Building a strong professional network will make your career more satisfying and help you through rough spots. People you have met in person — those you have taught with or attended school with, for example — will probably form the backbone of your network.
But developing strong online networking skills is also crucial. Perhaps you live in a rural area and have few opportunities to go to professional meetings or to meet educators from other schools. Or you’re at the beginning of your career, so you have few in-person professional connections beyond the people you work with every day. Or perhaps you specialize in middle school foreign language instruction, and you want to connect with others who teach that subject.
To expand your network beyond your immediate circle, go online. Online relationships can come in handy: Some people who hear about job openings send them to colleagues they know online, for example. And you can establish a reputation for yourself as a specialist in your area by engaging with others online.
Candace Alstad-Davies, founder and owner of A+ Resumes for Teachers and a career coach for teachers, offers these tips for building an online professional network:
Keep your online presence up-to-date
Alstad-Davies said she sometimes hears people say they want to keep their names off the internet. But this could backfire, as potential employers who wanted to learn about you might wonder why they couldn’t find anything.
“You want to have a professional profile that matches the resume you would be sending out in a job search,” Alstad-Davies said. Use this professional profile on LinkedIn and any other online forums or social media platforms you use professionally.
Search for interest groups
Whether you teach English as a second language or you’re a new principal, there is probably an online group for people like you. Check the websites of professional associations, which may have forums for their members or other interested people. And look on social media sites such as LinkedIn for interest groups.
Once you find a group, start by reading — and then, when you have an answer to someone’s question or an interesting article to share, jump into the conversation.
Read — and maybe write — blogs
Blogs are a great way to find experts in your field. Look for bloggers in your specialty, and start leaving comments on what they write.
“Try to follow influencers — their networks are quite vast,” Alstad-Davies said.
You could even start your own blog if there’s an area of education that you are passionate about.
Use the right tools
Online relationships tend to be less personal than in-person ones. A person whose blog you have commented on a few times is unlikely to recommend you for a new job. So keep in mind the area where each online tool is most likely to help you.
For example, Twitter is a great way to connect with people who share your interests. The #edchat group is one way to find colleagues discussing education. Following people who participate in this and other Twitter discussions may help you discover people with interesting ideas — and forge some online relationships.
Finally, don’t forget email. It can be a good way to extend in-person connections — by sending interesting articles to a former colleague, for example.