What Google Says About You: A Challenge

So it’s the end of the school year. A delightful feeling of renewal is sprinkling down like magic as you look forward to summer break. You are probably putting together an epic summer To-Do list of projects, appointments, and fun times. I’d like to challenge you to add one more thing to your list: Have you examined your digital footprint lately?

According to Wikipedia, a digital footprint (a.k.a. digital shadow) “refers to one’s unique set of traceable digital activities, actions, contributions and communications that are manifested on the Internet or on digital devices.” A few years ago, I took a technology class with Dr. Teresa Foulger. For one assignment, we examined our digital footprint by typing our name in a Google search and looking through the results. (OK, yes…go ahead. Open another window and Google yourself right now!)

As I typed my name into the search and waited for the results, I had a feeling of excitement—and then worry—and then….disappointment. I stared at the computer and saw that virtually nothing in the results was actually about me. If you try this Google experiment and find limited search results, you might consider taking some active steps to improve your own digital footprint this summer.

On Dr. Foulger’s (free!) “Develop Your Digital Footprint” module, she writes: “You are a professional educator. Google should know that…your online identity needs to depict you as a highly qualified professional.” Personally, I couldn’t agree more. At a time when Arizona is decreasing the requirements for teacher certification, isn’t it important for highly qualified teachers to take active steps and show off what makes us highly qualified? Don’t we want to set ourselves apart as professionals?

Part of the Digital Footprint assignment involved creating my own professional website about myself as an educator. Back then, I remember thinking I’m not important enough to have my own professional website and I don’t know any teachers who have a website about themselves. But here’s the deal: I sucked it up and did the assignment—and the process was really transformative! It increased my feelings of professionalism, leadership, and teacher awesomeness. There was something about the sheer act of making the website that helped me realize I needed my own website. And now I’m convinced that all teachers should consider making their own, too.

If you are ready to take the plunge and create your own professional website, Dr. Foulger’s module is a very helpful guide. Within the module, there are links to many examples that might get your wheels turning. For me, I found that Weebly was a great free site that I could navigate easily to create the professional webpage I had in mind. Some other actions that have improved my digital footprint have been: I created a profile on LinkedIn, I maintain a classroom website (through PB works), I participate in Twitter discussions, and I’m sure to always log in before I post comments on blogs so that my name shows instead of “anonymous.”

Overall, I’ve learned that a digital footprint requires ongoing maintenance and intentional actions. Also, I’ve learned that these actions are worth it! Earlier this year, a substitute on my campus told me that she had “looked me up.” After I got over the shock (that she was interested enough to Google me!)—I was amazed to find out that she’d found many of my blogs and websites. That moment created a big shift in my thinking. It helped me realize that my digital footprint is part of my “teacher voice” that I can use as a tool to advance the profession, share my perspectives, and advocate for my students. Don’t let your teacher voice be silent when it comes to your digital footprint. Be bold and brave!

If you have thoughts or examples about increasing your digital footprint or creating a professional website, I hope you’ll share in the comments below. I’m looking forward to reading what Google says about YOU!


Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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