The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Kelly Hannaghan

The power of networking: what are the benefits for leaders in education?

School leaders around the country are trying to juggle the demands of their role alongside finding opportunities to protect their self-care and promote pupil outcomes. Could networking be the key to success? Kelly Hannaghan shares her experiences.

It’s one of the biggest buzzwords in education: networks. They can happen in any community—among educators, schools or organisations and, of course, among pupils. Can this trend nudge educations to think about teaching in different ways?

The power of connections

Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success. (Paul J Meyer)

Let’s get right to the point: networks of aligned people are powerful. When connected, they operate a lot more like a live organism rather than a hierarchy.

What comes with this new way of life is a great opportunity to supercharge how we support lifelong learning and provide a more rounded view of education. 

I was first introduced to professional networking through a colleague who was using social media as a platform to gain insights into the way we look at education. My first thought was that I wanted this to be a positive and safe experience, therefore I had to ensure I connected with likeminded professionals who were championing the same drivers as me.

Why network?

In light of the growth of networks and the support for networking and collaboration as a school improvement strategy, an important question is why should organisations (and in particular schools) network, and what benefits should schools gain from this?

A renewed emphasis on full-service schools and multi-agency working has led me to build strong collaborations with other external agencies such as the Education Support Partnership. This has enabled me to provide a full service to pupils and staff, addressing their social, health, and learning needs. In my experience this can be a challenge for individual schools.

#WomenEd champion a change in inequalities by connecting aspiring and existing women leaders in global education. 

Leaders in education can also network, in the way businesses often do, to save material and staff costs. This process can also contribute to continuing professional development (CPD). I often use the social media platforms Twitter and LinkedIn to share upcoming events and reach out for advice and help with educational topics. Using a hash tag such as #EduTwitter or #SLTchat can be really helpful in capturing an audience.

Networks also have the potential to create societal change. Teach First are promoting networks designed to tackle education inequality. #WomenEd champion a change in inequalities by connecting aspiring and existing women leaders in global education. 

Educators are great collaborators who use interpersonal skills to draw value from teamwork; this ethos has now spilled over to social media platforms where individuals can build empowering relationships with others that work within the education system.

Being part of a network gives you the opportunity to:

  • improve your skills and knowledge
  • re-ignite your motivation and purpose
  • work on generating solutions with like-minded peers
  • be the change you want to see in education
  • find future work opportunities. 

Choosing a platform

I chose wisely when looking to join social networks. My top tip is to ask yourself the following questions when exploring options. 

  • Is this a group of people working together to share knowledge, expertise and inspiration?
  • Are the posts mostly positive, or at least have a solution focused approach?
  • Does the platform unlock new sources of value creation?
  • Is this network a positive influencer?
  • Is this a group I want to associate myself with?

I follow the HealthyTookit HQ and UKPastoralChat on Twitter and find these networks give value to my practice by keeping me up to date on hot educational topics and creating a space for me to highlight my work. My career and learning has greatly developed since reaching out to others. Networks can create new found synergies, which benefit everyone in the partnership. 

Networking has become my free resource where I have made many professional friends who provide expert support

Being risk aware

While networking and collaboration are increasingly popular in education, how can we really tell when and when not to network and under what conditions networks are likely to be successful?

The risks of reputational damage, defamation or malicious falsehood from posts or tweets made on social networking sites are significant. It may be that values are not equally matched.

In my experience the positives do out weigh the risks, as I benefit from helping others and exchanging fresh ideas. Networking has helped me share my ideas around championing the wellbeing of staff and pupils, and opened many doors to new opportunities (which in turn help fund projects for our pupils). 

Networking has become my free resource where I have made many professional friends who provide expert support.

And of course, networking isn't just for online! Here are some tips for networking in person.

  1. Attend networking events. 
  2. Do your research.
  3. Prepare a 30 second elevator pitch. 
  4. Bring business cards. 
  5. Connect with people you meet on social media.
  6. Send follow up emails. 
  7. Launch your own networking events.

Final thoughts

Research and statistics suggest that teacher wellbeing is at an all-time low. I believe that networking has a role to play in overcoming this challenge, through helping us build relationships, a sense of purpose, motivation and goals. 

Social media has shown me that people are curious and searching for new ways to be engaged and to learn. I truly believe that networking can change the way we teach and spread knowledge beyond the limits of school. 

My recommended networks

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