“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” -Jane Howard
Just this morning I noticed a colleague posted one of those “Are you introverted?” quizzes on Facebook. You know the kind, one of those posts that have you answer a series of questions supposedly designed to determine whether you gain energy from being alone or being social with others.
I don’t jump on answering those mostly because I know they’re data mining and I’m actually pretty careful about my digital footprint. I also didn’t answer this quiz because it’s something I’ve reflected upon before and have grown to better understand both my personal and professional rejuvenation processes.
You see, despite my natural affect of being highly social, I’m actually rejuvenated by solo time, time to reflect and absorb silence. It’s been harder for me to build a strong collegial network when this reflective time is threatened by the needs of meeting people outside of the workplace. Even when the stakes have been high and I was in desperate need of a stronger network of colleagues, I felt the struggle to cultivate a healthy and productive network around me. At least, until fairly recently.
Learn to Open the Door to a Collegial Network
As a young newbie to teaching and Montessori, I was fortunate to have been hired into a position in a classroom right next door to a dynamic and seasoned early childhood teacher. Her knowledge base about child development was vast and I gobbled up every chance I could to see her interactions with children as she was incredibly effective in her delivery in achieving respectful compliance.
I was initially cautious to connect as our pedagogic points of view were different. She was trained in High Scope approach and I was just starting out in my Montessori career. Yet despite these differences, we saw our strengths as beneficial to each other and definitely to the children in our care. We had tons to talk about in part because of these differences and our clarified common goal of nurturing every child’s potentiality. She and I connected deeply during those early years and our collegial partnership grew into delivering workshops about areas of the curriculum in which I had became facile and we were both passionate.
How did this happen? It was actually really easy. We both lowered the roadblocks of hubris that could have kept our gifts at bay. We both worked at being a bit vulnerable with each other and by lowering those hindrances, we opened the door to build our own collegial network of two.
Reach Out to Find Your Collegial Net
Many years later, both my professional standing and personal situation had changed, and I was in need of a new teaching position. At first, I felt despair and alone in making a huge leap. I had wished at that time I had nurtured stronger collegial relationships outside of the school I had been working. So I pulled up my big girl pants and called the person I admired the most in my field and laid my situation on the table. What I didn’t expect and yet it happened, was a job offer in the following days that helped me turn my career down yet another new path.
Although I come from an adventuresome family and my lifestyle is rife with risk-taking, I am far more cautious when it comes to supporting my family. My lesson here was that sometimes you must take the leap to connect collegially, to actually find the net of your network!
Network Using the Internet
Fast forward another ten years in my career, and you’d find me sitting on a beach in Albania, having purged myself from stuff and living an untethered nomadic lifestyle, and yet craving a collegial network in which to flourish.
I turned to the tool that would change my collegial landscape and bring deep relationships in the coming years: Facebook. I was the skeptic that thought social media a waste of time (I know, it can be!) and that you would never be able to get beyond superficial relationships when interacting through such a medium.
I stand corrected.
My collegial network now has both breadth and depth. I leverage technology to coach, to educate others, to learn, and to connect. My favorite social media groups have effective engaged moderators that insure productive communication stays that way. Colleagues from every continent have reached out to me both personally via private messages and in a more visible group setting.
Maybe best of all, I found a small group of colleagues cultivated through sometimes daily messaging that have become my “go to” network for really just about anything. And I do. As they do. We are each other’s net.
My experiences in building a collegial network may resonate, or not; yet I can’t help but wonder what would happen if each of us checked our ego, took a leap of faith, and respectfully leveraged technology to create a professional net. Maybe those guides new to their role, or considering career changes, or feeling alone for any reason would rejoice in recreating a collective narrative that moves each and all of us forward.
-Tammy Oesting has spent the last 25 years delivering professional development workshops, consulting schools, and educating new Montessori teachers. Her passions include issues of social justice, training support staff, art education, neuroscience as applied to educational practices, and exploring the magnificence of the world. She is location independent and serves Montessori globally through her company ClassrooMechanics. AMS certified 3-6, 6-12