How Networks Can Take You to the Next Level
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others." African Proverb
As a young educator, fresh out of Murray State University in Kentucky, I was ready to tackle the challenges that were before me. Fortunately, I acquired a vast network of professionals at Murray State that I cherish to this day. However, upon moving back to Memphis, I realized that I lacked a network of professional colleagues in my hometown that could elevate me to new levels of effectiveness for the students I served. I knew that no matter how skilled I had become and how fast I moved, I would never get to where I needed to be without building a network of professionals that could help me meet my goals. I needed a new playbook. I realized I needed to build educational networks in my school, community, state, and, nationwide.
But it wasn't that simple; it took consistent communication and a desire to make things happen for my students by involving a diverse network of peers.
Here are some practical ways to expand your network.
Every time you step into a room, office, or community space, be eager and willing to share your passion with other educators while allowing them to share their passion. You want to leave a lasting impression, so you can continue to build a rapport with them. Be sure always to leave contact information and be intentional about staying in touch, utilizing various mediums such as social media, regular phone calls, and/or hand-written sentiments. I have many connections in my network that I never dreamed would play such a vital role in my work as an educator.
Find a Mentor
Whether it is an educator in your school, your state, across the country, or in another part of the world! It is vital to engage the services of an influential mentor. A mentor will build you up and be there when support is needed. I have always had a mentor in some form or fashion. I can recall applying for the Presidential Award for Science and Mathematics Teaching. I needed a mentor. I found my match in Sharla Steever, who supported and guided me through the process. She pushed me and asked me challenging questions so that I could showcase my practice. Every educator needs someone that can coach and advise them on their professional journey.
As I reached out for a mentor, I realized that it was just as important to give and support others. As I became a leader in my profession, I found many opportunities to serve others through mentorship. I continue to mentor new teachers, National Board candidates, and even veteran teachers. It became my goal to support teachers in their efforts to impact students' achievement. Supporting others in your personal and professional life is significant. When you support others, they will often provide support to you.
Join Fellowships and Organizations
Being an active member of educational groups, civic organizations, and fellowships are just some of the ways to stay connected to the profession and your community of support. These organizations are great in helping you define your purpose I have been involved in many organizations and fellowships such as Teach Plus, America Achieves, Hope Street Group, Empatico, and Leading Educator Ambassadors for Equity, and NNSTOY-VOYA. I also have an affiliation with the National Science Teaching Association, National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, NEA Foundation, SCORE, NNSTOY, and EdLoc, organizations that align with my values as an educator. I have been able to lean on these organizations and colleagues within them to advance my career goals daily.
In building my professional learning network, my career has moved to the next level because I had support and guidance from the educational community and various organizations. I have been afforded several remarkable opportunities around the globe due to the relationships that I have built. Every relationship is essential to my personal and professional growth. Therefore, I encourage you not to limit the expanse of your network. Build, foster, and work on engaging with educational networks daily that will allow you to grow as a competent, worldly, and progressive education professional. Say to yourself, "Am I sprinting alone or am I walking with others?" I encourage you to start walking with others today!
Dr. Melissa Collins is a 2014 Finalist for Tennessee Teacher of the Year, a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), a National Board Certified Teacher, Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, NEA Foundation Senior Advisor, and a Top 50 Finalist for the 2018 Global Teacher Prize. She teaches Second Grade at John P. Freeman Optional School in Memphis, Tennessee.
Photos courtesy of NNSTOY.