Recently, I taught a professional development course on teacher leadership for my district. I shared a lot of specific opportunities that exist and shared some opportunities that I’d tried myself. I also shared these top five ways to find opportunities in hopes that participants would be able to search and find other opportunities. These are not research-based, but come from my personal experiences. These tips have served me well, and I am happy to be able to share them with you.
Join associations and organizations that are relevant to your discipline and to the profession. Some will have membership dues that you have to pay. It is worth it to pay those dues. I feel that the opportunities, benefits, and experiences that my memberships provide me are a return on my investment. Some organizations don’t charge dues. Those are great to follow and join as well. You can be a member of those communities, but my experience has been that those organizations market and sell their services. So, either way, you will be purchasing something in the long run. Research and find what best meets your needs. I recommend joining more than one to ensure a broad perspective.
When you join, make sure you sign up to receive emails. A lot of organizations will have more than one type of email that you can sign up for. You may not want to hear about policy, but you’d like to get emails about foundational grants. Dig around on the websites and sign up for the emails that you feel are relevant to you. Don’t worry about getting too many emails in your inbox. That’s why our little phones make it so easy to delete emails. Just swipe it in a split second and it’s gone. I get a ton of emails a day. I read the subject and swipe if it doesn’t interest me. It doesn’t take that long. It isn’t a nuisance considering I want opportunities. Also, sign up for organizational emails for places (nonprofits) that aren’t necessarily associations. Many entities exist that don’t require membership. Sign up, sign up, sign up.
Do not be afraid to reach out. Find out who started the organization or who the board members are. Reach out to them. Send an email to introduce yourself if you can find their emails on the websites. If not, send an email through the Contact Us forms. Follow these people on Twitter and say hello there. I had a very big opportunity presented to me after I sent the CEO of an arts organization an email just to say hello. If people aren’t interested, they’ll either respond nicely or ignore you. You won’t lose anything. Dr. Casey Reason, author of Virtual Collaboration, told a group I met with recently that most professionals aren’t going to say no if you ask them to do something. I thought this was great advice. It makes sense and is in line with my own experiences. Other professionals are probably seeking opportunities just like you are. Just reach out!
Get on social media and build a presence. You don’t have to put your whole life on social media. (I’m guilty of that, but it isn’t necessary). Join Facebook Groups that are relevant to your field. I searched for Facebook Groups for “arts educators” and found several. They are lively places to network and discuss the profession. Meet the people in those groups. Do the same with Twitter. Twitter chats are so much fun. Search #edchat for starters. Here’s a great list of regularly used hashtags for social media from TeachThought. Engage with everyone you meet on social media. NEA edCommunities is a great place for engagement as well. In fact, the group I worked with at the professional development on teacher leadership for my district worked in the K12 Visual Art Group on NEA edCommunities. You can check that out to see some of our teacher leadership brainstorming. (Be sure to search K12 Visual Art and join the group. I facilitate this group and would love to connect with you there.)
Create Your Own Space
You can start your own blog or be a guest blogger. I use Blogger for my Party in the Art Room blog and WordPress for the Mississippi Education Blog. You can blog once or be a recurring guest blogger. Most bloggers who have their own blogs would love to help you get your first one off the ground. I promise that no one will think you are stupid if you ask for help. Professionals want you to engage and have a voice. They will help you. I will help you. Start a YouTube channel and record videos of you teaching, of you speaking about teaching, of your thoughts on anything education related. Create a Connect with Me document like I did. I created it in Google Docs and shortened the link to it using TinyUrl (Google URL Shortener works great as well). I added it to the signature of my personal email. Now, anyone who I contact can see it. It has valuable information about me as a professional. It is sort of like an unofficial CV.
Do you have other ideas? Let’s keep the conversation going. I hope to see you around and engaged in these Teacher Leadership activities!