The untapped potential of teacher networks

Friday, July 11, 2014

The word "network" gets used to mean many things. For professionals of all kinds, a network usually refers to a collection of people with similar or related skills and experiences, often those who can be helpful in finding new employment or advancing in a career path (hence the verb "to network"). If you Google "teacher network," the first few pages of results mostly align with this version of network: online spaces for teachers to share and discuss resources such as lesson plans; professional associations for teachers of a particular discipline or in a particular region; graduates of particular teacher preparation programs, etc.

But not all teacher networks are created equal. Some are stronger than the sum of their parts, some have impact that extends beyond the immediate group of participating educators, and some have the potential to move the profession as a whole. These kinds of networks have characteristics similar to what Ken Everett, an Australian entrepreneur and a former classroom teacher, calls network organizations (2011). They exist to do something specific and are characterized by members who know and trust each other. They have a shared identity; a shared sense of purpose and responsibility for fulfilling that purpose; and the commitment and ability to develop distributed leadership for the organization. But network organizations aren't created spontaneously, and many well-intentioned efforts to build teacher networks fall short of developing these characteristics. How can educators move beyond just networking to building strong network organizations?

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