What is networking?
Networking is commonly defined as an act of making connections with other people, usually toward some kind of personal or professional purposes. Google’s Ngram Viewer shows the word as being almost unheard of until the 1970s and then taking off exponentially. Though we as TESOL practitioners may not have thought much about networking as an aspect of our field in the past (perhaps we thought that we teach, alone in our classrooms, so we really don’t need to network), it is actually just as important for us as it is for business professionals. In this blog post, I will discuss some of the benefits of networking for English language teachers and then suggest a few ways that we can expand our networks for personal and professional benefit.
Benefits of Networking for English Language Teachers and Researchers
Networking offers ELT professionals myriad benefits above working in isolation. As professional development, we can learn new ideas for teaching and research through networking as we interact with people interested in similar topics and contexts, as well as those working in broadly different areas. We can gain awareness of controversies and new developments in our field.
Networking doesn’t just mean talking, either. Through networking, we can also learn about opportunities available for grants, calls for publications and conferences, and summer schools for deepening our knowledge. Networks further provide social support to writing teachers and scholars. We benefit from meeting peers who are in similar stages of their career as we are, sharing successes and empathizing with their struggles. Finally, networking allows us access to mentoring from more experienced colleagues who can help us learn something new about our field.
How Can You Build Your Network?
Professional networks in the 21st century are as much virtual as they are physical. Though we may only have a few opportunities to meet up face to face with colleagues and mentors, we have access throughout the year to online networking opportunities through social media and professional organizations.
Join professional organizations like TESOL International Association for professional connections with colleagues across the globe. TESOL’s Annual International Convention is a 4-day nonstop opportunity for networking, where attendees can not only listen to presentations by well known speakers, but also join in discussions with peers. Some of my best experiences at the TESOL Convention have been in conversations I continued after sessions, sometimes through grabbing coffee with someone I had started talking with during the session. Staying in touch with these new connections is a good reason to have a stack of business cards with your current contact information, as well as an active social media presence on your chosen platform.
TESOL also has online resources that foster networking beyond the convention. The MyTESOL discussion groups are great for sharing resources and learning about what is going on in our field. You may be familiar with the MyTESOL Lounge email list, which is the default group all TESOL members are subscribed to. This is a place to ask general questions about teaching and resources. You may not know that TESOL members can also join dozens of other MyTESOL discussion groups as well. These allow for specialized discussions around areas of interest, where you can expect that readers share your particular interests. In recent months, I have seen exchanges ranging from resource sharing to discussions about graduate school and many other topics on the MyTESOL groups to which I belong.
Specialized Interest Groups
Professional organizations also offer more specialized sites for networking within your specific areas of interest. Get involved with interest sections or special interest groups, which are common terms for the subdivisions of professional organizations devoted to individual interests. While attending the TESOL Convention can be overwhelming, building connections with the members of the Second Language Writing Interest Section has allowed me to personalize the event, narrowing my focus to the sessions and activities I know will be relevant.
Interest sections offer a far less intimidating way to get involved and take on leadership roles as well. For example, you can attend meetings and webinars where you are able to ask questions of experts in the field in ways you might not be able to do if they were giving a keynote address. For even greater networking, consider volunteering at events sponsored by an interest section or running for leadership positions in the interest section. When you’re actively involved with the group, you can also make strong connections with academic peers who are at the same stage of their careers as you are. You may decide to collaborate to plan panel presentations or research projects as well.
In addition to meeting peers who are at the same stage of career as you are, networking allows you to find mentors who are in a more advanced career stage. Mentors can be people who provide advice and recommendations for specific activities you are planning or who provide more general professional and emotional support. This is another benefit of attending conferences, as you can find opportunities to talk with potential mentors at presentations and social events. You may also find a mentor through professional email lists. I do not recommend “cold-calling” potential mentors, however, as most people are busy and unlikely to respond warmly to an unfocused request. But if you have a specific question to ask, or if you read some of their work and would like to know more, send an email.
Revive Old Connections
Regardless of your current status (student, new professional, seasoned teacher), you also have a network just waiting to be revived. Keep in touch with classmates from grad school, former colleagues, and friends who are also in the field. Social media makes it much easier to reconnect with people you may have lost touch with and also easier to share your ideas and plans.
I feel like my own career has been enhanced enormously by networking with peers and with mentors. I have found jobs, published book chapters, and connected with wonderful people through my professional networks. What strategies do you have for building your own networks? Please share them in the comments section below!