Ok, I admit it – I love networking. More specifically, I love developing professional networks, both mine and the people I am connected to. In fact, it is one of the most rewarding professional practices I get to facilitate. The value of a successful, productive introduction connecting people who didn’t know each other is often unquantifiable, usually yields unexpected opportunities, and typically ripples to others who generate additional value and possibilities.
It is no surprise then that one of the most compelling reasons for educators (teachers and administrators) to the network is to augment their practices. In turn, having an active and dynamic professional learning network (PLN) is an essential professional practice. But, PLN can be unwieldy things. Problems often arise around their creation, maintenance, and opportunity costs resulting in dormant or superficial relationships. The good news is that they need not be.
As a provider of educational resources or service, you should be answering this question on a regular basis, “How are we contributing to existing and help developing new PLN for educators?” As a voice in the field the more active you are, the more networked you are, the more legitimacy you have. As you seek to create a new or refine an existing PLN presence, keep the ideas below in mind, and watch your influence grow.
- Community Involvement: Some PLN have a theme or focus. If you are finding those existing ones too crowded, you can always create your own. How you do this matters. One suggestion is to be involved in open interactive events likes Twitter chats (see a list here). Another route is to create your own community of interest around issues or questions you and your team are wrestling with. Doing so creates your own focus group and PLN.
- Provide a Service or Resource for Free: PLN are often drawn to free opportunities and resources. Promoting an aspect of your main product pro bono is the most common practice. As a way to distinguish yourself in the field, offer a service or product related to yours for no cost. For example, hosting professional development events or offering services needed by schools creates a PLN you have direct access to for feedback, promotion, and communication.
- Get Educators to Contribute: Voice matters, and if you are in education, teachers’ voices are golden. For your next project, be sure to involve educators not only in the pilot or work but with each other. In my experience, I have offered to share and promote the project I worked on with my network as a courtesy. Formalize that action with the teachers you hired as consultants by including an aspect of outreach as part of their service.
- Avoid Networking Strike Outs: What I am about to share has happened to me a shocking number of times at in-person or digital conferences. First, I have gone to a company’s booth or table and no one was there. Strike one. Second, I shared my business card with a vendor and they never followed up. Strike two. These are missed opportunities to develop or engage in a PLN. As an alternative, take initiative with people who come to you by connecting them on your communication with an invitation to a future virtual event you are hosting.
Carving out your space in PLN can happen in many ways. Whatever path you take it is important that you maintain your activity, are supportive, and seek to expand the network to garner even more opportunities. Your presence will transform you from an educational business to a trusted leader in education.