Teachers’ Social Networks and Collaborative Sense-making in a School Reform Effort

Opportunities for deep, sustained organizational change exist when teachers are included in the conception and implementation of the reform model. Yet top down, hierarchical systems push teachers farther away from this process instead of drawing them closer. Leaning on theoretical frameworks that indicate that teachers build collective understanding through the relationships and networks they establish and those decisions ultimately impact the organization as a whole, this study seeks to understand collaboration within a reform effort. Situated in a district deeply entrenched in hierarchical processes, Grand Avenue School offers a glimpse into a organization grappling with a site initiated reform effort. Layering Social Network Analysis with journal entries for depth, staff members at Grand Avenue helped to paint a portrait of collaboration using positive moments of both formal and informal interactions. This study found that teacher leadership emerged, shifted and changed as the need presented itself and the participant had the knowledge and skills to meet it. Both formal and informal roles had the ability to mediate the flow of information throughout the network and to push the work of collaboration to levels that impacted pedagogy and teachers thinking about teaching and learning. Importantly, the study also found that strong personal relationships produced deeper levels of collaboration. These findings imply the need for re-visioning schools as open, flexible systems that are reflective of local talent within the organization, requiring that systems and structures be revised to create space for local expertise to rise up to meet local challenges. They also underscore the importance of relationships; relationships that are capable of supporting the meaningful conversations required for deep collaboration and knowledge exchange. Recommendations for future research are also presented.