Networking vs Building Relationships

image from Melody on Flickr
Amazingly, I did not write a single ISTE reflection piece this year. It's always a little overwhelming trying to digest everything, but there are a few things that have stuck with me even into the beginning of August. Now that I'm on a bus headed to the #140edu conference , it seems fitting that I'm thinking about some of the conversations I had about networking.

Over the course of the 3 days I found myself in discussions about networking, relationships and learning on more than one occasion. Most discussions concluded with the idea that while networking is invaluable, building relationships is really what matters and is really what we're about.

My involvement in social media over the last three years has taught me the priceless skills of making connections and networking (skills, I would argue, that teachers are deprived of through the nature of current programs within schools of education). I'm an outgoing person, but 4 years ago I would not have had business cards, approached people I'd never met or felt connected to larger conversations enough to pipe up in a conversation while able to bring enough to the table to join in and then sit back and learn.

I've been telling people how much I've learned about networking and I've been following many conversations centered around the networked teacher. In fact, I have been working with a colleague of mine to help her become one.  I always tell people that I'm only as smart as the people I know. I know a lot of people. 

But is "networking" really what is helping us learn? Is it really what we should strive for?

David Jakes has a great blog entitled The Strength of Weak Ties. I've always loved that name. While searching for the exact link for this post I stumbled across Mark Granovetter's highly influential sociology paper of the same name. (I'm kind of ashamed I'd never heard of it before!) As networked teachers we are connected loosely through social media, conferences and in a more local sense, our Intermediate Units, Regions, Districts, Unions, etc...  These connections make us better teachers, they facilitate learning, but when I talk to members of my 'weak ties' network (mostly Twitter) what we really seek are relationships, stronger ties that enable ongoing support and deeper learning opportunities.

When I think of networking in the traditional sense, I think of an exchange, an "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" attitude. Relationships, however, involve a give-and-take with one side sometimes giving more than the other. Relationships involve a giving of self and ideas rather than a give-in-order-to-receive mentality.

Though I began honing my networking skills through the lens of social media, I have begun to build a network here in Philadelphia as well through the work I do for the South Philly Food Co-op and the annual edcamp Philly unconference. Some of the connections I have made are 'weak ties.' They are limited to the skin-deep needs each party has for his or her project. However, many of those ties have bloomed into relationships that go beyond our original purpose. It has made Philadelphia ridiculously small for me over the past year or so.
Similarly, many of the weak ties that I have built through social media still remain weak. Even so, I still value them. These are the people with whom I network because we share similar jobs, viewpoints or interests. However, the more powerful, deeper connections that have blossomed from such weak ties into friendships and professional relationships have and continue to push me as a teacher and helped me discover my own passions and beliefs.

While it's important to maintain those weak ties, let's look beyond networking and begin to build relationships that matter.


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