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An Educator’s Guide to Cultivating a Digital Presence with Purpose

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This article was originally published August 4, 2020 by Latinos for Education.

When it comes to online engagement, the first stakeholders that come to mind are our students. What immediately follows this thought are horror stories of young adults posting content without considering the ramifications of their decisions. After seeing the many examples of cyberbullyingadmission offers being rescinded, and job opportunities lost, it’s no wonder there has been a surge of a plethora of resources designed to support teachers in building the digital literacy capacity of our students. However, opportunities, resources and research focused on digital literacy for education leaders are limited.

A young female teacher wearing red headphones works at a desk with a laptop on it.
Engaging with students online is more important than ever.

Educators are wary of engaging online for fear of saying the wrong thing, reflecting poorly on their school community — or worse — getting fired. Across our nation’s schools, we find there are very few system-level examples of district leaders incorporating robust digital literacy programs into educator guidelines or training. For example, talking about social media as an instructional opportunity remains a gray area for countless education leaders. Yet, we know our students are already in those spaces; how can we best support them if we aren’t in those spaces as well? As resources continue to be developed to support students, where are the resources for the education leader?

Through my research, I identified this gap and have been working toward addressing it by designing an educator-focused professional learning experience that positions social media as a critical space for professional growth and engagement.

Having a digital presence with purpose is critical to our development as 21st-century education leaders. Some may consider this an exercise in personal branding. However, branding often connotes competition, differentiation, and establishing a loyal base. Reframing from branding to “digital presence with purpose” is to focus on contribution, community, and connection. A digital presence with purpose is more than having a static online profile with a few basic details about you as a professional; it requires being engaged, visible, and authentic.

To invite educators to explore what online engagement means for them, I designed the Digital Presence Framework, which focuses on practices of contribution through sharing knowledge, sharing evidence, and sharing resources. While the three areas that comprise the framework have many commonalities, I provide examples of how to use this framework to begin your “digital presence with purpose” journey.

A graphic with the words "digital presence" in the center surrounded by the phrases "sharing knowledge," "sharing evidence" and "sharing resources" along with examples of how to do those things.
The Digital Presence Framework shows teachers how to begin a “digital presence with purpose” journey. | Vanessa Monterosa

Sharing Knowledge: This sphere invites educators to contribute their learnings at a training session or conference event into meaningful, relevant examples that other educators could benefit from. For example, many of us are currently attending countless webinars to understand how to navigate our remote learning circumstances. Have you gained valuable insight into how you will approach remote teaching and learning this fall? If so, this is an opportunity to share your knowledge and how you plan to implement key strategies to support students.

Sharing Resources: This sphere invites educators to connect with others in sharing artifacts, research, or other media informing their thinking and their practice. More importantly, your digital footprint begins demonstrating your growth mindset toward your identity as an education leader.  Sharing resources that add value to your instructional or leadership practices demonstrates your commitment to your craft and can inspire others to do the same.

Sharing Evidence: This sphere invites educators to uplift their school community by showcasing the rigorous, relevant instructional leadership activities they support through media-rich content. Pre-pandemic examples would include video of school-wide events; pictures of culminating student projects; or sharing certificates of trainings you completed. However, in our present-day circumstances, such contributions can be screencasts of students presenting their learnings; screenshots of Zoom meetings with colleagues as you plan to work through remote teaching; or a link to a webinar you led about a topic that resonates with your leadership approach.

The Digital Presence Framework ultimately provides a space to consider your work, insights, and professional interests as your source material for your online engagement and contributions.

I originally piloted this framework in August 2018 through a training with 27 instructional coaches who had varying levels of online engagement interest. At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, nearly all pilot participants had established a digital presence with purpose and continue to leverage their digital footprint to connect with their school community, amplify their contributions to their content areas, and collectively demonstrate the #EdTech expertise that exists in the nation’s second largest school district.

When debating whether or not to take the leap and establish your digital presence, remember that countless students can benefit from observing your digital leadership and engagement, especially as a Latinx educator. In addition to cultivating community, connection, and contributing your voice, you also ensure greater representation and visibility of our efforts as educators. As our nation’s school leaders work toward bridging the digital divide, the participatory divide awaits to be addressed as well. Our youth need role models that are accessible and savvy when it comes to participating in our digital economy, and this starts by establishing a digital presence with purpose as a 21st education leader.

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