Helping Students Develop Their Online Identity

In 2015, I wrote the following article entitled, “3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School“. Here are the “3 Things” that I suggested:

3 Things Students Should Have

As I was speaking at a school in North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, Florida, and was talking about this, one of the teachers, Jason Shaffer, said, “We already do this.”  I was so pumped to hear more.

I asked him about what he is doing, and he shared that his school has a required course on “personal branding” for students. Not only are they doing the “3 Things”, but they are going way beyond. Here is a snippet from the Huffington Post article written on Jason and the course:

Personal Branding and Digital Communication has been in place at North Broward since summer 2012. The course has evolved over time but the message has remained the same. Identify your passions, stick to your moral code, focus on your goals and tell your personal story through a variety of social platforms. Today, Jason’s curriculum is rich with interactive exercises focused on matching your passions with your online identity. One of his favorite teaching tools? Music.

“A teen’s language is music,” Jason says. “Music allows them to express their identity. There’s no better way to chronicle the stories of their lives.”

In the Personal Branding classroom, students develop a playlist of songs they feel represents the different aspects of their lives. This playlist is eventually published publicly on Google+ — hence the clever name of the exercise, “My Sound Track.” (Fun fact: The most common song on playlists is “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson.)

Once this, and a series of other self-discovery exercises are complete, students build a digital portfolio across various social media sites like, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Jason encourages students to leverage brand assets, like photos and logos. Students are also advised to showcase their passions, backstory, extracurricular activities, and accomplishments.

What I loved about this course, is that this was also with the vision of the administrator at the school, and Jason, along with Dr. Joan McGettigan, came up with the vision to make a course that was much more relevant to students’ needs today and in the future.

Up until this course was created (in 2012), our school pretty much like every other high school. Offered a required computer applications course. They learned PowerPoint and it was about dinosaurs most of the time.

My mentor and my advisor at school Dr. Joan McGettigan, had a vision, to make a course that was more relevant to what today’s teen are using.  What tools they’re going to need for college and beyond.

It was a fantastic idea and when the opportunity presented itself to create the curriculum even though they didn’t give me much time start. It really did present a course that kids have fallen in love with.

Jason gives”Five steps for high school students looking to develop a personal brand“:

1. Find your passions

From the court to the stage each of my students is asked to identify what motivates and interests them from both an academic and extra curricular perspective. This requires reflection and goal setting with an eye on the college admissions process and potentially more long term dreams. Come up with a list of your various interests and start from there. Along the way your list is sure to grow as you begin to realize the vast information that exists and is being shared.

2. Learn from others

A few years back I had the pleasure of meeting Pat Williams, the Executive Vice President of the Orlando Magic. At the time, he told me, “Anyone can become an expert if they are willing to read ten books on a particular topic.” I wanted to apply this to the art of digital communications.

Through the web students should access video tutorials, blog posts, hashtags and even experts. Combining their own personal experiences, students can use the web to accumulate a wealth of knowledge and become the type of expert Pat Williams described.

3. Share your learnings

In order to build a reputation and a personal brand you will need to make your learning visible. Use social networks to retweet others and leave meaningful, constructive and thought provoking comments on the blog posts that you find interesting. Join chat rooms and discussion forums so that you can share in professional dialogues and gain an experience usually reserved for those in “the biz”. This helps to both catalog and present what you have learned.

4. Create Original Content

While consuming is great for digesting knowledge and understanding various viewpoints, true learning, understanding and “branding” comes when you are comfortable enough to share your own thoughts, experiences and knowledge on a specific topic. Try shooting and editing a video tutorial or crafting an interesting blog that helps readers connect with you emotionally. Here is where you will find your voice and build emotional connections with your audience.

5. Connect Your Networks

Managing the social networks was a challenge for many students until the discovery of which they now use to tie everything together. For the first time, anyone with a link can follow along in the individual experience that has been crafted. Consider adding an link to your signature line and point visitors in the direction that they can best learn about your brand.

Once students begin to use social networking for professional purposes and understand the power of their voice they are far less prone to the potential hazards of the digital world. Making decisions based about what they post and share becomes easier once they understand their own values have a channel to express them. I would argue that developing a personal brand that best represents who you are is a lifelong process. Although the audience may change over time, the message that your brand presents will remain consistent and provide insight into your personal passions and expertise.

Such great stuff and honestly, five steps that could help anyone reading this set up their own course for students.

Although this is a private school, shouldn’t this be a norm in all schools?  We can no longer say we are preparing students for “the real world”, when what mean is”the real world” that we grew up in, not recognizing current needs of today.  The next time a conversation breaks out on whether we should be teaching “cursive” in schools, I suggest asking how much time we are taking time to prepare for the reality of them all being “googled” continuously throughout their lives.

Kudos to Jason and the team at their school that took a vision, and made it into a reality.

(If you have followed Jason on Twitter already, I would suggest you do! He is doing some great stuff!)

Source: George Couros

One Comment

  1. Nora Al-Jindi said:

    Thank you for this valuable article. It is a wake up call for all educators. It is necessary to prepare students with their personal brand at an early age. Besides being digitally oriented with all social media platforms; students should be open to changes in their likes or dislikes as they grow older. Their personalities are shaped through the years and they should learn how to share and be proud of their own identities. I believe that exposing their personalities gives them a sense of responsibility towards the brand that they are presenting which is themselves.

    February 9, 2017

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