To the Editor:
Jal D. Mehta, Louis M. Gomez, and Anthony S. Bryk make some persuasive comments about the attributes of social learning in their recent essay in your “Futures of School Reform” Commentary series (“Schooling as a Knowledge Profession,” March 30, 2011). They focus on networks of diverse expertise and their ability to spur innovation aimed at improvement where there must be a shared commitment to disciplined inquiry. Their four essential questions informing all inquires are very important.
The concept of adult social learning is indeed a strong vehicle to improve and develop “structures through which localized knowledge is continually tested and refined, accumulated over time, and spread across the field.” However, we don’t have to depend on university personnel to accomplish this work.
Across the nation, in six major cities, the School Leaders Network works with more than 300 principals of urban high-needs schools to increase leadership capacity. Networks of K-12 school leaders meet together to use action research to solve the compelling challenges they face in their schools.
Through participation in the School Leaders Network’s three-phase, results-driven network program model, principals are empowered to:
• Learn and collaboratively develop highly focused strategic school improvement efforts based upon observation evidence. They set instructional goals and work to influence teacher practice through structured and focused collaboration and professional development.
• Strategically focus on instructional improvement. They do this through meaningful observation of instructional practice and subsequently intentional and multilevel engagement with teachers to influence their practice toward focused improvement efforts.
• Learn the power of collective responsibility to take action through their work in action-research teams. The network experience mirrors expectations the SLN sets for principals to replicate the culture of collective responsibility to relentlessly pursue student achievement among all school stakeholders.
• Analyze their current school climate and work to improve their shared leadership with teachers, their development of leadership teams, and their leadership of shared expectations for student achievement.
• Actively develop teacher communities that replicate the core principles of their network experience: shared values and focus on student achievement, analysis and purposeful sharing of practice, and learning through dialogue, sharing and formulating hypotheses, and testing results.
The School Leaders Network has seen promising trends showing increased student achievement based on collaborative coaching through adult networks engaged in social learning.
Chief Executive Officer
School Leaders Network
A version of this article appeared in the April 27, 2011 edition of Education Week as Network Empowers School Leaders