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Personal Branding Course Helps Students Communicate in Digital World

By Dr. Joan McGettiggan and Jason Shaffer on October 13, 2015 hst Print

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Today’s young people have a knack for technology that often causes adults to refer to them as “Digital Natives.” While it is true that students – from preteen through college – are adept at Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube, they are not fluent in technology, thus the “Digital Native” term is a misnomer.

While we warn students about the dangers of the Internet, we do not teach them how to communicate properly in this global and digital world, how to understand privacy controls, how to market themselves and how to curate their knowledge, skills and talents in order to create a positive digital footprint. In a world where it is predicted that one will change careers five to seven times over a lifetime and that individuals will most likely create at least one or two of those jobs themselves, it is essential to understand how to harness the power of the Internet, especially social media, to market young people for success.

At North Broward Preparatory School, we developed a required high school course, Personal Branding and Digital Communication, in order to both educate students about establishing a positive digital footprint and provide instruction in a multitude of digital tools in a real world application while complying with International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards. The course embeds 21st Century tools (blogs, wikis, Twitter, Instagram, social bookmarking, web design, Google+, video editing, podcasts, vodcasts, geolocation tools and more) so that a student can incorporate the necessary steps to build a “brand,” learn how to communicate properly using digital tools, and provide the student with the opportunity to create and utilize a digital portfolio in a new way.

“The rise of the personal brand reflects changing economic structures, as secure lifetime employment gives way to a churning market in tasks. It suggests a new unscriptedness in institutions as we evolve from the broadcast age to the age of retweets. It augurs a future in which we all function like one-person conglomerates, calculating how every action affects our positioning.” (NY Times: Branding and the ‘Me’ EconomyBy Anand Giridharadas, Published: February 26, 2010)

Additionally, the Personal Branding class serves as a vehicle for students to present themselves to real-world audiences of colleges, in application for special programs or scholarships and internship applications, and to begin to build a digital presence for future employment.

While we realize that our students receive technology instruction embedded naturally throughout their high school curriculum, we wanted to provide a delivery system to ensure a cohesive instruction in digital communication to students per ISTE standards and beyond. North Broward Prep students develop a thorough understanding of the power of personal branding and how to craft and enhance their personal brand through established outlets such as blogging, About.Me and social media profiles. Our students learn the nuances of communication in various social media outlets such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. They become savvy in how to create a network within and across these outlets while focusing on building their brand. Ethics and etiquette are important factors to master as well in our course. In short, our students develop a personal branding strategic plan that matches their objectives for the near and distant future.

Keeping in mind that our students are still young and will make mistakes, in our unforgiving world these mistakes can become “attached” to their digital footprint forever. Our students understand that a brilliant way to combat this impact is to develop a strong brand, consistently communicate it and build a wide network that will provide so many positives in comparison to any negatives that most mistakes are overlooked by future colleges and employers.

Michael Fertik, author of The Reputation Economy, concurs stating in a recent profile, “Reputation is becoming more valuable than money or power.” (The Guardian, Lewis, T.; January 18, 2015). Our students live in a global, competitive world where it is essential to stand out. In fact, in a recent article in the Huffington Post, “Personal Branding: A Must for the College-Bound, CEO and Everyone in Between” by Stacey Cohen, we were the only high school recognized for efforts to educate and prepare students in this area.

In that same Guardian profile, Fertik stated that he “sees a day when numerous decisions will be made about each of us – about our lives and careers, even our dating prospects – based on reputation alone.” Considering how difficult it is to get in to a top college and land a good job afterward, a course similar to the one we developed should be considered by every high school and college.

Perhaps Socrates said it best, “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of – for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”

In her book, The Nature of the Future, author Marina Gorbis concurs with Socrates espousing that in the near future your web network of influence and your network will be measured and rated. Your very future will depend on their ability to continually develop a strong brand and a network to help in that goal. Our course continues to evolve as we assess the impact of new tools. We want our students to be true “Digital Natives.” We want them prepared not just for college, but for life.


Uses of Social Media by High School Administrators Continue to Expand

By Jeannette Bruno

The use of social media in the education setting is ever-growing. In addition to FaceBook and Twitter, other programs are emerging such as Pintrest, Instagram and Google+.
When developing a social media site, the primary question to ask is what is the purpose? Will the site be organizational (for a class, a team or school) or will it be personal (as a teacher, coach or administrator) or perhaps a mixture of both?

The purpose behind the creation of the social media site will determine what is posted on it as well as identify the demographics that the site is targeting. Given the popularity of Twitter and the number of users, this is generally a popular social media choice to communicate to a variety of stakeholders – students, parents, community members.

Within Twitter, a ‘handle’ (the name following the ‘@’ symbol) can post statements, include photos or links, and also ‘tag’ or address other Twitter users.

A building principal may create a Twitter handle that not only identifies the school, but also puts his name (and in some cases, his face) with the school name. In this way, the community trusts the Twitter handle and develops a personal attachment with the principal and the school. His announcements range from school-specific information, dates and events to cheers for sports teams and activities.

Similarly, FaceBook pages can offer a school, group or educator the ability to publicize a variety of news, announcements and information. A school or organization can create the page for public view or or make it a ‘closed’ group so that a request to join is required. A closed group page is helpful and encouraged for small clubs or activities.

The goal of using social media is to improve communication and share information. The creation of a social media site is not an easy one-step process. Instead, it requires some research, observation, and trial and error.

Here are some sources to review:
Twitter Policies Needed for High School Athletic Departments; High School Today Magazine, April 2014
Cybrary Man’s Educational Web Sites page contains a variety of helpful posts.
Social media for schools: a guide to Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Jeannette Bruno is assistant principal at Marlboro High School in New Jersey. She formerly served as supervisor of extracurricular activities at Colts Neck High School in New Jersey. She is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.