Marketing or Growth: What Does It Mean to Be An Innovative Educator?

If you want to see corporate marketing at its best and worst, look no further than edtech created “educator honors”.

These technology based programs that label and badge teachers as “ambassador”, “innovative”, “distinguished” or “certified” are considered “honors” within the education field as entry into these “elite” programs often represents a teacher who is not only doing brilliant work for kids and communities but also contributing to education both nationally and even globally through the sharing of that work. (As expressed in documentation created to promote the program)

In addition, with professional development opportunities often incredibly lacking in districts, these programs often provide extensive PD and even financial support for conferences in exchange for teachers presenting, when districts can’t or won’t provide it.

There is no denying that what these programs provide for teachers has some great impact and quite a few of them get it right and remain focused on the growth of the teacher…as defined by the teacher or program goals. Discovery Education does this like no other with the DEN Stars program!

However, just as there exists a group of corporate designations that are honestly great, there also exists a group of programs that are not.

Hiding behind the badge or a “branded educator” t-shirt, is often a marketing machine where teachers are literally used as social sharing pawns with the sole purpose of evangelizing the product and promoting its use both online and face to face. It’s the #1 edtech marketing attempt at spreading the message through community, while ironically proving that they have no idea what community truly means.

Unfortunately, we as educators often don’t make the distinction. We congratulate and applaud the badge as if it has greater meaning than the pixels from which it was created. We view the “direct email to the company” as a sign of collaboration, never quite connecting the fact that they often need YOU much more than YOU need them…especially if it is a brand new product on the market.

Hey teachers, your network of educators, conference voice and reach is like the edtech version of bitcoin…literally measurable in such a way that it can be connected to potential growth…for the company anyway. Remember, in this model, your growth doesn’t really count.

That’s a reality for programs connected to sales or usage impact. If you’re lucky enough to be on a “feedback pathway”, you’re likely testing product and providing input on your own time.

We, the same ones who are looked upon in “tech spaces” as JUST TEACHERS, are giving our time and ideas to help frame someone else’s “innovation” because that’s who we are especially when it just might have greater impact in our classrooms. (It’s also really fun to put in a twittter bio or on a conference slide)

I am not knocking these programs, badges or people’s desire to fill their CV with every honor imaginable. Believe me, many of them provide ample opportunity for teachers to share all over the world. I too hold a few “corporate” distinctions but this is not done so blindly. This is done only after reading the fine print and understanding what each program will mean for my own growth, work and community.

Sometimes, I miss the fine print or even the bold print…especially when the program carries a name that means a great deal to me personally and it’s disappointing when you realize that something that you care about might be nothing more than a ploy to build a platform on the backs of teachers…through the lens of the fundamental work that we do.

Hidden behind the words…ambassador, innovator, certified, distinguished…

For the record, being an educator is just as thought provoking, creative and important as being a neurologist, engineer or any career path of esteemed importance where creative ideas are validated. We do not need to be “fixed”. The system itself does. We do not need to have our roles defined through the creation of more programs that capitalize on our work.

If you want to empower and applaud teachers…do it. Don’t hide agendas behind specialized buzz words. Instead, treat us as such. None of us would define an innovator as someone who follows a pre-conceived plan or rules so don’t use that word when the expectations underneath are anything but that.

With that said, as teachers…we should always read the fine print before signing up for programs that may not be in the best interest of the profession. At the end of the day, we hold the cards and respect won’t happen until we demand it.

Seeing all sides of the equation is a start…even if the endgame is the impact on students.

At some point, we also have to care about the impact on ourselves…our ideas and voices in our schools, communities and global networks.

By the way…a single branded program isn’t what makes the greatest difference for kids. YOU do.

And that matters.

Much more than being labeled…ambassador, innovator, certified, distinguished



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