Networking can sometimes be a dirty word for teachers. For the cynics out there we don’t go into teaching to become corporate and to behave as business people do. For the optimists out there, we go into teaching to make a difference – we can do this alone, head down, in our individual classrooms or we can see ourselves as being part of something bigger, contributing to the system rather than a school. In a lot of other industries networking is an expectation, an opportunity to connect with the community, to communicate what you are doing, to create collaborations. When described like this we see that it is aligned with what we do in education too.
Networking has become a hot topic in education, for those of us who engage in it or those who are intrigued by it. In the last few weeks I have been asked to contribute to several educational events to share my networking story and to encourage others to appreciate the potential power of their Professional Learning Network.
I think these 3 values embody for me why I network:
I meet people who I would not normally connect with. Each connection starts a new professional relationship. Many of these professional connections have grown into personal friendships with people who I would not have met had I not put myself out there. Each connection brings value to me as a person, as a professional but equally brings value back into my school community which will ultimately impact the children. I share my connections and am constantly introducing people who are working on similar projects or who are exploring similar ideas.
Teaching can be a lonely place if you spend hours in your classroom by yourself. Leading can be a lonely place if you spend hours in your office out of hours, and work in a school where it is them against us. Networking raises you above the local politics and drops you into a space with people who get you, get your situation but who are also seeking different ways of doing things, different ways of working together to find solutions to our challenges.
This for me is the most exciting bit. Once you have invested in making the connections and grown your community, it is the collaborations that spawn out of this space that create the buzz. Through #womened #bameed #teacher5aday, 3 of the communities who I connect and collaborate with, the opportunities to get involved in things have been endless. A great example of this is the #iwd17 virtual toolkit a group of us are working on for 8/3. Dauntless Daughters, Action Aid, WomenEd and 30 educators contributing a resource each which will then be shared far and wide for others to benefit from.
Here are my reflections from the events I have been asked to attend and speak at about the Power of the #PLN.
Leading Women’s Alliance #SeizingOpps:
I attended a year ago as DHT, I returned this year as a new HT. Carol and Kate, 2 of the organisers, asked me to share how networking has opened doors and created opportunities for me, personally and professionally. Through Twitter I have met coaches who have helped me to process who I am as a leader and clarify what my vision is. Through reading blogs and finding events to attend through eventbrite I went to a lot of educational events last year. I met people I knew Twitter for a coffee at these events. One of these coffees was with Jon, my new CEO, he wasn’t recruiting, I wasn’t hunting for a new job but a conversation led to a new door being opened.
The Local Engagement Officers for Teach First London North, South, East and West asked me to speak to the ambassadors about how I have grown my network. I asked them why there were in Dirty Martinis on a Thursday night – was their motivation the free food and drink, or was it the potential connections they would make in the room. I encouraged them to speak to people they did not know in the room, to network beyond their immediate circle of contacts. I challenged them to put themselves out there, to go beyond their comfort zones and to follow up the connections that they made.
Naomi Ward is one of our #womened Regional Leaders for the SE. She is doing some work with Portsmouth College and the Apprenticeship team – she asked me to speak about how networking is a skill that needs to be taught and to address why it is easier for some student groups than others. I referenced the fact that if you are a white middle class man, especially if you attend a private school, that you will have an extensive network of family connections to open doors for you. That you will be able to arrange work placements in the City, in law firms, because you will know someone who knows someone in this space. I reinforced that we need to create these networks for our young people, that we need to remove some of the social barriers and create opportunities for them to make meaningful connections for future collaborations. I cited the example of a school in a deprived part of South London who host networking events, bringing business into the school, to make those introductions and to create those opportunities for the student body.
Diverse Leaders Programme #BAMEed #womened:
We have 3 cohorts of existing and aspiring leaders – 75 brilliant individuals – who are navigating their way around being identified as being from under-represented groups in the schools’ workforce, finding their career pathway and being inspired/ empowered to fulfill their potential and pursue their dreams. I have led a day with each group before half-term and shared my personal/ professional journey of how investing in networking has impacted my career. We talked at length about the pros and cons, the barriers and the challenges, of being transparent, authentic leaders. We reflected on our whys, considered how to support one another in achieving them and articulated what sort of leaders we want to be. I have felt very proud of each of them being 10% braver and taking their next steps towards their goals.
Teach First Conference – Careers Panel:
Yesterday I was asked to contribute as a new Headteacher to a panel about seeking and securing leadership opportunities. Each of the leaders on the panel had had a different career trajectory but each of us referenced how our networks had supported our growth, we also encouraged the audience to create opportunities for themselves, to put themselves out there and connect with people. We each talked about how we had been recruited and how we were recruiting – with budget issues and a recruitment/ retention issues schools need to be more creative with how they ‘get the people on the bus’ then ‘how they get the right people in the right seats’. We each networked in different ways but agreed that you need to be proactive and use your initiative.
So give it a go, come in to the light, push yourself out of your comfort zone, feel the sunshine on your face. I promise you, you will find your tribe of connections who will inspire and empower you. We were all the newbie once and know what it feels like, I encouraged a friend who I trained with to join Twitter this week and she messaged me to say she felt quite overwhelmed at how friendly, genuine, helpful and supportive everyone is in our extended network.
Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher
Currently feeling hopeful about:
- Connecting and collaborating with like-minded people
Currently reading and thinking about:
- I am reading each of the blogs @staffrm by our Diverse Leaders, delighting in their reflections as they find their voice, use their voice and amplify each others voices – check out the blogs #womened and #bameed
Currently feeling grateful for:
- The amazing connections I have made in the last few years – I am now friends with some brilliant educators who I would not have known had I not invested the time in going to #teachmeets, hosting #leadmeets, tweeting and blogging
- My memory for names and faces – the more people you meet the harder it is to remember everyone!
- Carol/ Kate, Naomi, Chris/ Chloe for their invites to speak about my experience of networking
- Allana/ Paul, Jaz/ Bukky for their contributions to our networking days