This post has been ruminating in my head for the last several years. The people I am going to talk about are amazing individuals, and I respect them very much. These are questions that I have had since I joined Twitter in 2007.
Personal vs. Professional
When I joined Twitter, and every other social media web site, my policy has been to use my personal email address. I have attended district inservice trainings where the presenters told people to use their work email, as this would be a "work" social media site. Those approaches always bothered me. I've always wanted to be in control of my own destiny, and tying my accounts to a work email address to which I would not have access if I ever left made me uncomfortable. A couple times, I have chosen IDs that made sense at the time, but didn't make sense later. Sometimes, those usernames are hard to change. I have two youtube channels, mrjoneseng (what I currently use) and mrjonesed (what I used to flip my classroom before it had a name).
When I joined Twitter, I had the same conflict. Should I be @jethrojones, @mrjonesenglish (which is what I was teaching at the time), or should I be @FHMS7gEnglishTeach? How much should my Twitter handle define my current job?
Two people that I greatly admire chose identifying handles: @NMHS_Principal and @canyonsdave. They both chose to identify themselves with their schools and districts and focused their identities on promoting or talking about their professional life. They both gained a lot of followers in a short time period. Also, these two men are just amazing! I have learned so much from both of them that I can't believe I have been fortunate enough to rub elbows with them. Here's the inspiring interview with Eric on my podcast
These two educators and I have something in common: we recently changed jobs. Eric became a Senior Fellow at RigorRelevance, Dave joined Ed Direction, and I moved to Alaska to be principal of Kodiak Middle School. Dave left over a year ago, and still uses the twitter handle @canyonsdave, (Canyons being the district of which he was superintendent). Eric just recently left, and I wondered what he would do about his very distinct Twitter handle, which would not really make sense after his departure.
I saw this tweet the other day.
What I suppose he did was changed his handle to ESheninger and then created a new account and named that one NMHSPrincipal. He couldn't just leave @NMHS_Principal out there for someone else to take because it had its own brand recognition.
Pros and Cons of Professional Identities
Choosing a social media handle that signifies what I do for a profession at that moment can be seen as a way to show that I am dedicated to that assignment. @NMHS_Principal and @canyonsdave certainly identify a certain level of commitment to the position. However, we all know that all jobs don't last forever. Eventually, we move on.
What role does a social media account built on the professional title of a leader have when that leader leaves the position.
What if, when Eric left his high school, he gave his Twitter handle and followers to the new principal of New Milford High School? Can you imagine getting a job and having a network of 72,000 people? Obviously, there are pros and cons to this. Maybe that new principal wants his or her own identity that isn't tied to the previous principal.
Side Note: Since I wrote the first draft of this, Mr. Manuppelli @PrincipalNMHS has been announced as the principal of New Milford High School and has chosen a similar handle for his twitter account.
Maybe you want to start small, free to make the mistakes you make when you are new to the job and attempt to build your own following.
Recognizing that he is a brand in and of himself now, Eric Sheninger created a twitter handle that could promote his personal brand.
One district I worked for claimed ownership of anything that I created during work hours or using district-owned resources. Would they own my twitter account because I used it to help me be a better educator? That seems just silly, and would really discourage me from sharing what I am learning.
So, is this a non-issue? Is this an issue as students start entering the workforce who have been on social media in high school and started shaping their brand? Is this an issue as people gain a personal following that is more personal than professional? Is this an issue as people tweet as a representative of a particular school or district, and then leave?
Most states have rules or regulations that preempt teachers from using their position in a school for personal gain. I'll be the first to admit that every job I have gotten (personal gain) since I started interacting on social media has been because of that interaction. So, am I in the wrong? I sure hope not, and I don't think so. My social network has gotten me these jobs because this is where I go to learn now. I've got my B.A. and M.Ed, so this is the next best way to learn, and I learn so much.
I've been learning in dog years the last 7 years, and it is amazing! Where am I going to be in 7 more years if I keep using these tools to help me learn and challenge myself as I have been for the last 7?