New year, new roles, new networks

Written by: Fiona Aubrey-Smith | Published:
Image: iStock

As the new year begins, the importance of having supportive professional networks around you is clear. Fiona Aubrey-Smith gives us some suggestions

Starting the new school year, most of us will be taking on some kind of new or different role. It might be teaching a new year group or starting at a new school, leading a new subject or management area, or as a new-to-role middle or senior leader.

Even those who are experienced in leadership or headship roles will be taking on new responsibilities, new schools, developing dynamics or extending reach. It is an exciting time at the beginning of the year, and a time to set in place some foundations that give you the best chances of success for the year ahead.

All of us, when undertaking new roles, benefit from a three-pronged approach:

  1. Acquisition of new knowledge, skills and understanding.
  2. Opportunities to reflect on our professional learning and how we will apply it in our work.
  3. People with whom to share the journey – a network of peers, mentors and advocates who can support, challenge and extend us.

Through your induction and performance management processes you will no doubt have support in place for the first and second in the list above. But, let’s focus here on the third one – the people within your new professional network.

This vital and diverse group of people – your new professional network – might be within your school, local authority or multi-academy trust, or may be beyond your cluster or local area. It is critically important to connect to people from both similar and contrasting schools, catchments and ideologies in order to continue to refine your own views and practice.

It is easy to make networks based on who is nearest or most accessible, but there is a significant risk of doing this – of being limited to what is local, known or comfortable. There might be great practice going on which you can adopt or adapt, but what you really need in your new role is to think about what’s right for you, and what’s right for your school.

Only by challenging your current thinking will you develop a vision and a reality that is right for the children, professionals and community of the schools and academies that you work with now and in the future.

Be open-minded about who you can connect with – many colleagues with busy national profiles willingly provide signposting or advice to hundreds of teachers and leaders via Twitter, Facebook, and other online forums.

They benefit from these relationships as much as those who contact them. You might be surprised at how willingly accessible people are – search the name of that conference speaker, book author, expert or champion and see what you find.

The people you connect with – in person, virtually or remotely – as you take the next steps on your journey will be significant influences on how you shape the future, and the decisions that you make.

So, take a moment to reflect on what you want to achieve in your new role over the weeks, months and years ahead, and reflect mindfully on how those aspirations relate to the people around you. Two great questions to start this off are:

  1. Where is great practice in these areas? If you know where it is, who can best help you to learn more about it? If you don’t know where it is, who can help you to find it?
  2. Who are the thought leaders, researchers and experienced practitioners in your areas of interest? What can you find that they have already published or made available? Which networks, events or online forums can you use to engage in dialogue with them?

One of the most exciting things to emerge from the teaching profession over recent years has been the Chartered College of Teaching. The Chartered College team has worked to make high-quality resources, research, networks, connections and events accessible for teachers and school leaders, and there is a huge amount available both online and across the country for us all to engage with.

I recommend exploring the Chartered College website and connecting with your regional network to start to discover just how much is available for you and your new (and existing) roles.

One of the many benefits for school leaders and teachers alike is the role that the Chartered College is playing in making robust educational research accessible – including direct access to the latest research published in your area of interest – and superb toolkits that facilitate the strengthening of how you currently use research evidence to inform your area of focus, role or priority.

As you build your networks, benefiting from the advice, experiences and expertise of others, so too, remember your responsibilities to contribute back to those who are following in your footsteps.

As you move on from previous roles and responsibilities, how can you offer your experience and expertise to colleagues who will be moving into that space? No doubt you will have already completed handover conversations, and passed on records, but what on-going support can you offer?

Who would benefit from asking you questions and seeking your expertise? Who would benefit from access to research and resources that you have worked on? Who would benefit from your coaching and support? Maybe it will be colleagues within your own school, trust, or authority, and particularly for those in leadership and management areas you will naturally undertake a mentoring role both formally and informally.

But, consider what you can offer those further afield. Look at the links you are making in your new role and consider what reciprocal relationships there might be. When you travel to visit other schools to learn from them, offer something in return while you are there. When you go online to absorb discussions and resources being made available, offer suggestions and materials in parallel.

Before you doubt yourself or what you can offer, your contributions could be as much about sharing expertise, research or resources, as about being a sounding-board, a coach, an advocate or simply a discussion participant.

Most importantly, remember – as much as you benefit from what the wider teaching profession has to offer, you should contribute back at least as much.
That is what true collegiality is about. 

  • Fiona Aubrey-Smith is a founding fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching, and holds a number of leadership roles with both schools and academies. Email

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