Kenan Fellows Voices: Bill Worley

I had never thought about my brand as an educator until I attended the session on “Identifying Your Brand” at the Kenan Fellows Program Professional Development Summer Institute in Cullowhee last summer. Led by Kenan Fellow alum Mark Townley the session helped me identify who I am as an educator and how my brand could help me bring consistency and accountability to my collaborations.

My students did seem to enjoy my classes, and my new students did seem to look forward to my classes after hearing positive comments from their peers. Perhaps, I had been promoting a personal brand without realizing it. Nevertheless, after completing the session, I set out to be more intentional about how my brand reflects and influences the decisions I make as an educator and even in my personal life. As part of the workshop, we were asked to think of our brand in terms of three components:

  1. Emotional appeal (how would others describe us),
  2. A descriptive modifier (a word that describes our style), and finally
  3. Our function (what makes our classroom standout from the rest).

Let me tell you, this is a LOT harder than you would think! I am not sure that many of us spend that much time thinking about ourselves this deeply. It took me quite a while to come up with three words that best described me. In the end, I decided on “a PASSION for RELEVANCE through CHALLENGE.”

I could explain why I chose those three words, and how they reflect the kind of educator I hope I am becoming, but that would be all about me – and that is boring for anyone but me. So, instead, let me explain why this experience has made such a difference in how I conduct myself in the classroom. To be honest, I was inspired by Mark’s story of how his personal brand has affected him as a person and an educator.

For an entire school year, Mark decided to be diligent about passing every choice he had to make through the lens of his personal brand: “Compassionate, Relevant, and Experiential Learning.” That whole year, whenever he has faced 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. Creating my brand and the personal statement has helped me to make wiser decisions that are consistent with the things I value, and the attributes 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 am in!

I want what I teach my students to be relevant to them – so anything that gives me an opportunity to make math seem more real is an opportunity I am willing to embrace. In addition, I want my students to feel like they have been challenged. I want them to learn by facing and overcoming challenges. Therefore, I need to model that with them and to model that in front of them. I challenge all educators to consider their personal brand and how might they benefit from using it as a lens through which they make decisions and take action.

Bill Worley, a 2017-18 Kenan Fellow, teaches at Johnston County Early College Academy in Johnston County Schools. His fellowship, Is U.S. Air Pollution Getting Better or Worse?, is sponsored by SAMSI.