According to The Oxford Dictionary, a network is “a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes”. Making connections and maintaining relationships with other school managers, head teachers and specialists who can support you throughout your problems can be the key to the success for business efficiency. By effectively building a network of colleagues you are ensuring that whenever you need help, tips, or to develop your skills further you can call upon your local school business network to help you.
Nowadays, technology has opened a wide range of possibilities to connect people. With only a person’s name, you can Google them, look at their Facebook profile page, their LinkedIn information and their Twitter stream. The availability of information on people has drastically improved, but it doesn’t replace or minimise the importance of old-fashioned offline networking. Each one has its own way to contact and interact with people and both are important.
Schools are now seeing concrete results in their budgets from being part of a network. For example, the network has helped some schools to identify procurement frameworks and these have led to savings in staff absence insurance and in larger contracts such as cleaning and catering.
Let’s have a look at five easy different ways to build an effective network that are worth implementing right away.
The important tip here is: building positive relationships before you need them. It’s a hard work building relevant connections but they will be there for you when you need them. With networking, when you really need a job or new clients, empowering your existing contacts is the key to getting you there.
1- Map your prospects. Start to engage other schools and professionals to join the network, with a range of different types of schools involved, members of the local authority, primary and secondary schools. This provides a range of different perspectives in the network and helps to generate innovative solutions to shared challenges.
2- Regular Meetings and Agenda. It is important that the network has regular meetings. This builds up and maintains relationships between members and means the network can develop quick responses to urgent challenges. A network needs regular meets at least once every term.
The network needs to develop and own an agenda. At each meeting it is important that the network agrees the agenda for the next meeting.
3- Create more than one network. It will give you a great view of your stakeholders and valuable information about them. Here are some examples:
- Staff, students and parents: Ideally about 50 people who can give you feedback about your job. One tip is put together a survey at Surveymonkey.com every one or two years so these people can give you honest thoughts without fear of offending you.
- Personal Board of Advisers (PBA): 5-6 individuals you are particularly close with and who should be your go-to network for advice that not only touches on your professional life, but on you. How are you doing as a person?
4- Social Media Networking. Get online and interact with your local networking, create and join professionals and local community groups. With social networking sites, you can research and connect with other professionals easier than ever. And we suggest as a start, LinkedIn, where you can find interesting professional groups exchanging information all the time. Remember to take the online to the offline (digital relationships to face-to-face meetings, how about after a couple of months of talking online invite a group of school managers or teachers for a coffee or happy hour? Maybe create some coaching sessions).
There are plenty of additional options out there for social media networking such as Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo! But the real value of LinkedIn lies in using it to discover the hidden connections between your network and the rest of the world. There’s not a lot of social tools or games, which is good because you won’t get lost in all the features as you may on other sites. But to be successful on LinkedIn, you must have a completed profile and have a strategy, don’t be just watching, get involved and engage people with relevant content.
Don’t forget to Join Groups! Create them but also join them and just get involved in them. There are plenty of groups that gather your local school professionals who you might not know. Users can click on the Groups tab at the top of the LinkedIn homepage to search groups formed around interests, industry or careers. As a group administrator, you can send out announcements to everyone in your subset or just read what others are up to.
- Do not miss the point. Always remember that the network has a reason, promote forums where school managers will share advice on a wide range of issues. These include funding changes, the impact of changes to National Insurance and pensions contributions, contract management and writing bids for additional income, CIF and support with the governor finance meetings among other practical issues.
Online or Offline, effective networking is all about the people you know and meeting new people through other people. The focus is get help and help other schools. If you manage to be part of a successful network your school you will certainly get new ideas, help people and have fun. Your network is only as strong as the way you manage it.