A couple of weeks ago, I attended the inaugural #WomenEdSE conference. When my husband picked me up, I was glowing. I will spend the next 475 words trying to explain why.
Since going freelance in 2015, I have attended a few conferences. I am not known for my text book networking skills - I tend to skip small talk, invade space, make inappropriate jokes and unknowingly do these things in front of education 'big dogs' (notably asking Amanda Spielman the way to the toilets at ResearchEd). I am getting a bit better - not at networking but at acceptance of the situation - so I spend less time backing slowly away from interactions, cringing.
I have always been obsessed with people's behaviour - my mum is a clinical psychologist and people-watching with her is as good as it gets. This is why I love teaching - it involves watching behaviour and responding. In one of my first training sessions on managing student behaviour, I talked about 'cocking off' - the observation that you are never going to win a stand off with a year 10 girl (or similar) without losing something - usually your dignity. As it turns out, the same applies at conferences, where cocking off is still rife. You know, those people who start an interaction with: "So, what do you do?" In other words, "Can I just clarify whether I am above you in the social standing so I know how to approach this interaction?" It is a bit more passive aggressive than you will find with an angry year 10 girl who may just go straight in with "I'm not f**cking listening to you" but fundamentally the sentiment is the same - the quick weighing up of whether talking to another human is a good use of your time.
When I was school-based, my networking extended to Carol in reprographics. It rarely left the building. People knew who you were and they knew what you did. Unless it was the first lesson with a new year 7 class, there was rarely a need to prove yourself in a short period of time - your worth was measured over the long term. Most teachers, therefore, especially this one, are not good networkers - it is not a muscle we need to flex to get results. But I feel this tide is changing.
So, this leads me back to WomenEd. These people seem to have the networking culture cracked for the good of the whole as well as the individual. It is not a love in - I feel challenged - the sort of challenge that brings a glow, not a cringe. In the age of school clusters and unknown grade boundaries and shared resources and a mental health cliff edge, we need each other more than we have before - fundamentally, we have no time for cocking off. Applause to WomenEd and others for gathering the unpolished like me and leading this brave, honest charge.