As we tend significantly toward working with networks of schools rather than as isolated ones I thought it worthwhile to spend time considering how this has come about. What thinking and actions will maximise our benefits from belonging to one or more of these networks.
There is a real move to schools working together as clusters; sharing information, resources and becoming more networked. How do we make these powerful and meaningful.
Networking/clustering has been growing for the last 20 years and has contributed to a vibrant and progressing education community.
Here are three stages of belief and deliberate action that I think we have seen in networks.
I am considering the cluster/network and its impact on the learners in the individual schools within it. Each stage is of value but the third belief and deliberate actions associated with it are where I see sustained system improvement is possible.
First Belief and deliberate actions - collectively we engage with outside expertise.
My experience of this first stage started with an ICTpd contract where our school was part of a cluster of 6 schools. The network formed bring an efficiency of resources and a critical mass to a funded programme.
The characteristics of the programme were
- Teacher only days with outside experts. This was for many their first exposure to professional development in their place. A consistent message was about the changing paradigm and the rate of change in society which we would all be faced with.
- Experts were used in rotation with little ongoing relationship any one expert.
- Think tanks of ICT early adopters and geeks got together to share.
- Innovations were spread quickly through group presence and a willingness to try something new.
- Numerous disconnected introductions of various exciting new technologies
- Commitment lasting for the period of funding (ICTpd) ie with outside experts and little internal funding some leaders saw no intrinsic value to working as a network.
Second Belief and deliberate actions - there is power in local connections
My experience of this second belief was one where we developed the power of being in a group we called a professional learning community. For me this represents a network able to see value in getting together sharing ideas, challenges they are facing and innovations they are adopting or developing.
The characteristics of the programme were
- Experience with Personal learning networks showed that you could connect with others and learn. It was like your extending the PLN to schools.
- Professional learning communities was a way to make similar connections and share learning in a local setting where people could connect face to face.
- Given everyone was attempting change people saw the importance of helping each other in our place
- There was something special we could do when we weren't isolated from each other's ideas.
- These clusters brought all its ideas together with more coming from within.
- There were too many ideas ie many conversations were lost because the variance across initiatives meant that elements of one could not fit in another
- Commitment to this type of group is ongoing and somewhat self funding
- Individual schools within the cluster know their impact
Third belief and deliberate actions - there is power in coherence and collective action
Russell Burt introduced me to the idea of the operational collective. This for me meant that we start to do more together and build on collective innovation. In this type of network the group identifies initiatives with promise testing them in their diverse contexts and bringing back the learning to take the next inquiry cycle.
This third belief is how I would describe the Manaiakalani Cluster as acting and developing.
The biggest difference between this model and the previous ones is that both a school and network (identity/purpose/challenge guide the day to day activity and long term strategy in the individual schools. This allows them to “get more from” and “give more to” each other going from strength to strength.
Purposeful research allows this type of cluster to know their impact. I see them as “collaborating to compete” (Fullan). Not compete with each other but back to the latin roots of the word compete.
- Comes from Latin competere, "come together," but in later Latin, it developed the sense "strive together," which was the basis for the English term.
What I see in these emerging networks are schools becoming stronger in their individual achievements and coming together in agreed ways to make progress.
The characteristics of the programme are
- A common language of learning eg Learn, Create, Share
- Agreement to inquire into our learning systems with the same reference points
- Visibility of what is happening in learning across the cluster
- Research to know our impact
- The impact attracts and generates wide external support
- Making our Kaupapa -- who we are and understanding a collective identity
- There are more partners but all in service of the learners
- Building a base on innovation found to be effective rather than taking a “splatter gun approach” Russell Burt
- Rich resources of how “we do this” are made for and by the cluster
- Energetic and committed leadership that believe in the contribution of the network to individual success
- Focusing on the learners and the community as the measure of success
- The operational collective develop a sense that they are there for each other.
- Being resolute and persistent
Is there a next stage to this type of network ?