I recently collaborated with a leadership coach in my efforts to be more effective in my new position as director of a charter school. One of the first things she did was ask me to describe my brand. “My what?” I responded. She explained that a brand is what you’re known for and how people perceive you.
I hadn’t really considered this before. Because I hesitated in my response, she had me ask my colleagues, and even family and friends, to describe me with one word. I was pleased by some of the responses, while other responses led me to vow to make changes so that how I perceived myself was more aligned to what I presented to others.
In our teaching, we project our brand to our students every day. Teachers are often described by students with one word—as being a teacher who is tough, strict, easy, or nice. We garner a reputation based on how we present ourselves and the learning, how we interact with students, and how we manage our classrooms. New teachers discover right away that if they present a brand of “relaxed” or “easygoing,” managing student behavior can sometimes become problematic.
Survey Students and Colleagues
We are sometimes surprised to discover how students perceive us. What do you do if you’re not satisfied with the way you’re perceived by others—students or colleagues? How might you address this? The initial step in this self-exploration journey is to identify the reputation you currently have.
Asking all students directly may not give you the answer you want because of your supervisory role with them—some may give the answer they think you want to hear. Consider creating an anonymous survey that asks some questions about the class routines and curriculum, and include a couple questions about yourself.
You can also ask or survey selected students who you think will be totally honest with you. Also ask your colleagues and overseeing administrator to describe you with one word. Scary as this may be, you’ll want as many responses as you can get in order to be able to make a valid analysis.
Set Personal Growth Goals
When I looked at the results from my informal surveying of others, patterns emerged and I realized that some people’s perceptions of me were starkly different from how I perceived myself. I realized that only a few people—family and friends—knew me well enough to identify my true brand. I made the determination that I needed to take some steps to convey who I truly am to the staff and faculty who I support. So how do I get that message out?
Find people who you consider to have the type of reputation you want and model what they do. These could be master teachers on your campus or in your district. Be active in networking at meetings and conferences, and stay in touch with those people that have the qualities you’re seeking. Find a mentor. Also, participate online and read educational articles, magazines, and books. Authors and bloggers are usually very willing to collaborate with you.
Be consistent in living up to your reputation. It’s easy to fall back into old habits, so changing actions and behaviors is a continual effort. If you want to be known as the teacher that inspires learning, you know that you have to up your game with relevant material and provide realistic reasons for students to learn and be engaged.
Share your self-description in your introductions, syllabus, and elevator speeches, and strive to live up to it. Remember that you’re not what degrees you have, nor your position or title. Think about what others experience in your presence and the results of your influence. As the saying goes, people may forget your words but not how you made them feel.
Engage your colleagues in helping you change how others perceive you. Ask them to help you be true to your ideal, and if you’re out of alignment, ask that they gently remind you of your goal. If you tend to gravitate toward making critical comments but want to make constructive ones during faculty meetings, for example, ask that colleague who knows you well to give you a little nudge as a reminder.
Be reflective and frequently evaluate your progress on changing your reputation. Every week, ask yourself, “How did I show up? In what ways did I represent my ideal self?”
In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey asks that his readers consider that they have finished their lives and are privileged to witness their own funeral and eulogy. What will your friends, coworkers, supervisors, and students say about your teaching and your leadership? What do you want them to say? If the answers to those two questions differ, it’s never too late to work on aligning the two.