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The Importance of Networking

"Instead of better glasses, your network gives you better eyes." - Ronald Burt, American Sociologist


As we continue to settle into 2024, teachers and leaders are consistently confronted with ‘more’, it seems. Whether more challenges (combatting attendance challenges, knowledge gaps in post-Covid students, additional workload) or more solutions (in 2024, primarily in the shape of the burgeoning AI sector), many are reporting a continued squeeze on available time.


With this in mind, it’s vital that we pick the ‘right’ option to support our continued development, making best use of our time whilst also ensuring we develop skills which will equip us in the future. And herein lies the challenge: people (like education) are, by their very nature, enormously individualised: finding the development opportunity which feels ‘right’ often takes time. Time we do not always have.


So, what can we do to efficiently identify development opportunities which will have the greatest impact? Well, as the title of this piece suggests quite heavily, there is one method which stands above others: networking.


From the humble watercooler conversation in our own setting, to attending a specialist event or conference in much grander surrounds (such as the Beyond Boundaries English and maths event, packed with inspiring speakers and innovative sessions), networking is defined as the process of interacting to share information (in the case, with the intention to develop). With the capacity to have a huge impact, collaboration in the post-Covid world has never been easier. However, to get the best from it, there are key elements we must always consider:


Purpose and Environment


"Networking is not about just connecting people. It's about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities." - Michele Jennae, Author


To truly benefit from networking, it’s first important to know the problems you are hoping to solve and the topics or themes you want to investigate. Without even a loose agenda, there is always the possibility that potential collaborations will fizzle out. This is where consideration of the best environment will also occur – online? In-person? Small group setting? Something larger and wider-reaching? A local setting? In-house or will you benefit from travelling to another setting?


Catching up with others around the sector is always positive, but it’s important to remember the ‘why’ behind our professional relationships: how can collaboration support us and how can we best support others (more on that later).


Find your people; know your people


A key part of networking is knowing who you can help and who can help you. This means knowing those you collaborate with (their strengths, backgrounds, contexts etc.) and also a frank understanding of your own strengths and areas of development. What do you bring to the table? How can you share this with others? Where are your gaps? How can others support you to plug them?


We absolutely can’t expect to know this in advance, of course, but we can make this part of discussions with new collaborators.



"My Golden Rule of Networking is simple: Don't keep score." - Harvey Mackay, businessman and author


Relatively simple, this one: there is no such thing as a collaboration deficit. The benefit in helping others is incalculable and rewards will be felt long after any initial interaction if we are effectively engaging.



Authenticity and Dedication


‘Networking is a lot like nutrition and fitness: we know what to do, the hard part is making it a top priority’ - Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School


One of the more difficult aspects of networking is finding the time to regularly fit it in. Again, this doesn’t have to mean a trip across the country to an event or another setting: a 5-minute chat can be invaluable with the right person or people. A quick text or WhatsApp can give more professional development than a year long programme – as long as we find the time, we’ll find rewards. Don’t put it off; don’t prioritise admin – find the time. And more importantly than possibly anything else, be authentic in collaboration – be open and honest with collaborators.


As a final thought, it’s important to again emphasise that we do not enter into collaboration of any kind, or networking (or ‘shmoozing’ as an ex-colleague playfully labelled it as I returned from a trip to another college) or other, to fulfil our own needs, but to support joint improvement. Or, to put it a better way, "Networking is an enrichment program, not an entitlement program." - Susan RoAne, Author


For more resources to support effective teaching, individualisation and adaptive teaching, check out the resource page on our website, here. With a range of resources to support Post-16 maths and English teachers and leaders, we’re working with colleges in the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside on our fully funded, DfE project. To be a part of the great work we’re doing, find out more here.

Tickets will close on Friday 7 March 2024 for Beyond Boundaries: Transforming Education for Students in English and maths conference so hurry and grab the limited few that remain! We look forward to seeing you there.

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