Tag Archives: teaching

Going the Extra Mile

GOING THE EXTRA MILE

2011-01-23

by Richard White

“Personal branding.” Have you heard about this? Has anyone come up to you to talk about “marketing yourself?”

If you hang around the Internet long enough you’ll eventually stumble upon something about branding and marketing, not as a corporation but as an individual. I heard a radio program the other day in which one guy (perhaps as part of some couples therapy exercise) suggested that people come up with a a brochure, or an advertisement, promoting one’s self to one’s partner. As part of this exercise, one would include a motto, list attractive features of one’s self, as well as accessories (?), etc.

I’m not entirely sure how this process—clarifying one’s personal brand—would result in the strengthening of one’s relationship, but it was an interesting idea… and not one that I’m very interested in pursuing myself, I have to say.

But I get the marketing thing. Take the Big Sur Half Marathon, for example.

Held in Monterey during November, the Big Sur Half Marathon is a wonderful “little” race in a lovely little town, and I had a perfectly wonderful time during the race weekend I spent up there with some friends. Our hotel was nice but reasonably priced. The weather was beautiful. We we weren’t actually staggering along the 13.1-mile course, we were walking the streets sight-seeing, eating at restaurants, grabbing an afternoon coffee at Peet’s. The usual stuff.

I can only imagine that, during difficult economic times, the costs associated with putting on a run like this might be called into question. Budgets must be tight: there was as shortage of race t-shirts, and not everyone who crossed the line received the hand-made ceramic finisher’s medal that had been promised. The race organizers made no effort to hide the fact that they were interested in studying the economics of the situation. A post-weekend survey didn’t ask how much fun you had; it asked, “How much did you spend over the course of your visit this weekend?” and “Do you plan on coming back again next year?”

So it was something of a surprise, then, when I received a mysterious, somewhat thick manila envelope in the mail a few weeks ago. The postmark was Monterey. I tore it open to find a copy of the Monterey Herald newspaper inside. I checked the date—it was a month old. What the…?

I leafed through the paper, and it wasn’t until I hit the second section that I realized what it was:

Oh! It’s a newspaper from the day after the race! I read a couple of articles, and quickly enough stumbled upon the long listing of names on the last page of the paper. And there, buried deep in results, I found my name:

I gotta tell you, a series of events quickly followed: First, I got a nice little lump in my throat right there, seeing my name in print, even if it was only in 7-point on the last page. Next, I made a promise to myself that I would return to the Big Sur Half Marathon the following year, dammit. And then, I thought about how clever they were to send out this paper. I don’t know how much it cost to send out 4000 newspapers, but I can only think that it must have been a wise investment. My receiving this little newspaper, weeks after I’d nearly forgotten about the event perhaps, was the very best kind of marketing: a soft, value-added reminder that I was a satisfied client, and that I should keep them in mind in the future, if the occasion arose to run another half-marathon, or even just come up to visit for a weekend.

And then my thoughts turned to my relationship with my clients: my students.

How do I market myself to them, consciously or unconsciously?

What does my “personal brand”—even unspoken—look like to them?

What “value added” do I provide to them that reminds them that their experiences with me in the classroom are to be respected and appreciated?

Every teacher, reflective of his or her practice, can benefit from considering these things.

What “value added” do you provide?

Evolve or Die

The 5.25-inch floppy, circa 1990. Remember these?

EVOLVE OR DIE

by Richard White

2010-11-30

In education, we hear a lot about gaps. At Berkeley High School where I used to teach, they have been struggling for years with the “achievement gap” between White students and African-American students at that school. As teachers, we worry about the socioeconomic challenges facing some of our families, and how that affects students’ ability to perform. And recently, the distance between the “haves” and “have-nots” is only increasing. It’s a challenging time to be an educator.

It’s ironic, then, that many of these same teachers, justifiably concerned about student-based gaps, are suffering themselves from a gap of a different sort: the technology gap. Here it is, in a nutshell: even as our students, at an increasing pace, have rapidly acquired and adapted to advances in technology and communication, teachers and schools have not. And as a result, we are at grave risk of becoming dangerously irrelevant to our students.

Our students are infamously connected. Perhaps in part because of the fact that they no longer are allowed to play outside after dark, they text each other, they email each other, they chat online, and they leave messages for each other on their Facebook walls. They “friend,” they “twitter,” they “skype,” and a few unfortunates make the mistake of “sexting.” They have immersed themselves in an enormous, primordial, technology-fueled experiment, with wild abandon and wide-ranging results.

Meanwhile, those teachers without a network—without a smartphone, with no experience with Twitter, some struggling even to add an attachment to an email—seem content to be part of this experiment’s control group. “It’s not part of my lifestyle,” some say. Or “it doesn’t really affect what I’m doing in the classroom.”

Twitter is not part of my lifestyle, it’s true, and I don’t consider Facebook the nucleus of my social existence. But understanding the way that our students are interacting with their world and with each other, I maintain, is at the very heart of being a good teacher.

There’s an evolution happening here. There’s a revolution happening here. And as someone who works with young people, you need to be well-acquainted with it.

Drive-ins gave way to TV movies, which led to VHS, then DVD, then Netflix, and now streaming video, via cable, satellite, or Internet. Technologies change, and people and the ways that they interact with each other change too, as a result. You may have updated your home entertainment system because the new products looked sexier than the old ones, or because that new classic film that just came out wasn’t released on Betamax. Either way, your life evolved, and you’ve benefited from that evolution.

It’s the same thing for teaching. Even if you feel that the core fundamentals of teaching haven’t changed in the last fifty years, our children and their parents have changed. This is simply due diligence, people: we ALL need to have a better idea of how our students are interacting with each other, and you can’t do that by sitting on the sidelines and reading articles about Facebook in the New York Times.

It’s time to jump in and get dirty.

THINGS YOU CAN DO

  1. Get a gmail account. https://mail.google.com
    Using Google’s web-based email is a nice way to jump in and get your feet wet. Nearly everyone knows the basics of using email. Learning how to use a slightly different email system will be a nice way of expanding your abilities without over-taxing your brain. It’s free, and who knows, you may come to like it better than your current email.
  2. Get a Facebook account and play with it. http://www.facebook.com
    Again, you don’t need to jump in to the deep end here, and you don’t need to fork over your life history if you don’t like their privacy policies–I certainly don’t. But sign up with a fake name, invite a few people you know to be friends, and get an idea of how it all works. Regardless of whether it’s something you continue to experiment with, at least you’ll have some experience with this platform, and a better understanding of what people are talking about when they make reference to it.
  3. Get a Twitter account and play with it. http://twitter.com
    Same thing: go to Twitter.com and follow the instructions. It probably won’t be your cup of tea, but know you’ll get all those Twitter jokes that people make.
  4. Get a smartphone and play with it.
    You don’t have a smartphone yet? What are you waiting for? Seriously! What, you think this is a fad that’s going to go away? You ARE going to have one in 3 years, so why not get one now so you can get started, because you are going to feel SERIOUSLY lame if you get any farther behind. (I’m talking to you, Laura Holmgren.)
  5. Develop a “texting” relationship with someone.
    Texting is the best thing to happen to phone communication since… well, the portable phone. There are good reasons to have some facility with texting: Text messages consume less bandwidth than a voice call, and will sometimes go through when an actual call won’t. Also, they’re less invasive and less time-consuming than an actual call. Along with other cultural protocols, being able to receive and respond to a text is an important part of current phone etiquette. You just need to know how to do it.

If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re already a member of the choir, and all this preaching is falling on the wrong ears. In that case, it’s up to you to do a little proselytizing of your own. Get out there and help another teacher make the jump to light speed.

Their students will thank you for it.