Creating a Personal Brand with Brenda Williams, the Citizen Teacher of the Month Providing students, particularly at the middle school level, with exposure to different professions and direction for thinking about their future is critical to preparing them for success in school and beyond. This is Brenda Williams’ goal every semester when she teaches “My Guided Personal Story” to male students at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School in Chicago, IL. With 25 years of experience as a business strategist, Brenda knows what it takes to create a compelling personal brand.

She teaches students to be the CEOs of their lives. “My Guided Personal Story (myGPS) provides a structure for the students to think about their talents, values, and dreams to ultimately tell an interesting story about themselves and who they are. The story effectively communicates who they are and where they want to be in five years,” said Brenda.

This month we celebrate Brenda as the Citizen Teacher of the Month for her passionate effort to prepare students for a successful future.

Meet Brenda...

How did you create My Guided Personal Story?

“Being a strategic planner is all about projecting a vision. I want to make sure students have something they created on their own, to remind themselves of the great young men they want to be and think about the paths they need to take to get there. It helps them to create a vision for an inspired future and think about the steps necessary to further their dreams.

Your brand begins in your mind. It’s not easy because many kids face challenges on a daily basis. They need a place in their heart and mind where they can go that says ‘I see the rainbow. I see a promising future for myself.’”

How have you seen the apprenticeship impact students?

“It’s introspective, immersive, and highly expressive. They have to use language they don’t necessarily use everyday. I work to get them a place where they can talk about themselves comfortably. We talk about how it’s okay to be vulnerable. We’ve been able to find out a lot about their lives and find out why they are the way they are.

I make them stand in their truth by getting them to describe themselves and their interests. If you want people to believe you, you have to stand strong in your truth and make people see you for who you are.

They talk to their family and friends about vision boards they create for a personal commercial. The commercial focuses on the statement: ‘This is who I am, this is what I stand for. This is my dream and this is what I want to be.’ They can keep it on their phones and easily go back to remind themselves during difficult situations.

What’s one of your favorite “aha” or “wow” moments?

“When I came back from my Citizen Teacher training, one of my former students ran up to me and said ‘I got my report card! You have to see it! I’m talking A’s and B’s. I got myself together Miss Brenda, I got myself together this time. myGPS helped me do this.’ I felt very, very fulfilled thinking about this. If you can get at least one student to move the needle that is success.

My second favorite moment is when I was starting my new course. It went from eight boys to 18 boys. The word got out and I thought it would be difficult, but three students even repeated the class. I’m not a pushover and thought they would find the apprenticeship difficult because of it. One of the students asked, ‘Miss Brenda, can I stand up and tell everyone how myGPS has changed my life?’ He stood up and did more than I could ever do for a class. He did a testimony for myGPS. It was one of those moments where I’m thinking ‘He’s got it. He gets it.’”

What advice do you have for other volunteers?

“Teaching middle school students is a lot more difficult than dealing with corporate executives. Success is defined differently. If we get one or two students to the next level in the lesson, that’s success. You have to adjust your communication to make sure you’re speaking to them at their level.

It’s not easy. This is the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve done. I got out there to be a contributor in hopes of moving the needle and I found out how hard it is. It made me a lot more empathetic and gave me a greater understanding. Utilizing tools and suggestions from Citizen Schools’ campus staff helped me reach the students more effectively and manage their classroom behavior, which can be challenging at times.”

Why should people volunteer to teach students?

“It helps kids understand why it’s important to go to school. There are a lot of interesting careers that they had never heard of before my class. By teaching them we are opening their worlds to different roles and are fortifying their experience with what goes on in the real-world. That kind of exposure is important. Many people are looking for ways to give back but spend a lot of time working or having hobbies that are really important to them. They don’t often realize that giving back can be sharing our experiences, knowledge, and passions with kids.

Kids are the future, and people who want to cultivate and shape the future should be involved with kids. If you need structure, Citizen Schools will give you that. I think it’s a wonderful way to contribute to the future of our society in way that makes you feel good.”