The Power of Connections

by Zoe Enser @greeborunner

I never really understood networking. It was something which was increasingly mentioned as I moved into leadership, but I never knew quite what it meant or indeed why it was a good thing. People said it would help me with my career and enable me to do my job better, but never really told me how. It was also based on the premise I was ambitious and wanted to progress, as opposed to just being happy in what I was doing, but that is a whole other discussion. Networking had also become a bit of a dirty word to me.

I came from a working-class background, and building networks seemed to be something that those who came from privileged backgrounds did. It made me think of ‘old boy’ networks or city men in expensive suits, schmoozing over after work drinks, while they plotted their world domination. Notice there it was also not something I associated with women, so I was doubly doubtful as to why I might want to network in any way shape or form. It was a word which encapsulated many characteristics which I simply did not like. Fake relationships, built for ambition and discarded when no longer of personal (or financial) benefit, weren’t for me. Whilst I am sure there are some who do this (or maybe it is just a media construct and I should watch less telly), I had a very narrow view of what networking meant and I practically shuddered when it was mentioned. I had work colleagues, friends who I could draw on for support and advice and didn’t need to go out of my way to do this. However, I was wrong. Wrong in my definition and wrong in my assumption that I did not need it.

There is much more to networking than men in suits. This realisation has been life changing. By connecting with people on Twitter, at CPD events and the world outside of my school, I have seen the power of what this can do.

Without pursuing it, my network has grown and, alongside it, my understanding of many things well beyond my own experiences. However much I read and talked to people I met within my own life, it couldn’t even come close to what was now available to me. I now have a huge range of people to reach out to when I have a question. Those connections have connections and the ripples of interaction spiral outward, meaning my understanding of topics I had never encountered has grown, and taking me in new directions I had not ever considered. I look at recommendations from different sectors, different countries and have access to completely different perspectives pretty much whenever I need them. In addition to that, I have been given opportunities which I would never have thought possible, and which have helped me to grow in confidence, something which I have struggled with.

I have never found it easy to see my own value and when others see value in what you say and do it starts to make a real difference. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of that.

This also let to another realisation. I misunderstood what networking was for. Networking isn’t just about my own connections in isolation, but what those connection can bring to others. Now I work to connect people, not for me, but to see what it can bring to them. I set up networks for subject leaders and schools. I encourage those I mentor for the Chartered College of Teaching to connect with their colleagues. I work with the EEF as an ELE (Evidence Lead in Education) to link up schools to research and ideas. I amplify a range of voices on Twitter and I try to raise up others so they too can benefit from what these bring. However, I’m still not one for’ working a room’. I’m never going to be focusing on ambition and personal gain. That’s just not me. But I hope that by connecting to the WomenEd community, I will be able to continue to see the benefits of networks and networking and help others to network too.

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