Education by its very nature is a profession which relies on connections. Connections between the teacher and their students, parents and colleagues. People in business are taught to ‘network’ a word which has a rather negative connotation; suggesting ruthlessly seeking out people who will be useful to you. I don’t particularly like the term networking but for want of something better I’ll use it in this context. Teachers and educators are very much amateurs at networking and education , whilst being very much a team effort, can also be an incredibly isolating profession. Once that classroom door closes it is you and 30 teenagers, and at lunchtime it is often you and the books of 30 teenagers! Again, the virtual world can help teachers to network, not in the very selfish sense but in the sense of making connections with like-minded educators.
My first introduction to Twitter as a device for connecting people in the Chem ed ‘business’ was at a conference, Variety in Chemistry Education in 2011 in York. A number of high profile speakers were beginning to get the Chem ed Twitter community going. I was sceptical, it took me until the same conference a year later in Edinburgh to join them. I found people I had a lot in common with, whose ideas interested me. We exchanged views through tweets, offered support and resources through direct messages and later emails. In 2013 in Liverpool I was very much part of the Twittersphere of the conference. I now had a chance to meet those people who I had been tweeting properly in the flesh and having already ‘introduced’ ourselves on Twitter the whole interaction was much easier. I will never forget receiving a tweet saying “please save me from staring at upper torsos (name badges) and come and introduce yourself”. I am pleased to say that many of those I initially began interacting with on Twitter have become my professional collaborators, colleagues and friends.
Time out of the classroom is scarce, especially for teachers who teach full time in state schools, so face to face connections can be hard to make. Whilst the virtual world can never really replace face to face interactions, it can provide a useful window on the world outside your classroom and a relatively low risk way of reaching out to other professionals. The worst that can happen is that they ignore your tweets!? Perhaps it’s worth you trying to grow your network through the power of social media.
Footnote: the first rule of networking is that it is always reciprocal. You should offer assistance as often as you seek it. When making a new connection always keep in mind how you can be useful to them, not how they can be useful to you. That is how lasting connections and networks are made. [A management consultant told me this and I do think it runs true.]