strong personal brand is essential for teachers.
Teachers can easily become labelled. For example, I am the business teacher at my school. That is my subject area and the majority of my course load. But I am way more than a business teacher. I teach life skills, building relationships, self-confidence, passion for success, and setting students up to be far greater than they believe.
Many teachers do the same that I do. However, because none of that is curricular, we are labelled in the department area we teach in.
Personally, I would love to be associated with everything else I aim to teach alongside the business outcomes. However, that is not always possible without personal branding efforts.
Additionally, some teachers have passions that exist outside of the classroom. What better way to do that than showcasing it for the world to see?
Other Opportunities Can Come From Personal Branding
An alternative that can arise from a strong personal brand is a potential career change or a new opportunity within your area of expertise. Teachers can expand their opportunities beyond the classroom, and having a brand will allow you to show why you are deserving of those opportunities or allow others to seek you out for what their needs are.
For example, I have been offered a few speaking gigs due to this blog! Although they were not paid, they were still great in allowing me to expand my network and prove to myself that what I am doing is helping people.
I have also seen teachers get opportunities to travel the world to educate others on their area of expertise. However, you cannot be viewed as an expert unless you put yourself out there for others to see.
Finally, a strong personal brand can allow you to become the spokesperson of your field. One example of that is Nicholas Ferroni, who has used his platform to become a teacher that advocates for others in various forms of media. For many teachers wanting to build up their brand, he is one of the people they look up to for inspiration. I am striving to build my platform, and I believe I can grow to new heights by following his example.
It is time for teachers to stop putting themselves in a curricular bubble, and to break out and showcase how excellent they are to the world. A personal brand can do that for you!
How Do Teachers Start Building Personal Brands?
I hope at this point, you’re bought in on starting a personal brand if you haven’t already. Or perhaps you’ve started, but aren’t sure where to go from here. These are the five steps all teachers can use to start and grow their own personal brands:
1) Identify Your Passions
Your passions can be anything you love. Perhaps you really enjoy doing something, learning about something, or watching others perform something. If that thing consumes time in your life and it doesn’t feel like a chore or work, you’re ready to start making moves!
The steps I use when trying to help others identify their passions are:
- Inventory your day, and identify how much time you spend doing certain things.
- Rate each thing on a scale of 1-10 based on enjoyment, excitement, and likeliness to do it again.
- Look through your social media platforms, books at home, discussions with friends or family, or internet search history to find common themes.
- Identify the things you’ve always wanted to do or get better at.
- Shortlist the things that are connected through the above-mentioned steps.
The goal is not to become the #1 leader in that industry. Sure, that would be nice. However, it is probably unrealistic in the short-term. Make a commitment to build your skills and knowledge, and use the following steps to continuously increase them.
Remember that anyone who has developed a strong personal brand through one or more platforms was at this exact point in their life too. The difference is that they acted on it. And who knows, maybe one day you will become the top dog in that specific field just by doing the same thing.
2) Find Your Platform to Showcase Yourself
When developing a teachers personal brand, there are many avenues one can take to display it. Social media is the first that comes to mind for most. But you don’t need to limit it to just that. Here is a compiled list of everywhere I have seen teachers use to build their personal brand:
Social Media Platforms
- Facebook (groups are the place I believe is best to connect with others)
- Twitter (my personal social media preference for teachers)
Long-Form Audio/Video Platforms
One thing I want you to keep in mind is your personal branding efforts do not have to be limited to just one. Although I wouldn’t rush to create content for every platform, choosing anywhere from one to three and building them all off each other can be very effective. For example, the three that I focus my effort on are this blog, Twitter, and the Business Educators Facebook group.
Once you have identified where you want to start, create some accounts and get rolling into the next steps.
3) Relationship Building
An important step in developing a personal brand as teachers is developing a connection with others in your area. Ideally, find the existing leaders in that area. You will be surprised at how helpful individuals can be, and how much you will learn from them when growing your own brand.
When trying to develop these relationships, look for opportunities to connect with them on a personal level. Reach out with a direct message. Engage with their content. Ask questions. Get your name known to those people. That way, they will be more willing to help you when you have an ask for them and will be more willing to share your content with their follower base. Through engagement on Twitter, I have developed relationships with other teachers and bloggers who help me promote my content to others.
And who knows, perhaps later down the road they will be willing to collaborate on a project you are working on.
4) Plan For and Create Content
Just like a professional portfolio, a personal brand cannot give you opportunities without substance. However, the substance you choose to create should be planned out and strategic.
Looking at all of the above mentioned social media platforms, there are so many people who have no theme to their accounts. They simply post whatever they want, whenever they want. Sure, they may have a lot of content, but there is no strategy to it. The people who succeed in their personal branding efforts have a reason for posting everything they do, and everything ties back to the image they are trying to get across.
When planning out your first few pieces of content, it is important to set the tone early. Let your audience know what it is you are passionate about, and why they should believe what you are sharing. The best ways to achieve this is by:
- Being different. Uniqueness allows you to separate yourself from your competition.
- Doing things better than everyone else. Perhaps someone else created something that you could do better but got a lot of engagement on it. What is stopping you from exceeding their success?
- Humanizing your audience. Allow them to empathize with you and what you are trying to accomplish. People love following others they can develop a connection with, and who are authentic in the presentation of their message.
- Appealing to your core audience. Focus on the specific group of people who will engage with everything you put out. Additionally, create content around what your core audience actually wants to see. For example, I focus my blog specifically on business education-related topics instead of making it more general. Although my market is smaller, the opportunities for engagement are a lot higher. I also engage with my audience to see what it is they are seeking out, and create my content around their suggestions.
Some of these will be easier to achieve than others. The more you work towards building your brand, the more opportunities you will find where you can accomplish each of the above tips.
5) Evaluate Your Actions with a Focus on Continued Growth
Content is king. However, massive amounts of content does not necessarily mean growth and exposure. Posting a lot of content is important, but posting engaging and relevant content is way more effective for your personal brand.
Which is why a content inventory audit is integral.
Doing a regular analysis of your posts is a tool that you can use to see what works and what doesn’t work with your audience. By looking at some key metrics, such as engagement, impressions, clicks, and potential conversions can assist you in identifying what content works best. From there, you can tailor your future content around the best performing pieces and further increase your chances of growth!
It is a discouragement to put a lot of time into a specific niche and find there’s little interest or engagement. However, content inventory audits will help drastically in recognizing that before you’re too far financially and emotionally invested.
And who knows, maybe the audit will recognize a pattern that you did not see yourself with a different content area, or something way more specific than your current focus. The evidence is sometimes hiding in plain sight.
Looking back, I do not regret building that physical portfolio. However, I see that building a personal brand as teachers has been much more effective in showcasing myself at all times. Why should teachers be limited to selling their abilities to job interviews? Let’s all take advantage of the tools at our disposal and display the amazing things we all do in our classrooms and beyond.
Self-promotion is something that is not just limited to teachers. I encourage everyone to use the above-mentioned steps to further their own personal branding efforts. You will be surprised at the effect it can have, and the opportunities that can come from it.
I spend a lot of time on personal branding with my students, and many have seen benefits from it. Getting our youth in the habit of promoting themselves and building their authority in a niche will provide them with unimaginable benefits in the future. Additionally, it will get them in the habit of continuing with their efforts past high school, and set them up to become better digital citizens.
I would love to hear your experiences with building a personal brand as teachers or in general below. Leave a comment explaining how personal branding has helped you or others around you!
Thanks for reading!