Purpose– The purpose of this paper is to advance clarity and precision around effective action in networks, understood as collaboration that: first, deepens the learning and engagement of students and adults; second, enhances the professional capital of teachers and leaders; and third, becomes a positive force of whole system improvement. It distills eight essential features of effective networks by fleshing out key lessons from existing research and from emerging education network developments in the English-speaking world and Latin America. It then discusses three shifts required for a new partnership between networks and central leadership to turn networks into forces of educational system renewal. Design/methodology/approach– Two sources of evidence were identified and reviewed: first, literature reviews and studies aimed at identifying characteristics of effective networks in education; and second, network case studies and R&D initiatives that used networks as their improvement strategy and had demonstrated positive impact on student outcomes or on one or more professional capital variables often associated with improved student outcomes. To distill the eight essential features of effective networks and three required shifts in the relationship between networks and central leadership, the authors engaged in an iterative process of thematic analysis (Boyatzis, 1998) deliberately searching for key characteristics and processes describing effective collaboration. The list was revised for completeness and parsimony. Findings– The eight essential features of effective networks identified are: first, focussing on ambitious student learning outcomes linked to effective pedagogy; second, developing strong relationships of trust and internal accountability; third, continuously improving practice and systems through cycles of collaborative inquiry; fourth, using deliberate leadership and skilled facilitation within flat power structures; fifth, frequently interacting and learning inwards; sixth, connecting outwards to learn from others; seventh, forming new partnership among students, teachers, families, and communities; and eighth, securing adequate resources to sustain the work. The three required shifts in the relationship between networks and central leadership are: first, from supply driven to demand driven; second, from compliance oriented to learning oriented; and third, from bureaucracy to movement. Research limitations/implications– The key limitation derives from the scarce available evidence to date causally – or even co-relationally – connecting network activities with improved student learning. This paper summarizes what is known to date about effective collaboration in networks and advance a theory of action that causally links network activities with improved student outcomes and enhanced professional capital. This theory of action, summarized in eight essential features, simultaneously offers key hypotheses for social network theory in education and actionable guidelines to develop effective networks. Practical implications– The eight essential features of effective networks and the three required shifts in the relationship between networks and central leadership presented here were intentionally framed as action oriented. They offer a clear and actionable set of guidelines to develop effective networks. Social implications– The power of networks as vehicles to dramatically improve schools and entire educational systems is yet to be realized. This paper offers guidelines to enhance the effectiveness of networks, and thus contributes to the realization of the yet unfulfilled promise of networks. Originality/value– This work adds originality and value in three ways: first, it draws from both existing studies on effective networks and successful and promising education networks; second, its findings apply to multiple configurations of networks, across multiple contexts – existing publications place their focus on specific network configurations or a specific network case or initiative; third, it looks at effective collaboration in networks from the dual perspective of local problem solving and whole system improvement.
Journal of Professional Capital and Community – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jan 11, 2016
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