“A learning network demands an open learning attitude”
EUROPEAN COMMISSION Directorate-General Education, Youth, Sport and Culture Schools and multilingualism
In a previous blog, we discussed the importance of Communities of Practice (Peer to Peer Networks) in enabling and driving professional development, autonomy, contextualisation, empowerment, and innovation amongst educators. Imagine Education considers this to be a core element to all professional development programs, both formal and informal, and has established them in a variety of settings.
With education systems presenting ever greater complexity in the context of globalisation and digitalisation, and school autonomy, there is a growing interest in learning networks as a way of supporting the interactions between key stakeholders, and as a tool for harnessing a shared connectivity to enhance the educational outcomes for schools, teachers and learners.
School Networks are by no means a new concept; however, they often struggle to become self-sustaining, autonomous, and contextually appropriate; whilst also generating meaningful development and sustained change. Quite often School Networks are built around a single concept – be it a specific area of policy, or a singular element of the curricular, and although at times relevant, do not generate the engagement and interaction which they have the potential to do, nor are they malleable or responsive enough to maintain interest and engagement from collaborators.
However, in a well-functioning, equitable, contextualised, and autonomous School Network, there is great potential in driving efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation. Collaborative networks enable innovations to evolve more quickly and are more effective in testing and improving new approaches, whilst ensuring that results are appropriate for each individual context.
The benefits don’t stop there. Networks also have the capacity to support a more efficient allocation of resources across networked schools, help solve complex problems, create synergies between stakeholders, promote knowledge-sharing and the dissemination of practice, and enhance the professional development of teachers.
Between 2016 and 2020, Imagine Education designed and implemented a strategy to engage all schools in Egypt in a Behavioural Change development program. The program – Teachers First – utilised the PerformEd curriculum and platform as a vehicle to transform the professional behaviours through a system-wide approach. In all, over 870,000 teachers within 38,000 schools were involved, culminating in School-based Communities of practice expanding into ‘Community-wide’ Communities of Practice, termed Lighthouse School Networks.
In total, there were over 3,500 Lighthouse School networks developed across the country, each tasked with developing and implementing a shared development plan founded on the relevant professional behaviour requirements of their schools. Using Imagine Education’s unique Point of Learning platform (PerformEd platform), schools were able to delve deep into their shared areas strengths and areas in need of development. With this data, Networks were able to both access internal areas of expertise, as well as find consensus on specific and contextual requirements for professional development.
Overall, the data retrieved through independent research and evaluation, illustrated the capacity of these Learning Networks to generate sustained, meaningful, and impactful change. When asked, 93.6% of engaged teachers and school leaders highly agreed that their participation in the Lighthouse School Network had greatly improved their capacity to implement change; whilst 96.1% stated that through engaging in the learning network, student learning had been significantly improved.
On the whole, nearly all teachers felt that they had ownership of their network and that their opinion mattered. Through developing the concept of Communities of Practice from ‘school-based’ through to ‘community-based’, and formed around a guiding framework of professional behaviours, there was a strong sense of relevance and requirement in the outcomes being generated, and with that a desire and determination to ensure sustained engagement.
Some of the reoccurring statements made across all 3,500+ Lighthouse School Networks were:
- Peer-to-peer collaboration was widely used to support the transfer of knowledge and practice.
- ‘Expert’ input was a factor in driving appropriate and contextualised development. Experts’ contributions ranged from training to strategic advice and facilitation, while the experts themselves ranged from teacher mentors to career specialists and parents.
- Face-to-face contact was the main format of networking. Schools would rotate the ‘governance’ of the Network and assume responsibility for hosting. Face to face engagement ranged from collaborative on-site planning and reflection to coaching, training, and mentoring.
- School Network Communities of Practice made use of events which included conferences, symposia, and other formal meetings. ‘Training’ events acted as vehicles for increasing the number of colleagues able to describe and use new knowledge. In many cases these, too, were built into the design of School-based CPD interventions.