What’s your BRAND?

One of the sessions at Kenan Orientation this summer that left the biggest impact on me was the session Mark Townley did on creating your personal brand.

I had never thought about having my own personal brand before.  After all, I wasn’t selling anything – or was I?

I remember a quote by math educator Dan Meyer from one of his first videos.  He said

“I sell a product that no one is really interested in, but is forced by law to buy.”

That quote resonated so deeply in me as a public school educator.  Many of the kids who come through my doors aren’t necessarily doing so willingly.  And if they’re not all that excited to be taking my class in the first place, maybe I do have a bit of a sell on my hands.

And yet, kids seem to enjoy my class, and kids who haven’t had me yet seem to hear enough from other students that many of them will tell me that they look forward to having me as a teacher.  Maybe I have been promoting a personal brand all along, but just wasn’t consciously aware of it.

In Mark’s session in Cullowhee this summer,  he helped us to create our personal brand by directing our thoughts in three directions:

  • First we considered our EMOTIONAL appeal – how would others describe us, what kind of personality are we known for.
  • Second, we thought about a DESCRIPTIVE modifier – something that speaks to our style of instruction, how we do what we do.
  • Finally, we pondered our FUNCTION – what do I offer my students, or what makes my class different from other classes.

Let me tell you, this is a LOT harder than you would think!   I’m not sure that many of us spend all that much time thinking about ourselves this deeply.   It took me quite awhile to get three words that felt like they were really me.   Then taking those three words and creating a personal brand message led me to


I could spend some time trying to explain why I chose these three words, and how it is that these words reflect the kind of educator I hope I am increasingly becoming, but that would be all about me – and that’s pretty boring for anyone but me, I would think.

So, instead, let me try to explain why this left such an impact on me.   To be honest, it’s all Mark’s fault.

As Mark shared his personal brand, and how it has impacted him as a person and educator, he shared a challenge that he made with himself related to his personal brand.  For an entire school year, Mark decided to be diligent about passing every choice and decision he would have to make that year through the lens of his personal brand.

Hopefully Mark won’t mind me sharing that his brand is “Compassionate, Relevent, Experiential Learning.”   For that entire school year, every time he was faced with making a decision, he asked himself if what he was about to decide was consistent with his brand.  Was it compassionate?  Was it relevant?  Did it speak to opportunities for experiential learning?

If it did, he was inclined to move forward.  If it did not, he was inclined to let the idea go.

Man, I loved that idea.

In any given school year, most of us will have an enormous number of options placed before us, either professionally or personally.  It’s often incredibly hard to know which to commit to and which to walk away from.  It’s hard enough sometimes trying to decide whether or not to commit another class period or two to a piece of content we’re working on!

But, thankfully, Mark has given me a way to make wise decisions that are consistent with the things I value, and the things I try to display to my colleagues and students.

I have a passion for teaching kids and a passion for mathematics.  Any option that feeds and furthers that passion, or even better, helps infect others with that passion – I’m in.

I want what I teach my kids to be relevant to them – so anything that gives me an opportunity to make math seem more real and necessary to them is an opportunity I’m ok with jumping in to.

And I want my kids to feel like they’ve been challenged.  I want them to learn by facing challenges and overcoming challenges.  So I need to model that with them, but I also need to model that in front of them.

So…what’s your personal brand?  And how might you benefit from figuring out what it is, and, even more importantly, making it a lens through which you do what you do?

data analysis like a pirate…rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr….

My Kenan project will be focused on the question, “Is U.S. air pollution getting better or worse?” To that end, the teacher side of this fellowship will involve a project for my students that will involve answering questions related to this focus by analyzing data available through the E.P.A. website.

By law, the E.P.A. monitors 6 different air pollutants: ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, and particulate matter. Most of these pollutants are measured daily, some several times a day. There are literally thousands of E.P.A. monitor sites across the United States.

So here’s the problem…

There are 6 different pollutants and 37 years of data available (1980-2016). That’s 222 separate spreadsheet data files. Each of these data files is a spreadsheet with 29 columns and up to several hundred THOUSAND rows of data. Each of these data files has data for all 50 states as well, so if you don’t want all 50 states, you need a way to separate the data.

I’ve pretty well decided that the nature of the project will be collaborative, with each group given one of four regions of the country (northeast, south, midwest, west), and each student will become an expert on one of five of the pollutants – leaving out airborne lead since it has not been a problem in a very long time.

As an example: suppose I want a data file for my students who will be doing the Northeast region, and want data on Ozone. What I need to do is to combine all 37 years of data in to one file, but also limit the file to just the 14 states assigned to the Northeast region.

Well, doing this in Excel is almost unthinkable to me.

Fortunately, I’ve been introduced to a statistical analysis program called R. That’s right, just the letter R. R is an open source language and environment for statistical computing and graphics. It is widely used in statistical sciences, data sciences, and data mining. It is both a language and a tool.

This little piece of code in R will read in 37 years of data (in csv format), select only data that applies to the Northeast region states,  and bind them together into one single file.

for(i in 2:37){
X1=subset(X1, X1$State.Code %in% northeast)

A bit more work needs to be done to have the data in a form ready for student use, but here’s the amazing part to me.

Those 37 original data files were anywhere from about 50,000 to 200,000 KB in size, and we stick them all together, pull out what we don’t want, keep what we do, split into regions, and when we are done?

The file for Northeast region Ozone data has a size of about 60 KB.


That’s doin’ data analysis like a PIRATE!



New friends.

New colleagues.

A vibrant, new, professional learning community.

A trip down the Nantahala…IN the Nantahala.

This is Orientation week for the Kenan Fellowship.  Though I’m well under way in my internship with Dr. Richard Smith at SAMSI (Statistical and Applied Mathematical Science Institute), this is the week to meet and get to know my fellow 2017 Fellows, and begin the plan of professional learning that will ultimately be my focus this year.

These people are amazing.  I’m humbled to be here, mostly because I am so clearly out of my depth.  Fortunately, one lesson that stuck in my head from long ago was that, if you aspired to be better than you are, surround yourself with people who are better than you are.  That’s my reality here at Kenan orientation week.

We’ve begun setting up our personal learning plans for this fellowship year.  Those plans include around 60 hours of professional development offered by Kenan, along with another 16+ hours of self-determined professional development.  In a fine example of something that we (teachers) are slowly realizing should be a part of what we offer to our students, the Kenan folk have recognized that at least some part of a teacher’s professional development should be set, determined, and carried out by the teacher.  After all, who else knows our interests and passions better than ourselves.

The journey has just begun, and there is much yet to experience.  My hope is to use this blog as much more than just the fulfillment of a request by Kenan, but as an on-going way to communicate and share my next year both in and out of the classroom.

If you decide to follow along, thank you, and I’ll try to keep it interesting.