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Art teacher takes personal branding lesson to conferences

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HERKIMER — Herkimer Jr./Sr. High School art teacher Heather McCutcheon recently presented at two conferences about a mind map/personal brand art project she conducts with her students.

For the project, students draw mind maps about who they are as a person and then use the mind map as inspiration to develop a logo for their personal brand. Then they make stickers and clothing apparel with their personal brand logo on it.

Because of the success of the project at Herkimer, McCutcheon wanted to present about it to others at the conferences.

“I love this lesson and what it means to students,” McCutcheon said. “I think it is important to share these amazing things with as many people as possible. Personal branding is important for all of us. It is important that we stop and think about who we really are, what our interests and passions are and what makes us, us.”

McCutcheon presented Oct. 7 at the New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education DO EdTech conference at Oneonta High School with about 20 people in attendance. Then she presented Oct. 15 as part of the main stage for the International Society for Technology in Education Creative Constructor Lab Conference, a national, virtual event with about 1,800 people in attendance.

The mind map/personal brand lesson started as a collaboration between McCutcheon and Herkimer Central School District Technology Coordinator Ryan Orilio about five years ago for the new media class they co-taught. Students were challenged to create content with innovative technology, McCutcheon said.

Since then, the project has expanded and evolved to versions for other classes including social emotional artistic learning, studio art and graphics – and now students get “swag” with their personal brand logo, she said.

A few years ago, McCutcheon contacted Compassion Coalition to see if the non-profit could donate shirts for the project. Compassion Coalition donated seven boxes of shirts and sweatshirts that are used with the project.

McCutcheon hopes to further expand the lesson and offer it as a class for teachers – something that she and Orilio have discussed since they began the project. The continued expansion of the idea also ties into why McCutcheon wanted to present at the two conferences.

“I love doing this lesson with students, as it is important for all of us to find our brand and identity – always starting with the question, ‘Who are you?’” McCutcheon said. “I think it is important to share these amazing lessons with as many people as possible, and I am so excited every time I can share out our Herkimer pride.”

When doing the project, students generally start out a little hesitant to think about themselves, McCutcheon said. Once the students find out the lesson includes more than just a mind map and that they will be creating their own brand and logo, they get really excited, McCutcheon said.

It’s helpful for students to develop their own brand to take ownership of their identity, McCutcheon said. “This is not an easy task,” she said. “Learning more about ourselves, our wants, likes and what makes us who we are is so important.”

McCutcheon said she hopes students also benefit from the project by learning more about others as well.

“Building relationships is an important part of learning,” she said. “We learn best from others we trust and feel comfortable with. I do this lesson right along with students. I open myself up for students to learn about me, and I hope they will open up as well.”