Have you ever noticed that the more you connect with people, the better you and your work becomes?
We are not meant to be solitary creatures. As humans, we are wired to form bonds and to learn and grow on a continual basis. People who are in any other profession than education do this on a constant basis. I can’t tell you how many trips my husband takes in order to “network” and learn new techniques and gather new contacts. Yet, in education, it’s like we are sheltered. We hide ourselves in our classrooms within our schools and never leave. If we do manage to get out of the classroom, it is to a district-provided conference and then we go right back to our classrooms the next day and don’t follow up.
I have a theory that this is because we don’t have time.
We are so busy with our daily tasks and our jobs of educating our students that we drain our own educational cup. However, you can’t help others if your own cup is empty. Just like everything else, education is changing. If you don’t challenge yourself to begin finding and fostering connections with other professionals and other educators, your teaching and in the end your students will suffer.
Thankfully, connecting and learning from others has never been easier! With Web 2.0 we are privileged to be able to provide for our own professional learning network, regardless of what our district provides. With budget cuts, professional development opportunities are becoming provided less and less within our schools. Yet, in order to stay current and relevant, this is exactly what we need.
So it’s time for us to take our own development into our own hands.
Connecting with people and organizations will provide you with resources beyond compare. Knowledge is the new currency of the 21st century and the more you connect, the more your value will go up. So get yourself on Twitter, find a forum online that you can join, friend professional organizations on Facebook, and go to as many conferences (virtual or otherwise) as you can. This will definitely take effort on your part, but the ideas and learning that you will receive will far outweigh the costs. I can’t tell you how much I have grown because of these connections – I certainly don’t know everything, and learning from professionals allows me and my teaching to grow.
In addition to connecting beyond your classroom, consider working on your peer connections within your school. The people that you teach with have tremendous ideas and value and by watching them, talking with them and collaborating with them, you become a stronger school unit and build incredible school culture. You don’t have to look far for your professional growth – your next door teacher may be more valuable than yet another grad class.
Networking is different than connecting. When you make connections, you work on creating a relationship with people. Networking is about building your pool from which to explore potential connections. Networking is meeting someone who knows one of your other connections. The beauty of networking is that it can lead to amazing connections that you might otherwise not have met. I have developed many professional friendships through networking. So how do you get started?
The easiest way is through social media. I have grown my network through making a few personal connections and then friending or following other people in their network. This makes sense because if you respect your personal connections, people who are in their friend network may also be people that you would connect with. This doesn’t always work, but it is a great way to get a variety of information. Another way to work on your professional network is by attending conferences in your field. Meet the people in your classes, grab some lunch or a drink after the class and compare notes. Ask some relevant questions based on your conversation on where you can get more information on something you’d like to know. Inevitably, the person your sitting with will know someone or something that you could get to know.
If you have a blog or a website, you can build your professional connections and network by linking to sites that you enjoy or find useful. This takes a bit of time to develop quality links that are truly meaningful. But this valuable list is something that you can go back to time and time again when you are working on your next project or researching something for your students. In addition, you will become a valuable resource for others and help them along their professional journeys as well.
We are in a time of willingness to share and grow just in order to advance each others as professionals. Take advantage of it – I assure you that you will get a greater satisfaction out of being an educator if you do!
Susan Riley is the founder and President of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and Arts and the Common Core.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.