Between building lesson plans, classroom management, and seemingly endless grading, it’s no surprise that many teachers de-prioritize networking as a component of their careers. Since most schools are structured without many opportunities for mixing with new faces, it’s also hard to find ways to connect outside of the close-knit communities of districts. All of these barriers might make networking seem like a waste of time, but building your professional community is a vital component to progressing in your educational career. Whether it’s your New Year’s resolution to start building your community, or you’re looking for a new job as soon as possible, it’s always the right time to learn more about building connections. Below, you’ll find the “Who, What When, Where, Why and How”s of networking in education.
As a teacher, it’s important you have connections with fellow educators at your level, but you should also prioritize forming relationships with many types of professionals in education. Think beyond your expertise or grade level- developing relationships with school counselors, administrators, and contractors will diversify your perspective on the school system. Consider opportunities even broader: are there college-level professors or lecturers with whom you share a field? What about textbook writers or publishers that you might learn from? All kinds of people are involved and invested in education, not just fellow teachers. Are there non-profits that might be interested in having students visit, or in having you share your professional expertise? Keep your eyes open, and you’ll find that personal connections make for great professional partnerships in the right context.
What is networking, anyway? Networking is a nebulous concept that means different things in different settings. Many people picture networking as small talk happening at big conferences, or professional gatherings. While that’s certainly a form of it, in the age of the internet, there are more ways than ever to expand your professional community. We’ll talk more about the ‘how’ of networking later, but here we want to define “networking” as more than just small talk and exchanging business cards. Networking is all about creating connections. Do you have friends or acquaintances who might be able to support your teaching efforts. Consider those people part of your network. Maintaining those relationships requires a little maintenance- but in the times that you need support, these people could be your support network.
This one is easy: networking can happen at any time. Whenever you are meeting someone new, there is an opportunity to build a professional alignment. Don’t think of this as pressure, but rather as a wide net of opportunity! Whether you’re at a friend’s birthday party, at the dentist, or even buying school supplies, there is always an opportunity to form a connection.
Beyond the examples stated above, there are many places that professional connections are formed. These days, networking happens online and offline. This is great news for busy teachers who might not have the resources or time to go to conferences (although these are great opportunities, too) because professional development can easily happen as you sit in front of your computer. Looking for places to connect online? Try joining Facebook groups for teachers. These groups can offer support, dialogue, advice, and even job leads in a digestible format. If you are looking for a more professional place to connect, the obvious answer is Linkedin. Building your profile can take a few minutes, and you’re set up to connect with your colleagues. Be sure to “follow” professionals you admire, whether they are educators, coaches, or business personalities. If online connections aren’t your preferred mode of communication, conferences or traditional professional leagues are still available for you. While we encourage everyone to set up a Linkedin profile, in-person meetings are important. Check with your district, administrators, or even local groups to see where networking is happening locally.
Many teachers might not find networking necessary, since teaching is often thought of as less strategic or political than other lines of work. While that may be true for some people, not all teaching jobs follow a straight path. If you hope to move into a role in school administration, make more money in a different school, or even move, personal connections are the best way to jumpstart these goals. Over 70% of all jobs are found through a person’s known network, so you can imagine why knowing someone in the right place would help to forward your career.
Jumpstart your networking opportunities with any of these great action items:
- Create or update your Linkedin profile with a current listing of your work experience, and post any recent projects that you might like to share with your network.
- Connect Linkedin to your email list to find all of your connections through the site. You’ll be surprised at how fast your network grows.
- Join a teaching Facebook group, and introduce yourself! See what fellow educators are talking about and be sure to participate.
- Search local events for ones involving teaching and education. Even if there is only a slight connection to teaching, it might be worth attending. At any event, make sure to talk to at least one new person, or try to set a higher goal, like three or five people!
- Join a local skill group, like Toastmasters. Not only will you improve your public speaking, you’ll be able to connect with all kinds of new people in a friendly yet professional setting.
- Find a conference that applies to your field. If money is an issue, try to apply for a scholarship, or ask your school’s administration for partial funding. Remember, conferences are a great place to learn, but the connections you make are even more lasting than the lectures you attend. Be sure to make time for socializing with attendees.