One thing that I learned is that Stephen Katz played a key role in forming the networks. He challenged the board to develop networks that went beyond the superficial and called on members to challenge each other in a respectful manner.
Katz in his studies asked the question - "How do we enable the kind of professional learning that will bring about change in practice."
This is a question that must be seriously looked by educational leaders. We have done a very good job at examining the conditions that students need to learn effectively, but we have neglected to do this for adults, especially principals and vice-principals.
Katz in his work in Niagara stressed the need for the development of an Inquiry Framework. This has developed over the years but it remains central to their professional learning teams. The framework mandates teams to develop an inquiry question and from that question create a working hypothesis. The framework asks the inquiry group some simple questions:
Develop an inquiry question ~ what is your challenge of practice and why?
Develop a working hypothesis ~ if/then statement ~ how you intend to intervene and why?
The framework continues on with a plan, success criteria and evidence to support the hypothesis.
Such a structured approach to networked learning is something that is bound to produce learning and results for the members of the networked group.
There has been a great deal of study that has gone into this framework. Katz stresses that when adults come together they need to collaborate and challenge each other to produce real learning. The video below summarizes his main ideas on what constitutes an effective network.
To finish, I am including a webcast from Stephen Katz that summarizes many of the key ideas outlined in these two blog posts. The introduction to the 2008 webcast includes the following:
Networks operate on the belief that when professionals come together and share their expertise, they build new knowledge, and that new understanding leads to a change in practice that will ultimately result in improved practice and student achievement.
This webcast will feature researcher Stephen Katz, who shares insights on what makes networks effective, based on his research and experience. He suggests that six characteristics consistently emerge as being essential to effective networks:Networked Learning Communities - Webcasts for Educators
Purpose and focus: participants need to become knowledgeable about their focusLeadership-full: using collaborative, shared, or multi-level leadership; developing the capacities of others becomes essentialCollaborationInquiryAccountabilityBuilding Capacity and Support