The Importance of Finding Your Professional Community
Whether through their personal lives or their careers, most people eventually realize that most things are easier if you’re not doing them alone. This point was driven home in a big way a few months ago when we hosted our annual user conference, FACTS Elevate, in person for the first time since the pandemic began. While we had formal networking events scheduled, we found that attendees almost immediately began to organize their own casual meetups, posting in message boards hoping to connect with others that shared something in common.
One of the most interesting things we observed was that most of the meetups were based on job title. As an edtech company hosting a conference for members of the education industry, you’d expect to see lots of meetups for teachers and principals – but that wasn’t the case. It seems like the attendees most interested in finding like-minded individuals to connect with were people that work in schools where they are the only person in their position. Many schools only have one staff member working in IT or finance or business management, and these professionals were excited to meet up with others that could understand the unique challenges they face every day.
Long story short: everyone needs a community. Even with the world’s best coworkers, there’s no substitute for connecting with people that truly understand what it’s like to do your exact job. This has been especially true over the last few years, as schools went through so many changes to adapt to teaching in unprecedented circumstances. Whether you pride yourself on being a lone wolf or not, we can all seriously benefit from being part of a community.
Unexpected Community Benefits
While one of the greatest draws of finding a community of professionals doing the same work as you is simply having someone to talk to without having to explain, there are many other less obvious benefits to finding your perfect crew. Here are some you may not have thought of.
Learn New Skills and Ways of Thinking
Interacting with members of your professional community is a great opportunity to learn new ways to tackle problems. Chances are people with the same job as you are dealing with the same challenges, but they may be approaching them in totally different ways. Use these connections as a chance to troubleshoot. Your community may have tips and tricks they’ve picked up over the years to share or might be able to look at your challenges from a new angle that can lead to the solution.
Discover New Tools and Stay on Top of Industry News
Every friend group always has the member that’s constantly “in-the-know” – and the same applies to professional friend groups! Maybe your new connections use a different software than you do and can let you know whether it’s worth the switch. Members of a community that are relatively new to the industry may have learned how to do things with completely different tools that they can share with the group. Community members also get to pool their knowledge, meaning if someone has an inside scoop on something happening in the industry, you might find out faster than if you were on your own.
Open Up New Career Opportunities
While finding a community of individuals that work the same type of job as you can be a great networking opportunity, it can benefit your career in other ways besides helping you land a new position. You’ll get the chance to learn more about how roles like yours function in other schools: what additional responsibilities people in that role have, the career path they’re on, how they’ve advanced. This can open your eyes to ways to shift your role towards your areas of interest. You may find ways in which the skills you’ve developed in your current role can translate to different positions within your school – or a new one.
How to Find Your Community
Ready to find your crew? It can be hard to know where to get started with meeting people you can relate to, especially when you’re likely already busy at work. Putting in a little extra effort is worth it, however, when the benefits can be so great. Here are a few ways to find your community.
Find Professional Organizations
If you’re familiar with MISBO, this tip might seem obvious to you, but many people don’t realize that there are professional organizations for virtually every industry. Do some research to see what organizations exist for your field. There may be local meetups you can attend, conventions to travel to, or mailing lists to join. Even if you’re too busy for tons of after-work activities, even seeing a monthly newsletter in your inbox can be a morale booster.
Be the Host
Be bold and start your own informal group! Reach out to colleagues in nearby schools that have similar roles (try using LinkedIn for this) and ask them if they’d be interested in getting together to talk shop. You can arrange your first meetup around an activity, like a sip and paint class or short hike, to ensure that you’ve still got something to do if conversation stalls. After a couple meetings, you’ll get more comfortable with each other and can set a regular schedule that works for everyone.
Don’t Let Location Hold You Back
After years of virtual and hybrid schooling, we all know now that great interactions can happen regardless of where people are located. Virtual communities are rising, from Facebook and LinkedIn groups to subreddits and even industry-specific hashtags worth following on Twitter and Instagram. Social media isn’t the only place you can make connections, however. You might find that there are already communities in place for products you work with every day – like FACTS^SPACE, our new community platform for FACTS users. Most communities will let you filter down to incredibly niche groups, allowing you to connect with people in the same role, location, or type of school as you.
Start small by reacting to posts and commenting on statuses before committing to writing your own posts. You’ll start to recognize familiar faces soon enough and find the courage to jump into the conversation. You never know how far these connections will go; you may find yourself vacationing together after an industry conference!
Whether you attend one industry event a quarter or are a top commenter in your favorite discussion board, the important thing is to remember that having a support system in place is crucial to doing your best work. Go out and find your crew and see how far it takes you. We guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
Courtney Haindel currently works as the Product Marketing and Community Manager for FACTS. Prior to coming to FACTS, she was a career educator, with 17 years of experience in FACTS schools. She served as a high school English teacher, high school Assistant Principal, and finished her career as Director of Marketing and Enrollment. She loves working with FACTS schools around the country on school marketing and enrollment management and is excited about FACTS^SPACE, our latest companywide initiative designed to give schools opportunities to collaborate.