Book Authors: Steven Katz, Loma Earl, and Sonia Ben Jaafar (2009)
The push for practitioner collaboration to improve student achievement is a prevalent theme in the school turnaround literature. A number of prominent buzzwords featured in this body of work reaffirm the need for teachers and administrators to collaborate: cross-learning collaborative, professional learning communities, and professional networks. However, many practitioners working to improve their schools ask themselves: What does high-quality collaboration or networking look like? How should I network in my school? The 2009 book Building and Connecting Learning Communities: the Power of Networks for School Improvement attempts to provide practical answers to the "how-to" questions of networking.
The text is tailored to the interests of school practitioners. It provides insights that are implementable, rather than an abstract academic discussion of networks. Each of the eight chapters builds upon the previous section to provide the reader with a comprehensive understanding of how to plan and build, strengthen, and sustain networks over time. The book discusses the connection between strong professional networks and improved student learning. Other general topics covered within these chapters include understanding the social dynamics of networked learning communities—specifically developing a clear purpose for the community, refining leadership styles, and cultivating relationships among the members. The later chapters look at the ways to leverage networks to better support professional learning among teachers and administrators, and keeping these networks viable and productive.
Although there are many intellectually rich chapters in this text, this review will only highlight Chapter Two, titled: "How Networked Learning Communities Work." This chapter describes the importance of collaboration as "essential to an organization's success" (p. 7). However, the chapter cautions that, "bringing people together does not necessarily produce better outcomes" (p. 7). To be productive, networks must maintain focused goals and consistent participation. This chapter also introduces its theory of action about how networked learning communities should function. The core of this theory is that "significant changes in student learning [is] dependent on major changes in the practices and structures of schools" (p. 9). Moreover, these changes will only result from school professionals intentionally creating and sharing knowledge within the building.
The value of this book lies in its ability to convey user-friendly knowledge about creating and sustaining networked learning communities in schools. In many ways, the text provides a blueprint of creating a network, and a practical explanation of how these networks will impact student learning (see Chapters 3, 5, and 7). This work could easily fit into a district or state training session that is focused on developing teacher and administrator professional practices. This text would also complement teachers and administrators looking to cultivate a learning community within their school.
Reference: Katz, S., Earl, L, and Ben Jaafar, S., Building and Connecting Learning Communities: the Power of Networks for School Improvement, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press (2009).