Going the Extra Mile



by Richard White

“Personal branding.” Have you heard about this? Has anyone come up to you to talk about “marketing yourself?”

If you hang around the Internet long enough you’ll eventually stumble upon something about branding and marketing, not as a corporation but as an individual. I heard a radio program the other day in which one guy (perhaps as part of some couples therapy exercise) suggested that people come up with a a brochure, or an advertisement, promoting one’s self to one’s partner. As part of this exercise, one would include a motto, list attractive features of one’s self, as well as accessories (?), etc.

I’m not entirely sure how this process—clarifying one’s personal brand—would result in the strengthening of one’s relationship, but it was an interesting idea… and not one that I’m very interested in pursuing myself, I have to say.

But I get the marketing thing. Take the Big Sur Half Marathon, for example.

Held in Monterey during November, the Big Sur Half Marathon is a wonderful “little” race in a lovely little town, and I had a perfectly wonderful time during the race weekend I spent up there with some friends. Our hotel was nice but reasonably priced. The weather was beautiful. We we weren’t actually staggering along the 13.1-mile course, we were walking the streets sight-seeing, eating at restaurants, grabbing an afternoon coffee at Peet’s. The usual stuff.

I can only imagine that, during difficult economic times, the costs associated with putting on a run like this might be called into question. Budgets must be tight: there was as shortage of race t-shirts, and not everyone who crossed the line received the hand-made ceramic finisher’s medal that had been promised. The race organizers made no effort to hide the fact that they were interested in studying the economics of the situation. A post-weekend survey didn’t ask how much fun you had; it asked, “How much did you spend over the course of your visit this weekend?” and “Do you plan on coming back again next year?”

So it was something of a surprise, then, when I received a mysterious, somewhat thick manila envelope in the mail a few weeks ago. The postmark was Monterey. I tore it open to find a copy of the Monterey Herald newspaper inside. I checked the date—it was a month old. What the…?

I leafed through the paper, and it wasn’t until I hit the second section that I realized what it was:

Oh! It’s a newspaper from the day after the race! I read a couple of articles, and quickly enough stumbled upon the long listing of names on the last page of the paper. And there, buried deep in results, I found my name:

I gotta tell you, a series of events quickly followed: First, I got a nice little lump in my throat right there, seeing my name in print, even if it was only in 7-point on the last page. Next, I made a promise to myself that I would return to the Big Sur Half Marathon the following year, dammit. And then, I thought about how clever they were to send out this paper. I don’t know how much it cost to send out 4000 newspapers, but I can only think that it must have been a wise investment. My receiving this little newspaper, weeks after I’d nearly forgotten about the event perhaps, was the very best kind of marketing: a soft, value-added reminder that I was a satisfied client, and that I should keep them in mind in the future, if the occasion arose to run another half-marathon, or even just come up to visit for a weekend.

And then my thoughts turned to my relationship with my clients: my students.

How do I market myself to them, consciously or unconsciously?

What does my “personal brand”—even unspoken—look like to them?

What “value added” do I provide to them that reminds them that their experiences with me in the classroom are to be respected and appreciated?

Every teacher, reflective of his or her practice, can benefit from considering these things.

What “value added” do you provide?

2 thoughts on “Going the Extra Mile

  1. My “value added” has certainly evolved over the years. At first, I was someone to assign work, correct it, and grade it. There were attempts to explain stuff mixed in, but I think my students succeeded in spite of that.

    Teaching of the material, thus, was the first boost I wanted to give to my “value added” and I did that. Now, I feel very confident in explaining complicated math ideas to anyone so that they are logical and coherent.

    As the material has become second nature, I have begun to focus more on the students themselves and how I can nurture and mentor them more explicitly. Last summer, I went to the Stanley King conference where I learned counseling skills I could use with high school students. I also took a communication workshop. And, I’ve made a concerted effort to be a better listener and make myself more available to my students. In the last two years, these efforts have truly paid off and my “value added” now goes beyond “content provider.” I do think I am better prepared to aid students in more than just their academic development. And this, I think, makes me a better teacher.

  2. “Science is action – science is a verb – science is objective collection and analysis of data”
    (Of course, my students love me for this, because rote repetition of F=ma is too easy)

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