2020 – what a strange and unsettling year. ELT has been hit badly by the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a number of things: school closures; teachers, managers and administrative staff losing their jobs or having the jobs modified and hours reduced; schools and those within the schools showing an incredible amount of resilience and talent in an ability to move their skills so successfully online and possibly a heightened awareness of their own and others’ well-being as we get through this together.

So in a changing profession and with many of us not sure of how our future career path as we previously saw it, will evolve, now is surely the perfect time to raise our professional profile and promote ourselves to the wider community. This concept is something that often does not come naturally to us, but stick with me on this. I guarantee you will enjoy this and get a renewed surge of energy, not to mention possibly identify new areas of interest and career opportunities, picking up new friends along the way.

Why raise our profile?

  • Feel-good factor
  • New contacts/friends/opportunities.
  • Positivity for us and others
  • Career enhancement
  • New directions
  • Healthy reflective practices
  • A focus to channel our energies in a difficult time

How?

I would like to suggest three easy and enjoyable steps.

1. Recognise your strengths and achievements

a. Carry out a SWOT analysis of yourself. Over the space of a couple of days to a week, note down your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. To save time why not just focus on your strengths and opportunities for a change. Write these down; don’t be modest. Ask friends and colleagues and get honest feedback. Build up your SWOT analysis rather than trying to complete it in one afternoon. Your brain needs an incubation period to delve into your subconscious with this and come up with things you had forgotten about or taken for granted.
I guarantee doing this is no hardship and it doesn’t take long. However, the result at the very least is a real buzz about yourself: a time for a bit of self-recognition

b. List 250 achievements you have had in your life. I know it sounds like a big ask, but try it. Again, build up your list over several days. What you start to recognise is that you have achieved an incredible amount in your life so far and every single day you accomplish so much. It is time to praise yourself and recognise this. Everything we get through in a working day is an achievement and should be acknowledged. Those of you working remotely, freelance or in management positions will know that positive feedback is often not something that flows in our direction so recognise it in yourself. I believe it is important to walk away from each day congratulating yourself on what you have done.

These two exercises not only make you feel good and generate positivity in such difficult times, but they bring to the forefront of your mind your skills, transferable skills and wealth of experience you have. As teachers, academic managers, ELT professionals, we have a range of talents we often take for granted and therefore forget to highlight them when trying to raise our professional profile.

2. Expand your network

Now that you are feeling good about yourself, it is time to start raising your profile by expanding your network: your presence both online and in real life.

Let’s consider online for now as the current situation does not allow for much face-to-face contact!

Take your online profile seriously and make it work for you. Think about how you want the online community to see you. When was the last time you revisited your profile and information on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and any other platforms you may be on? Have a look back at your digital footprint. What is it saying to the outside world? Have you become lazy, are you just sharing and liking rather than engaging? (note to self!)

An A–E of helpful hints to enhance and widen your network:

a. Review your profile on the various platforms and think before you post. Are you raising your profile positively? Will you be remembered and for the right reasons?

b. Join groups online such as British Council, ETP, IATEFL, ELT Footprint.

c. Engage in these groups even when you can’t be bothered. Have a presence. Be consistent, be helpful, be chatty, get to know people, build a support network for yourself. You will also be supporting others just by doing this and before you know it people know who you are and you have new friends ready to meet for a coffee when we can all finally attend our conferences again.

d. Reflect on your skills and achievements and bring these to the groups you are part of. Offer suggestions, opinions, tap into your experience, ask questions, enter into academic discussions, be constructive, be humble, learn from debate and follow up with people you are getting to know. Be curious, listen, be supportive, find common interests. This requires a little extra mental energy, so allocate a certain time and amount of time to being proactive on social media rather than getting absorbed in scrolling aimlessly (note to self again!)

e. Identify groups outside your immediate circle and areas of interest. Join in, have a presence, get noticed ... you never know when someone might present you with an opportunity based on your experience and transferable skills. Keep yourself open to these.

f. Introduce friends to other like-minded people, form mini groups. You never know what opportunities might emerge for yourself and for others. Tap into each other’s networks. Discover what contacts and possible opportunities people have hidden away; for example, my hairdresser introduced me to my estate agent through her online community. Did you really need to know that? I met our web photographer when dog walking. It is about showing interest and asking the right questions to identify mutual opportunities.

All of this works face-to-face, too, of course. Be proactive and open to opportunities while being aware of what you bring in terms of your skills, ambitions, experience. Remember our aim in all of this is to raise our professional profile and remember why we are doing this, one of the main reasons being to enhance positivity and create a feel-good factor in such challenging times.

3. Take action! Move out of your comfort zone

So I would argue that once you have followed stages 1 and 2 above, you must go that bit further in order to truly attract opportunities and raise your profile. I am a strong believer in saying ‘yes’ to something even when you are fearful of what you are agreeing to do. Say yes then learn how to do it – put in the time, do the research. What a sense of achievement we feel when we do this, but it can be scary and it does take energy, so don’t overdo it.

Consider what activities you might be able to say yes to, bearing in mind your new awareness of your skills and talents and your newly established networks. Set yourself a goal of one or two; be realistic or you won’t follow through.

Possible activities to put yourself forward for:

a. Write an article for industry publications such as MET, then promote it on your social media and recognise it as an achievement.

b. Offer to deliver webinars. Publishers and CPD groups are often looking for new speakers. You have something to say, so share it; move out of your comfort zone if this is not something you would usually do. The buzz is great, the sense of achievement. You are getting noticed, who knows what else it might lead to.

c. Write blogs, record vlogs, self promote in a soft and useful way. We don’t want to come across as overbearing, but we are all interesting people, so identify an area of interest and talk about it, share it, invite conversation. Again, who knows what it will lead to.

d. Offer to take on a task you have never done before, maybe even on a voluntary basis. For example, if you are a teacher, do research into an area of ESP you know little about.

e. Volunteer, join committees, participate and give something back to the wonderful world of ELT. This is a win-win situation in terms of raising your profile, possibly learning a new skill and providing a service.

These are just some ideas, but you may have more. The important thing is that it is interesting to you, it is challenging and stimulating, and hidden within this is that it is raising your professional profile. Moving out of our comfort zone keeps us alert and motivated. If you find yourself looking for a career change or for a new job, such activities show future employers that you are able to grow and adapt, you are pro-active and open to learning and developing within new areas.

To conclude, this is a strange time and in many ways a challenging time. There may not be another time like it in our lifetime so make it work for you. There is nothing to lose and plenty of feel-good factor in everything I have described. Try some of these things out and let me know how you get on fiona@wimbledon-school.ac.uk or find me on LinkedIn and become part of my network.

Fiona Dunlop is the Principal at Wimbledon School of English, London, one of the oldest independent language schools in the UK.

She currently provides training on many aspects of ELT management such as internal customer care, CPD and well-being, effective project management, and motivating and developing well-established teaching teams.

She has written articles for ELT publications, delivered webinars for British Council and contributed to the development of a British Council Continuing Professional Development handbook for teachers and managers.

Most recently Fiona has consolidated her years of experience in the form of a language school management book published in June 2019 https://www.pavpub.com/pavilion-elt/etpedia-series/etpedia-management