Well, there's a new year on the horizon. Most things I'm reading on the interwebs have to do with reflections of 2015, past successes, failures, and looking ahead to 2016. Others have to do with new year's resolutions, and how we'll change things we're doing in our lives for the better.
I've been thinking a lot about brands lately. If you asked me to name a few "brands" as quickly as I could in 10 seconds, I'd probably say things like "Cheerios," "Apple," and "Starbucks." Brands that produce tangible products that I can see, touch...eat. But, as I've gotten more involved in educational technology, or "#edtech," I've come to see that there are many teachers and administrators who have created their own brands. No, they haven't invented the next cutting edge piece of technology to use in the classroom. They've cultivated a digital space for themselves online, many times in large communities of educators on Twitter, and branded their own philosophy of education, technology, and best practices into a "school of thought" that can be sold online for the greatest commodity of them all (besides money): Likes.
Any time of day, if I want, I can hop on Twitter, search for a few hashtags I follow regularly (don't forget to follow #edtechafterdark Mondays at 10PM EST!! LOLz!!!), and within seconds, I can probably find something that makes me think differently about my classroom, education, find a great educational technology tool or app that I didn't know about before, or any of the other things administrators would love us to do in the mandated time we have to attend professional development on the clock as teachers.
When you search for one of these hashtags (let's use #1to1techat for an example), the posts you see immediately will be under the umbrella of "Top." This means that the tweets you are seeing have been aggregated and displayed to you based on the number of times they've been interacted with (clicked), shared (retweeted) or liked (that little heart thing next to them, which used to be called "favorited," but I guess that's not actually a word, so they changed it. Or they copied Facebook). The other tab, "Live," is a ticker-tape of all tweets being posted with that particular #hashtag, in an up-to-the-second feed for you to look at. Other tabs allow you to see media that has been posted within the hashtag umbrella, such as "videos" and "photos."
We all want to be in the first tab. There's been a moment when you retweeted a high-end #edtech guru with 56.7k followers that you thought, "I hope this finds my audience. I hope I get noticed." Our online identity has become so much more than just our screen name back in the AOL days (mine was KnucklPuck - one of the best scenes from D2: The Mighty Ducks). Now, it represents our flock of like-thinkers; our digital brethren who share what we know to be important. It's our Avatar: the thing we digitally wear as a coat of arms, like a shield decorated with badges of honor bestowed by other warriors, indicating the number of battles we've fought, hoping to become ingratiated into the fray.
All of this takes place during our "free" time. Do we have any as educators? Are we ever off the clock?
And so, I'm back at the beginning. Is building an online "brand" of your identity to "sell" your ideas and edu-philosophy self-serving, or meant to really help others? Are you doing it to further your career, or to get endorsed by Apple or Google, or is it to assist "digital immigrants" in navigating a landscape that is foreign to them? Why are you investing your time into the Twittersphere and cultivating your #edtech "brand?"
I think it's important for there to be SOME separation between work and life, and to not be glued to your device waiting to participate in the next Twitter Edu-chat on the weekend. Your relationships with the three-dimensional people around you are just as (and in many cases, more) important than the professional colleagues you interact with digitally. However, for many educators, their work IS their life. It's one of the most selfless jobs I've ever seen anyone take, and I think we all cultivate this village--digital or three-dimensional--for the right reasons.
Happy New Year!