Skeptics sometimes criticize networking as a selfish business deal, one in which professionals pretend to make friends while pursuing shallow occupational goals. In reality, networking bolsters professional and personal development, and successful networkers connect with colleagues, mentor figures, and experts from diverse occupational backgrounds to develop relationships that also function as professional support systems.
Teaching is a rewarding and demanding profession, and maintaining a professional teaching network facilitates professional and personal growth.
Establishing a professional learning network for teachers is especially important, as it helps educators expand their influence beyond the classroom, share curricula, and acquire new teaching strategies. Educators network in person at annual teaching conferences, or build digital partnerships online using both general networking sites and education-specific social media tools. Networking offers an opportunity for new teachers to make good impressions on potential employers and compensate for limited professional experience. Additionally, young teachers who build a professional network have more opportunities to acquire valuable resources from classroom veterans.
Teaching is a rewarding and demanding profession, and maintaining a professional teaching network facilitates professional and personal growth. This article contains information about different types of networks, in-person and online networking forums for educators, and networking tips for both prospective teachers searching for their first position and instructors updating their curricula.
Different Types of Professional Networks in Teaching
In general, three main types of professional networks exist: operational, personal, and strategic. Operational networking focuses on present tasks, and the relationships in these networks support the efficient fulfillment of day-to-day responsibilities. However, while operational networks strengthen internal relationships with immediate colleagues and foster daily success, they often lack external, future-oriented connections. Personal networking, on the other hand, helps professionals build connections that foster personal and professional development, thus paving the way for professional referrals and future job opportunities. Likewise, strategic networks help anticipate and prepare for future challenges.
While professional educators engage in all networking types, operational and personal networking offer the most benefits for classroom teachers. Teachers' operational networks usually include other teachers, while personal networks might include parents, and internal and external educational mentors. Both relationships improve a teacher's ability to effectively manage classroom activities and connect with students. Educators in senior positions, such as principals or department heads, use strategic networking to anticipate and plan for their educational teams' needs.
Networking Events in Teaching
Attending networking events is an important part of achieving success as a teacher. Numerous teaching-centered conferences occur across the country each year. Some, such as SXSW EDU, unite K-12 and college educators, while others connect teachers with specific interests. Serious Play, for instance, caters to teachers interested in the importance of games as learning mechanisms.
Attending networking events is an important part of achieving success as a teacher.
National teaching networking events often occur in convention centers or on university campuses. Typically, teaching conferences offer participants large-scale events such as keynote addresses. However, conferences also feature breakout sessions for small groups, such as workshops covering common education interests and one-on-one Q&A sessions with teaching mentors.
Networking for teachers relies on building organic relationships based on common professional interests and classroom experiences. To facilitate these connections, most conferences schedule time for informal social gatherings. For example, many large events host smaller networking lounges, designated spaces for participants to retreat, meet other teachers, and forge friendships and professional connections.
Elevator Pitches in Teaching
An elevator pitch is a short speech highlighting professional interests and goals. Most pitches last 30 seconds, or about the length of an average elevator ride, and summarize the service a professional provides, how the individual delivers this service, and its benefits. The elevator speech is memorable, and concise.
When crafting their elevator speeches, teachers should include their academic discipline and what they hope to achieve by teaching this discipline. A prospective English teacher, for example, could discuss how AP language and composition classes improve students' critical-thinking abilities and how this improvement benefits their overall intellectual development.
Social Networking Sites for Teaching Professionals
While in-person networking remains critical to success, participating in an online social network for teachers is equally important. While LinkedIn remains an online networking favorite, several sites cater specifically to teachers and educators. Edmodo, for instance, helps teachers design and deliver assignments to students, and also facilitates online connections with parents and fellow educators. Through BetterLesson, teachers digitally share lesson plans and classroom management ideas.
Most education-oriented networking sites offer free memberships and access to a vast community of teachers from around the world. Digital networking does not foster the personal connection of face-to-face interactions, so teachers should never substitute it completely for in-person networking.
While some individuals might seem perfectly comfortable engaging with a room full of strangers, networking is a skill that requires time and practice to learn. Networking professionals only learn what (and what not) to do through extensive trial and error. Combining both general networking tips and specific advice for educators, the following guidelines outline foundational principles for prospective teachers building their social networks.
Don't Deliver a Sales Pitch
At times, networking can feel like simply selling a product or service. However, crafting a reliable teaching network depends on connecting with like-minded educators who can share resources, offer advice, and provide professional referrals. Networkers should focus on building friendly, supportive relationships, rather than treating the experience as an opportunity to sell an abstract commodity.
Meeting new people often causes anxiety, and anxious people are prone to rambling. While discussing professional and personal interests is the foundation of networking, the most successful networkers listen as much as they speak. Listening to others communicates interest in a conversation, and remains a vital part of forging and maintaining partnerships.
First-rate networkers make meeting others seem effortless. However, attending conferences requires considerable preparation. Before the conference starts, research the professional backgrounds of keynote speakers, Q&A session participants, and other mentor figures, and prepare questions and conversation topics. Teachers who do so have a better chance of engaging in meaningful conversation and making a lasting impression.
Sometimes, the best way to widen a professional network is to help others connect. Networkers who help connections extend their support network leave a good impression and indirectly strengthen their own business relationships. Perfecting the art of the connection is an especially important skill for teachers, as they must demonstrate a willingness to facilitate the growth of those around them.
Make New Friends
It is tempting to approach a networking event like a goal-oriented mission. However, collecting business cards and making strategic connections is only part of the process. Is is critical to engage in genuine conversations and enjoy the company of potential friends. Treating networking as a fun social event rather than an obligation makes the process more pleasant and effective.
Networking Event Do's for Teachers
National teaching conferences typically attract thousands of educators and feature dozens of interesting workshops. Establish goals beforehand, such as meeting experts in restorative classroom justice, learning about effective online resources for science labs, or even finding a new job at a dream school. Simple goals help teachers meet the right people and access the most useful classroom tools.
Dressing for success at a teaching network event can be difficult, as it is vital for educators to look nice without appearing overly formal. In general, teachers make the best impression wearing business casual attire. Males should consider wearing a nice button-down shirt and khaki pants; females can wear a dark skirt and blouse. The goal is to appear professional but not over-dressed.
Bring Business Cards
Teaching conferences involve socializing and discussions of engaging classroom goals. Getting lost in this shuffle of new people and ideas is all too easy. To make a lasting impression, teachers should bring business cards to exchange with other educators.
Remember that networking is not an excuse to drone on about favorite lecture topics. Educators who talk for extended periods might appear self-centered or condescending. Keep discussions about personal interests brief but inviting, as doing so prevents the audience from feeling like students suffering under a monotonous lesson plan.
Follow Up on Connections
Nothing discourages professionals more than reaching out to a potential connection and receiving nothing in return. If the initial meet-and-greet stage is vital to networking, so is the latter stage in which acquaintances revisit their conversations. Following up signals attentiveness and consideration for others, important traits for any prospective professional.
Networking Event Don'ts for Teachers
Distribute Paper Copies of Your Resume
A business card helps others remember you; passing out your resume is overkill. Teaching is all about speaking publicly and fostering a love of learning. Teachers who can cultivate conversations and illustrate their passion are ultimately more successful than those who overwhelm potential acquaintances with stacks of paper.
Use a Shotgun Approach
In a networking context, the shotgun approach refers to an attempt to contact as many new connections by any means possible. For teachers, this approach rarely succeeds. Instead of seeking mass exposure, connect with a handful of like-minded teachers, as these genuine connections are more likely to produce desirable results, such as mentoring relationships or new job opportunities.
Interrupt or Talk Over Others
The ideal teacher facilitates discussion and encourages others to voice their opinions. This is why interrupting others at a teaching network event is especially taboo. Rather than anxiously elbowing into a conversation, focus on listening to others, responding appropriately, and modeling the skills of a seasoned classroom manager.
A humble attitude is healthy, but sheer intimidation hinders success at networking events. Intimidation can relegate teachers to the sidelines of networking events, preventing them from contacting potential referrals and simply enjoying themselves. Attendees at networking events want to meet new people, so start socializing immediately to overcome any anxiety.
Neglect to Follow Up on Connections
New connections cannot help you find a job if you never follow up with them. Aim to reconnect with professional contacts within 48-72 hours after meeting them. Send an email, connect on LinkedIn, or suggest continuing a conversation over coffee.