The Power of Professional Networks



by Emma Goto

Image from Pixabay

After the fantastic TPEA conference in July, I was left invigorated by what people can do when they come together. It made me reflect upon another time in my life when I was part of a professional group that really made an impact.

Early in my teaching career I was lucky enough to become involved with the leading primary ICT teachers in Hampshire. This was a group that was set up due to the incredible vision of the county inspectors for ICT at the time, Martyn Wilson, who was supported by the primary ICT inspector, Stella Kenny. Our schools were given a small amount of funding to allow us to be released to meet once a term. We also had a small budget to cover our supply so that we could spend time supporting local schools.

Each term when we met, we shared examples of our own practice with ICT. There was a real buzz at these meetings; we were really making things happen. We were all improving and developing our own practice at an incredible rate. This led to a number of collaborative projects and opportunities to work together. In that environment, with fellow ICT enthusiasts, things were sparked off. Innovative practice that could easily have remained within just one school or classroom, spread to other schools across the county. We worked with cluster groups, taught demonstration lessons, team taught alongside less ICT confident colleagues, created resources, shared planning and presented at conferences.

After a while, we also started to meet with the leading secondary ICT teachers and found that there were real advantages in exploring an aspect of technology and its progression throughout the key stages. We were a great team and what we were doing was having a real impact on the learning experiences of thousands of children. There was real benefit to Hampshire Local Authority as this developed a hub of excellence, highlighting projects and examples of good practice that the advisory and inspectorate team could signpost. We developed our own practice when supporting other teachers; we became professional friends and collaborators. Several of us later became Advanced Skills Teachers (ASTs) in order to further develop this role. Many of leading primary ICT teachers group have gone on to have significant influence in computing and broader education practice, both nationally and further afield. Fabulous professionals such as Phil Bagge (@Baggiepr), Fiona Aubrey-Smith (@FionaAS), Jon Audain (@jonaudain), Ian Addison (@ianaddison) and many others improved their own practice, and supported others to develop theirs, through that group of leading professionals.

This highlights for me the need for professionals to have time to come together for professional development and innovation. Having time away from our practice, to reflect upon it with others can be really transformational. My experience at that time also draws attention to the power of groups and networks. Together as professionals we are more than the sum of our parts. That is why expert groups, professional organisations and subject associations like TPEA are so important. By joining with others you can support them but also grow and develop yourself. Together we can be better, make a significant impact and really influence practice and policy.

Points to consider:

  • Technology can allow us many different ways to connect with others and share our professional expertise. Through tools such as Skype we can work with people in a wide range of contexts and locations. Social media tools such as Twitter are great for sharing tips and ideas in a supportive community.
  • I have always been shocked to find that some of the best practitioners are somewhat reluctant to share. Rather than purely wanting to keep resources to themselves, this often seems to be because they fail to see how fantastic their resources are. After all, teachers are often their own harshest critics. So my top tip is that we should not be afraid to share.