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Paul Young's Young @ Heart

Networking 101
For Principals

Anyone looking to climb the professional ladder needs to learn how to network. For school leaders, networking provides a sounding board for leading change and a safety net for providing support. Included: Ten keys to building a network of principals.

Every line of work has its own unique roadmap to the top. However, learning how to navigate that road, with all its twists and turns, can be a daunting task. Whether you're a novice on Wall Street, a new sales associate with a major publisher, a promising musician dreaming of worldwide fame, or a newly appointed elementary school principal, one piece of advice is universally true: if you want to excel and get to the top of your profession, you must learn to network.

Most people think they understand what networking is all about. But not everyone is comfortable meeting new people, tooting their own horn, or building lasting relationships with key individuals in their profession. Networking takes time, requires intentional commitment, and can sometimes be intimidating.

For new principals, one of the key steps in establishing an effective network is to develop a partnership with a mentor. Your mentor has already established a network of relationships with key professionals, so his or her role in your mentoring partnership stands very similar to the role an agent or personal manager plays in the life of a Hollywood megastar. As your agent, your mentor has contacts that can help you. Your mentor can open doors for you. Your mentor can help you develop connections to the community. Sometimes, a mentor can even put you in a better job with a simple phone call.


For principals, a strong mentoring relationship is just one key to establishing an effective network. Most of the other keys to creating a personal principal network -- ten of which I share below --are entirely in your hands.

Join your state and national professional associations.
Take an active role. Volunteer for committees. Principal associations have more to offer than most members realize.

Attend conferences and workshops.
But when you get there, it doesn't serve your best interests to hang around with the buddies with whom you traveled. Instead, introduce yourself to people you don't know. Talk and share ideas with principals in the hallways, elevators, reception areas, and the fitness center. Broaden your sphere of interests. You might be surprised how your initiative to start conversations with nervous individuals will endear you to them later. One-on-one networking is the best strategy.

Give presentations.
Increase your visibility and credibility by developing a professional presentation that can be shared at a gathering of your colleagues. You will benefit from the follow-up and acquire ideas and influence that will increase your personal effectiveness and expertise.

Read professional journals.
Many professional journals are now online and can be downloaded into PDAs and other digital devices. Most articles list ways that readers can connect and communicate with the author. Email your opinions, develop a personal dialogue, and add to your network of influential people.

Write notes.
The handwritten note has never gone out of style. When you are impressed by the work of a colleague, send a congratulatory handwritten note. It will be sincerely appreciated and you will not be forgotten. Follow your note with a phone call.

Make use of the Web.
Most professional associations, school districts, schools, and many individuals have Web sites. In addition, MySpace, Facebook, blogs, and other Internet tools have changed forever the ways in which people meet, interact, and communicate with one another. Don't underestimate the power of Web sites. Make sure you have current information on your site. Check it often. Keep in regular communication with new friends who routinely visit your site. But never abandon the personal touch. Talk face-to-face when you can, or pick up the phone. Email is less personal until you really know someone.

Respond to requests.
When your colleagues ask you to participate in a special project or event, do so. Don't isolate yourself in your school. Return phone calls and answer emails. Those who fail to communicate and respond to simple requests drag anchor on those who do.

Initiate conversations. Invite others to lunch. Consider time and money spent as an investment in your professional development. Obviously, you can't participate in social gatherings that might violate rules of ethics or common sense, but you do have to find ways to get to know people outside of school. Many principals find they can become better acquainted with people in informal settings. Focus on making friends first, and network later.

Master the skill of remembering names and faces.
Use technology to help with this. Develop and maintain an accurate contact list on your computer. Add pictures and detailed information about those people you want to include in your professional network. Include helpful hints about where and how you met them, what they do, where they work. Study geography so you can visualize their locations in relation to others. Refer to this data often.

Never abandon those people you knew on the way up.
Most principals come up from the teaching ranks. Whatever your discipline, maintain contact with influential people within that network. For example, coaches and music teachers have vast statewide networks. There are outstanding leaders in those disciplines. They know people who know people. Principals need to know them as much as they need to know principals.

Obviously, the term networking implies the making of connections. But don't ignore the importance of true relationships. Networking isn't about the quantity of contacts you make; it's about the quality of enduring, mutually beneficial relationships you enjoy. Good networking takes time and it takes a personal investment in each relationship. Don't invest in people only to cast them aside when you no longer need them. Treat others as you want them to treat you. Give before you expect to get, and you will develop a good network: a circle of friends who will always be glad to help you because you're one of them.

Paul Young, Ph. D., is the executive director of the West After School Center in Lancaster, Ohio. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the National AfterSchool Association (NAA). He served as president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) in 2002-2003 and retired from Lancaster City Schools in 2004. He is an author with Corwin Press,, and School-Age Notes. He and his wife, Gertrude, a music teacher, live in Lancaster.

Article by Paul Young
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