Teacher Development

Why Educators Need to Promote Themselves

Educators often have trouble acknowledging their contributions to good outcomes. Here are some tips for changing that.
February 18, 2016
A woman is standing on a theater stage, looking down at a man and woman who are standing on the floor, close to the stage. They are all smiling at each other and talking.
Photo credit: World Literature Today via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Back when I was a classroom teacher, my principal -- to whom I rarely spoke -- came by one day to tell me that one of my math students had gotten the highest score in the school on a standardized math test. "Good for him," I said. "He deserves it!"

Another time, an outside observer was attending one of my classes. Afterwards, she told me the lesson was one of the best she had seen that year. "Well, this is a great group of kids," I replied.

Both of those responses were accurate, but incomplete. And they are typical of how many educators talk about their work and accomplishments. Why do we have trouble acknowledging our contributions to good outcomes?

I thought of these instances -- both of which occurred more than a decade ago -- while recently reading Peggy Klaus' book, Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It. The book was written to help professionals promote themselves without turning off those who they are trying to impress. It dispels the myths about bragging; for example, that it is something you should only do during performance reviews. It also addresses some of the cultural norms we have regarding self-promotion -- such as the virtue of humility -- that make so many people uncomfortable doing it.

The author is a Fortune 500 consultant, and the book seems geared towards professionals in that type of environment. But as I was reading, I realized how the concepts also apply to educators. Most educators need to get better at talking about their work. Consider this:

Reasons for Bragging

  • Policymakers often talk about educators, rather than with them. Why don't they acknowledge their expertise? Perhaps it's because of how educators talk -- or don't talk -- about their accomplishments; if they don't highlight their successes, how will policymakers recognize their skill?

  • The rhetoric around public schools and the teaching profession is overwhelmingly negative (in many places). By effectively explaining what they do in their daily life, as well as discussing what happens as a result, educators have the power to change the conversation -- helping their friends, family, acquaintances, and others to see education in a new light.

  • The opportunity for professional advancement. While the school environment is different than most businesses in terms of promotions and raises, there are still honors (teacher of the year, for example) and opportunities (such as teacher leader roles) that those educators who can talk about their successes are most likely to achieve.

Tips to Help You Brag

So how should one start bragging? As Klaus puts it:

"We each have a history of hundreds, if not thousands, of successes that make us memorable. You start by consciously examining your past and present life and by taking the time to dig out those golden nuggets -- the ones that have substance and weight -- from which to build meaningful and memorable stories and messages about you."

She offers a series of questions that helps readers begin to think about their history and create a "brag bag" (a collection of information on accomplishments, passions, and interests) with "brag bites" (snippets of information expressed in a short, pithy manner that ensures people walk away with something to remember) and "bragologues" (stories that can be told in a variety of ways in a variety of circumstances).

In addition, she offers a number of tips, some of which I've modified to fit the current educational climate, including:

  • Always be ready. Every day, remind yourself of the positive things you are accomplishing right now for your school and students so that you can share them at a moment's notice, whether it's sitting around the dinner table with relatives who can't figure out why you went into teaching or talking to a policymaker touring your school.

  • Don't let your numbers do all the talking. The current overemphasis on test scores might make you think that nothing else matters, but letting people know how you've overcome obstacles to help students get great results on standardized tests and (just as importantly) letting people know the success you've seen outside of standardized test scores will help both supervisors and the general public to see educators in a new light.

  • Learn how to accept compliments. People in general -- and educators in particular -- often respond to compliments in ways that minimize, deflect, or deny them; see the start of this post, for example. Instead, say "Thank you," with a smile. As Klaus says, "Accepting a compliment doesn't mean that you're conceited; rather, it means you have a healthy self-image and are a valuable person who deserves credit."

Overall, the key to successful self-promotion, or bragging, is conveying authenticity -- sharing your story about your work and accomplishments in a way that feels natural.

What do you think? Do educators need to brag more often about their accomplishments? Share your thoughts in the comments below.