Communities of Learning (CoLs) as Networks
These generalisations about networks for learning are mine as a New Zealand educator and may not necessarily reflect the views of educational groups I am associated with.
Here are some thoughts that underpin the essence of why and how Communities of Learning are being developed in New Zealand and other OECD countries.
- Why have CoLs? – because we have complex (and stubborn) issues that need to be resolved in NZ Education. THESE STUBBORN ISSUES CAN ONLY BE WORKED THROUGH IF WE EMBRACE NETWORKING TO MAXIMISE OUR COMPLEX PROBLEM SOLVING CAPACITIES. THIS NETWORKING IS PART OF THE INEXORABLE PATH AWAY FROM FACTORY MODEL EDUCATION INTO A LEARNING WORLD OF INCREASING COMPLEXITY AND A FUTURE THAT LOOKS AS THOUGH IT WILL BE EXTREMELY DIFFERENT ECONOMICALLY, SOCIALLY AND CULTURALLY.
- Keeping in mind our focus on complex issues networked leadership has a better chance to have success. Layers of leadership can effectively interact at nodes without as much reference to rank and position. This means those in the network can link to all others in the network without the need for flows up and down a hierarchy as all have their own nodes and interactions. Individuals can share and interact with those they see as being the most useful or even the most different from themselves.
- Built into professional practice networks we need to give all individuals THE TIME TO THINK, TIME TO SHARE, TIME TO TRUST – inherent in this complex issue/problem solving is the need for transparency, co-operation and collaboration.
- Getting to effective networks takes time and networks keep changing and evolving – we will be in “perpetual beta” for ever as our interactive systems keep growing new wings. Follow this link – enjoy Harold’s thinking and observation from the last 15 years. Explore the Perpetual Beta world with Harold Jarche
- Interestingly the tools at our disposal offer the chance to include the qualities of what in the past was seen as village or tribal life where everyone could know about everyone else. Once an idea has emerged fresh and open to linkage to learning action it is not surprising it bumps into other similar ideas. A Twitter feed provided What’s the Next Big Idea? Micro-school networks. Tom Vander Ark and Megan Mead have provided a clear description of what I called the Franklin club in Education Should be Fun.
- Educational leaders at all levels will always be active out there in the COMPLEX issues and problems area where we need the expertise of the network to ensure we can bring coherence and more certainty to our actions and decisions. Complex issues and problems by their nature need all the expertise we can harness to help take the leadership action needed – individuals and even whole schools can-not operate alone any more.
How would we make the network(s) for CoLs work?
Networks need to provide educational leaders at all levels with TIME TO THINK, TIME TO SHARE AND CO-OPERATE AND TIME TO TRUST.
- CoLs need all teachers (and students) to become expert communicators across all the networks they use
- CoLs need focus on and opportunities for leadership at all levels to actively share and co-operate across networks at all levels (In other words use a curriculum of leadership to structure the networking and help break down the present silos of knowledge in and between schools. Use networking approaches that encourage self-managed learning and interaction by all teachers (not just the designated leaders)
- CoLs need relatively simple online networking opportunities – common across NZ – with conversation opportunities, shared learning, strategy development and co-operation and collaboration deliberately focusing on complex and gritty problems. (This would mean working on complex problems would be the basis for conversation and shared learning strategies – this complex problems curriculum being applied on the go not taught as the starting point.)
- I suspect we will never arrive at full and clear solutions to our complex gritty problems. Rather we will work on parts of them and there will be progress that is pleasing but there will be this “rolling maul of issues” that keep confronting us. New issues will keep on emerging as our future expands upon us while we drop others off through resolution.
- We will however develop the view that it is enjoyable and even fun for all in the community to share in work on the “rolling maul”.
The shape and operation of CoLs needs to fit the world of tomorrow and today – steady movement away from reliance on the models of 19th & 20th Century of leadership
Excellence in leadership across the CoL network will be the key to complex problem solving in schools. This means Cols will need to challenge and empower all in their teaching and or student roles to actively lead to solve or resolve these complex issues;
- Inequities in educational achievement
- Inherent suspicion and even disregard for formal education by too many (as seen in attendance rates and lack of enthusiasm for learning).
- The grind and joylessness of teaching and learning that is driven by too much data and testing
- Educating for future places in society – where “perpetual beta” is the norm so agility of thought and action will also be the norms in behaviour.
“Workers need more trusted relationships to share complex knowledge. But these take time to develop. Sharing knowledge in trusted networks does not happen overnight. Complex problems cannot be solved alone. They require the sharing of tacit knowledge, which cannot easily be put into a manual. Tacit knowledge flows best in trusted networks.” Harold Jarche 2015 Seeking Perpetual Beta
A parting thought – Communities of Learning are already very diverse with each of us belonging to a variety. Even within education we interact readily with many others in both formal and informal ways. Perhaps the best thing about learning is that we can interact with many and find solutions or part answers in many different places. As the populations of OECD countries age the best interactions could arise from tapping into the wisdom of our older citizens.