Why branding shouldn’t be a dirty word in education

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Monday, January 26, 2015

Why branding shouldn’t be a dirty word in education

Creating a brand is all about identifying who you are and what you stand for. Teachers and schools can do this without feeling sleazy. (Image via Mix by FiftyThree)

Creating a brand is all about identifying who you are and what you stand for. Teachers and schools can do this without feeling sleazy. (Image via Mix by FiftyThree)

I’m a teacher, and for the last two years, I’ve been trying to promote my own personal brand.

I know that by writing this, many in the education world will instantly equate me with a sleazy used car salesman peddling worn-out sedans. I’ve seen several blog articles and posts on social media calling out such educators as self-promoting narcissists. They say things like, “They’re focused too much on making themselves ‘Twitter famous’ and too little on improving their own classrooms.”

I fear that those people paint with too broad of strokes.

Granted, some educators really are trying to boost their own egos and/or popularity. This is a shame, because there are lots of us that are passionate about what we do and believe and are focused on helping others however we can.

Whether you’re widely followed or not, this issue is becoming more and more relevant in the teaching profession, especially when sharing ideas and being connected to others is being promoted as a must.

As educators develop a presence online — no matter how big or small — they’re going to have to think about who they are and what they stand for. That’s what makes up an educator’s brand. (It makes up a school or school district’s brand, too.)

Let’s quickly define branding. Entrepreneur Magazine’s online encyclopedia sums up branding simply: “Your brand is your promise to your customer.” According to a post by the Tronvig Group, “branding is the expression of the essential truth or value of an organization, product or service.”

Developing your own personal/professional brand is not sleazy. It’s not self-serving.


For one, there’s a lot of noise online these days. If you’ve checked out education blogs or followed other educators on social media, you know that there’s a seemingly infinite amount of opinions, ideas, techniques, tools, tricks, philosophies, methods, buzzwords, acronyms and models out there.

With all of those words swirling around in cyberspace, it’s easy to get lost. When I post a link to a new blog post on Twitter, it only has a lifespan of about 15 to 30 minutes. After that, it’s drowned out in the raging rapids of constantly flowing Twitter posts. Then, that tweet is long gone down the river, likely never to be seen again. (For those that follow thousands and thousands on Twitter, that lifespan is much less than 15 minutes.)

It’s a noisy digital world out there. That’s frustrating when you really believe in your message and the impact it can have on others, when you know it can make a difference to teachers and students and education in general.

You cut through the clutter when people know who you are and what you stand for. They know your message is worthwhile when people see your email address in their inbox or your profile picture on social media. When you’ve worked to share quality information and ideas, people trust you, and they’re willing to listen to what you have to say. They’ll turn down the other noise so they can hear you.

Can that branding bring attention back on one’s self? Sure it can, but what you do with that attention is key. Do you use it to share ideas that might improve others’ lives? Or do you use it to show people how great you think you are?

I’m passionate about connecting teachers with ideas to use in their classrooms and thoughts to consider that will improve their lives and their students’ lives. Being the “Ditch That Textbook” guy with the blog posts and the tweets and free ebooks has helped me to do that. I’ve been consistent about it for the better part of two years, and it has helped me to reach lots of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I believe in the message I’m trying to share, and I want to share it with as many people as I can.

So I’m going to continue to use my personal/professional brand and use it to help me reach as many educators as I can in hopes of shaping education in ways that will keep it relevant into the future.

I’m not peddling broken-down cars. I’m sharing change, and that’s something worth sharing.

[reminder]How do you feel about this idea of branding in education? Whether you agree or not, please share your thoughts.[/reminder]

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  • Jenny Aghomo says:

    Hi Matt I’m the PTA VP of a small elementary school called John B. Cary.
    I’ve been telling our principal this very thing. Unfortunately in the Richmond City school district if you want to be funded you need to have students attend your school. How do you do this? By treating your school as a business and if you do that you have to brand yourself accordingly. I really wish we had the chrome books and the tech devices that a lot of these schools have but we don’t. What I would love to do is to create a way to get donors and big businesses to notice us and want to give to our program. How can I start to do this? So far John B Cary has a PTA Fb page but that’s about it. I love Google myself and have a chromebook though I’m still learning how to use it. : )
    I would really appreciate any advice you can give me. Jenny

  • Enjoyed this article. many thanks for articulating a perception Ive followed for some time about the relationship with our community (& wider)

  • Tiffany says:

    I love this, Matt. I came here today not for this post, but for a recap on something you shared at Digi2014. I came here because I trust you as a professional and expert. Keep up the good work!

  • Ken Keene says:

    BRANDING for me is the difference between “delete” and “open”. With so many opportunities (?) coming my way electronically, BRANDING helps me to decide how to invest my limited time. Your BRAND is worth every minute!

  • Kari Catanzaro says:

    Thank you for bringing this subject up, Matt! I share on Twitter and sometimes Facebook about things I do in my classr00m. Not for my own glory, but to share with other educators what has been successful for my students (and me) as we learn together. I often sense negative attitudes from other teachers about it, which can really be a downer when a lesson has been highly effective for the students and we are all excited about it. But you are exactly right- perception and impressions matter to our digital public, and the “brand” that we have as teachers/classrooms/schools makes a HUGE difference in how students (and their parents) approach our classrooms and schools. We need to be PROUD to have a successful, popular “brand” for the right reasons- because we as educators have worked hard with our students to make our teaching a success. We need to not judge other educators for their successes- most of them are doing it for the RIGHT reasons- but rather learn from each other and lift each other up. I love this quote from the blog “I believe in the message I’m trying to share, and I want to share it with as many people as I can.”. I agree- I feel like some great things are happening as my students and I learn together in our Social Studies 6 classroom, and I want to share it with as many other educators as I can to help effect positive change in Social Studies education (in this day and age of high stakes testing and core literacies, SS has to fight for our place at the table with innovation and enthusiasm and relevancy).

    • Lori says:

      Ditto to both Matt and Kari! I recently participated in the CUE Online Conference last fall and the keynote speaker shared his thought that educators need to think like “surfers” and congratulate and support each when they catch a good wave or have a great ride. There are enough negatives in education that we should be there for each other…as #tlap states – “We are all on the same team!”… no matter where we reside.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Hey Kari,
      This year I am teaching 6th grade social studies also. I would love to hear what innovative things you are doing with your students. Do you have a blog where you are sharing these out?

  • Beverly Litke says:

    At first, I was going to say I don’t have a brand for myself. But that’s not true. Everything you say, do or believe is your brand-even if you don’t act on what you truly believe for fear of consequences or repercussion. Some have the confidence to strike out in a new or opposing direction and create a unique brand for themselves. Others are content to follow the status quo and use a pre-established brand. I’m not suggesting either way is inherently good or bad, just stating that all of us have a brand that could be used to describe us and our teaching philosophy and practice.

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