The Art of Unconventional Networking


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.

Author Profile

Kate Tod Forbes

Kate Tod Forbes

Freelance teacher and teacher educator based on the South Coast.

1 story


Kerry Jordan-Daus Kerry Jordan-Daus @kerry 6 months ago
So, I didn't even connect you with your mum, who was the Professor of Education in the University Faculty where I work. I forget I have ever met people, even after sharing a glass of wine with them. I start conversations, hoping someone's name will "pop" into my head! Despite what you see, I find networking hard. Actually I think there a few naturals, the rest, well we try! One of the many things I gave taken from #womened or maybe have felt brave enough to say, we don't have to be brilliant at everything or Super Sheroes, we can just be ourselves. You, me, Mal, Sue, Leonie, our authentic selves. Kate, I liked meeting you, you made me laugh, you challenged me, you supported me. Actually we did just what's on the #womened label.
Naomi Ward Naomi Ward @naomiw 6 months ago
It's true that teachers aren't natural networkers - we don't have to be. But at certain teachmeets and #womened events - I feel I can be me - and bring the ideas, doubts, fears and energy I have with me, without fear of being judged. It was so great to meet you - and hear your crackling mind in action. Am wondering how the network can support your ideas. Maybe we can ask people to express where they need support and pair people up that way. If one or two pairings become supportive friendships, that would be something! Thanks again for coming along and taking a chance on another 'networking event'!
Heather De Blasio Heather De Blasio @hdeblasio 6 months ago
Wow - this resonates with me, Kate. I know what you mean about the weighing up at conferences - and getting a sense of coming off second-best. But I have a sense that there are winds of change - and this supportive group, #womened, is leading the charge. It's made networking something that I look forward to, not dread. It's making me braver and willing to also encourage others to be braver - and for all of us to reap the rich promise of a community of committed, passionate and honest educators.
Mal Krishnasamy Mal Krishnasamy @malcpd 6 months ago
I get where you are coming from Kate. I've quite often thought I was socially inept after attending conferences etc. Not at WomenEd tho. I feel a genuine warmth that lacks that air of competitiveness, which is refreshing! I loved your presentation and am looking forward to seeing more of you on the South Coast.
Susan Baumgartner Susan Baumgartner @sbaumgartner94 6 months ago
I have a feeling we would be competing against each other on most cringe-worthy interactions. But that's exciting- I'm learning to embrace the cringe. Thank you for your snappy review- I have been personally blessed working with teachers who look at everyone in the building as essential parts of the same team and want to see it grow from there. Now, off to somehow work "Cocking off" into my repertoire. I must, I must, I must.
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