Make the Most of Professional Learning Networks: 12 Tips

Topics: Early Career Principals

Networking. Ugh. Shoehorn yourself into cocktail-hour conversations, or break into the cozy virtual chats of the multitudes following legendary educators. How is a rookie principal to make a splash?

Take a deep breath and dive in, say veteran principals. It’s a must because networks remain vital sources of the fresh ideas and moral support that nourish your leadership capabilities.

Try these 12 steps to find, engage in, and leverage networks. Pretty soon, you’ll be swimming with confidence in a sea of professional learning networks.

Find your networks

  1. Go with the flow: Pursue your goals, but discard predefined notions. Curious about a hashtag? Follow it.
  2. Don’t be intimidated: Break through your comfort zone, and reach out to those who intrigue you—even the networking superstars. Their responses open doors to relationships.
  3. Stop counting: Don’t obsess about your number of followers. You’re there to learn, not to gather acolytes.
  4. Avoid echo chambers: Effective networks welcome members of different cultures and strengths. If people are affirming but also nudging their peers to rethink old notions, this is the network for you.
  5. Seek out veterans and newbies: Find “vertical” mentors who are old pros, and “horizontal” mentors who, like you, are new to the job but offer thought-provoking perspectives.
  6. Chat away: At conferences, don’t wait for formal networking events. Strike up conversations everywhere. Reconnect with your new friends later, and you’ll engage organically with their networks.

Engage thoughtfully

  1. Start small: Share an interesting blog post or a book that’s taking your school by storm.
  2. Contribute consistently: Don’t just parachute in occasionally. Regular comments help other networkers get to know you. When it’s time to seek advice or share a unique perspective, your recognizable presence generates responses.
  3. Make the time: Find 10 minutes a day for scanning social networks. For in-person networking, plan ahead and lean on your professional and personal teams for backup.
  4. Ask for help: It’s okay to be vulnerable and seek advice. As Andy Jacks, senior fellow for NAESP Centers for Advancing Leadership, said in a June 2021 #naespchat, “Leaned on my colleagues so much this year. No way we get through this except together!”

Put learning into practice

  1. Call on the team: When an idea sets your brain on fire, take it to your leadership team. If they agree, you have a crew that will row with you. If they suggest unforeseen downsides, you won’t waste time trying to make it work.
  2. Keep it simple: Choose an area of focus, and consider its impact on you or your school. Absorb all angles from conversations, social media posts, and articles. Finally, reflect on possible outcomes, and you’re ready to implement an initiative with real pop.

Getting started

Chances are, the organizations you already know offer entryways to dynamic networks:

  • @NAESP and #NAESPchat: Virtual and in-person networking with school leaders who share your challenges.
  • NAESP Centers for Advancing Leadership: Centers for Diversity Leadership, Innovative Leadership, Middle-Level Leadership, and Women in Leadership equip principals to devise targeted strategies.
  • BOLD Leadership: For Black male educational leaders and allies committed to elevating leadership practices.
  • edWeb: Professional learning on how to sharpen skills—your own and those of your teachers.
  • The Principals’ Network, Harvard Graduate School of Education: Online professional learning network for K-12 school leaders.
  • The Principal’s Desk: Facebook space for information on educational leadership, tech, innovation, curriculum, assessment, research, and comparing notes on daily dilemmas.
  • National Alliance of Black School Educators (@NABSE_org): Conferences, Facebook discussions, and resources to improve the educational experiences and accomplishments of Black students.
  • CASEL: A pandemic-era must—summits, webinars, and resources to build knowledge and capacity for strengthening social and emotional learning competencies.

Apply a strategic but open-minded approach to networking, and before long, you’ll be privy to a wealth of new ideas, new leadership practices, and new friends ready to share your challenges and cheer your successes!

Diane McCormick is a writer based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.