32 SES 07 A, The Role of Leaders and Networks for Schools as Learning Organizations
The winds of change are blowing in contemporary education research and they are bringing with them collaboration networks to be used as platforms to improve school systems. It is an exciting, innovating current that is in full flow, and one that is happening in the context of what Castells (2010) alludes to as a growing “network society” and an expansion of “liquid modernity”, which is the basis of Bauman’s discourse (2013), one of the most brilliant and provocative thinkers of our time. If we consider these two concepts together, and following Bauman’s line of argument, within the network society there is a need to establish a dialog between cultures in which communities open up to each other and undertake exchange processes that foster enrichment through the search for a common humanity. This double conceptualization, within the sphere of education, stresses the importance of sharing knowledge and is a constant call to learn from others in an environment that is assumed to be continuously connected. Burns & Koster (2016) consider that networks successfully adjust to the dynamics of modern liquidity precisely because they move beyond the traditional (and in most cases obsolete) hierarchical forms of organization. Hence, networks are seen as a successful strategy whose incorporation into school theory and practice is supposing quite a revolution within the field of education.
Current research into education networks in the international scenario is having important consequences for educational policies that seek to incorporate networking and collaboration as habitual strategies in schools. Examples of this can be found in various countries, including Australia (Harris & Jones, 2017), Austria (Rauch, 2016), Belgium (Feys & Devos, 2014), Chile (González, Pino & Ahumada, 2017), Spain (Azorín & Muijs, 2017), The United States (Spring, Frankson, McCallum & Proce, 2018), Finland (Sahlberg, 2011) and England (Azorín & Muijs, 2018; Muijs, West & Ainscow, 2010), to name just some. Nevertheless, when reflecting on the effectiveness of these forms of collaboration, one must be aware that the proliferation of networks as strategies for change has come about extremely quickly and how effective they really are remains to be seen (Rincón-Gallardo & Fullan, 2016). If the aim is to advance in the area of research into networks in education, then empirical support is required for the types of collaboration and networking that are being put into practice. Hence, the interest of this study lies in establishing a debate about the role collaboration networks play in education, the new forms of social participation and transformation that are appearing under these types of organization, and the need to disseminate findings that can contribute to the creation of knowledge within this fruitful line of current and future research.
The aim of this paper is to ascertain how a network of schools that aims to enhance the teaching-learning process is operating in the city of Southampton (England). To do this we look in depth at the following aspects: the aspirations of the alliance, the main areas of common interest for the schools participating and the structural organization that underpins the networking.
A study of a descriptive nature was accordingly carried out (Yin, 2014) on a network of five schools in Southampton. The study was performed during a three-month stay (September to November 2016) made by the author of this paper at the University of Southampton. The participants comprised the informants from the five schools involved in the research (n = 32), of which 20 were teaching staff and 12 from the management team. 32 semi-structured interviews were carried out that, depending on the discourse, included both closed and open questions. A field diary and a sound recorder were also used. A spreadsheet was created to collect the information. Institutional documents (plans, protocols and programs) were also reviewed along with the Network Project shared by the schools.
The network aims are: 1) to share-transfer-exchange knowledge, experiences and resources, 2) to discuss current issues of education research with other colleagues, 3) to manage information on innovation projects undertaken in neighboring schools, 4) to offer and receive professional support from management and teaching staff at the participating institutions, 5) to improve learning standards, 6) to answer issues related to optimizing the response to student diversity and socio-educational inclusion, 7) to strengthen collaboration links with community stakeholders, and 8) to manage resources available to the alliance more effectively. Elsewhere, the common areas of interest shared by the five schools, according to the statements made by those involved, had to do with the following issues: 1) school leadership, 2) early attention, 3) inclusion, 4) improving the educational process, 5) support and advice for teachers through coaching (peer reviewing), 6) assessment, 7) reflecting on the teaching and learning process, 8) studying teaching inquiry strategies arising form practice, 9) the removal of barriers to collaboration and joint work, and 10) the development of plans and protocols for acting on line. Lastly, in order to ensure the proper functioning of the networking, the structural organization of the alliance is coordinated by a series of groups that cover aspects, such as: Leadership Group, Early Years Group, Inclusion Group, School Improvement Group, Coaching & Support Group, and Assessment Group. The conclusion is that this type of fabric serves as a way to make effective use of resources and to foster the development of more inclusive educational and social environments. In short, the school that we want today in not an institution that sits behind its railings, but rather an organization that reflects on the context in which it is immersed and is prepared to boldly open up and work in collaboration networks with its neighboring allies.
Azorín, C.M. and Muijs, D. (2017). Networks and collaboration in Spanish education policy. Educational Research, 59(3), 273-296. Azorín, C.M. and Muijs, D. (2018). Redes de colaboración en educación. Evidencias recogidas en escuelas de Southampton [Collaboration Networks in Education: Evidences from Schools in Southampton]. Profesorado. Revista de currículum y formación del profesorado, 22(2), 1-20. Bauman, Z. (2013). La cultura en el mundo de la modernidad líquida [The culture in the world of liquid modernity]. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica. Burns, T. and Köster, F. (2016). Governing Education in a Complex World. Educational Research and Innovation. Paris: OECD Publishing. Castells, M. (2010). The Rise of the Network Society: Economy, Society, and Culture. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Feys, E. and Devos, G. (2014). What Comes out of Incentivized Collaboration: A Qualitative Analysis of Eight Flemish school Networks. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 43(5), 738-754. González, A., Pino, M. and Ahumada, L. (2017). Transitar desde el mejoramiento escolar al mejoramiento sistémico: Oportunidades y desafíos reales escolares en Chile [Transition from school improvement to systemic improvement: Opportunities and real school challenges in Chile]. Chile: Centro de Liderazgo para la Mejora Escolar. Harris, A. and Jones, M.S. (2017). Professional Learning Communities: A Strategy for School and System Improvement? Wales Journal Education, 19(1), 16-38. Muijs, D., West, M. and Ainscow, M. (2010). Why Network? Theoretical Perspectives on Networking. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 21(1), 5-26. Rauch, F. (2016). Networking for education for sustainable development in Austria: the Austrian ECOLOG-schools programme. Educational Action Research, 24(1), 34-45. Rincón-Gallardo, S. and Fullan, M. (2016). Essential features of effective networks in education. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 1(1), 5-22. Sahlberg, P. (2011). Paradoxes of Educational Improvement: The Finnish Experience. Scottish Educational Review, 43(1), 3-23. Spring, J., Frankson, J.E., McCallum, C.A. and Price, D. (2018). The Business of Education. Networks of Power and Wealth in America. New York: Routledge. Yin, R.K. (2014). Case Study Research. Design and Methods. London: SAGE.
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