I don’t think many people set out to be thought leaders. I sure didn’t but yet I have been called that from time to time. I think that is more flattering than true in my case but I do know a number of people who I think of as real thought leaders. So how does that happen? Having good thoughts is a necessary requisite I think but it is not enough. Why not? Well no matter how good your ideas are they don’t lead to anything unless people know about them. So if you want to lead with your thoughts you have to do something to make them known.
As a caveat I am not so sure that being a thought leader is such a great goal in and of itself. What I think is a good goal is the create great information and disseminate it to others. There are lots of great ideas floating around that few know about just because the people with those ideas are too shy or modest to share them. Sharing ideas is a great way to make them better BTW.
There was a time when the way to get your ideas known was to write a book. Still a good way but as always not easy. Finding a publisher and getting an editor are hard. Perhaps almost as hard as writing a good book. However we now live in the Internet age where everyone can publish on line. A good blog is a good start. Getting your blog known and followed by a lot of people is not as simple as posting good stuff. Oh you’d think it would be but there is so much out there that it doesn’t happen unless you are already famous. You need to start by following and commenting on existing blogs. And more but you can look that up if you want.
Twitter is good but follows the same issues as a blog. How do you become known?
For most people online is not going to be enough. Online and a book may work. I have seen it work for some. But the real way people become thought leaders is by doing things IRL – In Real Life! Most often this is by speaking at conferences.
Now I know what you are thinking – I’m not well known so no one is going to invite me to speak at a conference. And you are right. But – and it’s a big but – most people get started at conferences not by getting invited to give a keynote but by getting a talk accepted in response to a request for proposals. Yes you need to get out there an place your name in contention. Once excepted to speak you have to do a good job presenting worthwhile ideas.
In computer science education there are two important conferences and a number of valuable but less noticed conferences. Interestingly enough the important conferences are smaller than the less noticed conferences in terms of CS education. In terms of using technology in education that is reversed. Let me explain.
In computer science education the big two that get people noticed are SIGCSE and the CSTA Annual Conference. Note that the call for proposals for the CSTA conference is open now until January 24th. There are other CS education related conferences but these are the big ones – the ones where people who influence curriculum, development of tools, and promotion of CS education ideas are in attendance in the most numbers. BTW even without a session to present would be thought leaders should be in attendance to network with and share ideas in side conversations. Oh and learn things.
Other conferences include TCEA and ISTE. While both of these are much much larger in total attendance than the others there tends not to be much in the way of CS sessions. Still they are good platforms for presenting your ideas to an audience looking to hear them. I’ve attended both of these several times and enjoy the opportunity to learn from smart people. They both welcome a national and even international audience. There are also many regional conferences that are hosted by state affiliates of ISTE. If you work at it you can present at many of these by answering a call for proposals.
Another good venue to promote your ideas is at CSTA Chapter meetings. Some chapters are more active than others but being active in a chapter and presenting at chapter meetings is a great way to contribute to the community of knowledge.
Did you ever hear about a teacher being called “an award winning teacher?” Of course you have. Do you realize that most of them nominated themselves for those awards? Yep. Find those programs and nominate yourself. Or browbeat your school’s administrators to nominate you. If you win it makes them look good as well. Get yourself out there. Let people outside your building know about the good things you are doing.
Woody Allan is quoted as saying that "80 percent of success is just showing up." I think he has something there. Show up in person – attend conferences and submit proposals to speak. Show up online - take part in Twitter chats and post your ideas and information to a blog. toot your own horn a bit – Apply to various teacher award programs. But above all show up.
You can do amazing things in your own school and be a true rock star but if you never show up outside that school who else knows about it? I can’t say everyone will become a “thought leader” what ever that really means. But by showing up and sharing your ideas you can help others and by being open to feedback help yourself improve what you are doing.