Is there anything more inspiring and mutually supportive than a healthy human network?
The Aboriginal Enhancement School Network (AESN), part of the Network of Inquiry and Innovation (NOII), is lead by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, two passionate, intelligent and inspiring education leaders. They are deeply committed to achieving equity and quality for all learners – and to networking for innovation and improvement at the local and international levels.
Dedicated to the vision of EVERY learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options, the network is supported by volunteer leaders across BC. Since its inception in 2000, up to 5,000 educators have been intensely involved in this network. As Judy Halbert says, “Reaching every learner in every setting is extremely complex work and is simply too hard for any one teacher, no matter how talented, to do alone.”
It takes a network.
The goal of the Changing Results for Young Readers (CR4YR) initiative is to increase the number of children who are engaged, successful readers. Ably lead by Maureen Dockendorf and a provincial resource team, this network represents over 700 highly-engaged educators of primary students making an important difference in the lives of 9,000 early learners. Last week’s high-energy gathering of 200 members of the network was fuelled, strengthened and supported by talented experts who shared their research and wisdom in social-emotional learning, self-regulation, teaching of reading, and aboriginal ways of learning.
It takes a network.
After almost half a week in the company of these two networks, I couldn’t help but reflect on the power of a supportive interconnected network, united in a common altruistic goal. Networks are about distributed leadership, connections, relationships – all built on respect for the views and gifts of each member.
Themes of connections and relationships come out in other successful education networks, such as UBC’s Growing Innovations and the Mitchell Odyssey Foundation. (Note: I blogged about this group in When does 2+2=5?.)
Networks are based on connections. And in human networks, those connections rely on relationships. And that got me thinking about the BC library landscape and to what degree libraries function as a network. Is our network functioning as effectively as possible?
In BC, we have 71 public library systems serving over 360 communities, 25 public post-secondary libraries, and hundreds of school libraries. We have about 4,000 FTEs and 700 trustees working for libraries. Capacity and equity vary considerably, yet the strength lies in considering each part a portion of a strong and cohesive whole.
They are all connected, in one way or another. Libraries are based on the notion of sharing, and helping one another.
Check out the video, Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks, which compares the human brain to the global digital network. Equating synapses to hyperlinks, a child’s brain has ten times the number of connections of the entire internet.
The video’s message is that every time you engage, you strengthen connections. Our brains prune the unused connections and strengthen the ones that we use. Every connection affects our brain. Therefore, we need to be mindful of what we’re connecting to, and strengthening.
This video reminds us of the collective capacity of humans when working together in a network, working towards a shared goal.
Without human relationships – people agreeing to pool resources and work together for the greater good – libraries would not exist. And human relationships will help drive the future of libraries, making libraries stronger than ever, despite all the external pressures.
And that gets us back to the key question: are we being as effective as possible in our human relationships? Are we working for the greater good? Or are we allowing personal interests to get in the way? In short, are we working for the “we”, or the “me”?
The answer is crucial.
In a network of partnerships, nothing gets done without trust. We tend to engage and share openly with people we feel we can trust. As in the brain power video, we strengthen connections that work and prune those that don’t.
I asked the network leaders for their thoughts about key determinants of a successful network. Maureen Dockendorf said, “The Young Readers network is centred on trusting relationships. That’s how the real work happens for results for our learners.” And Judy Halbert said, “The importance of trusting relationships cannot be over emphasized.”
Judy added, “But for that synergy of passion, inspiration, mutual support and effectiveness, the network members must be united by a strong sense of collective purpose. Again, it all comes down to relationships.”
Maintaining effective professional relationships is often not easy. Meetings of minds, with passion, mutual support and effectiveness, as described by Judy, can be energizing and highly productive. Relationships can also mean hard work and difficult conversations.
When people want to work towards a common goal, sincerely work with somebody, it’s always worth working through the inevitable personal issues that come up. After all, we all behave in ways we might regret when we feel stressed or cornered.
Whenever self-interest is allowed to drive decisions, there is an unspoken declaration that trust is not there. The individual might benefit, but the group suffers. More importantly, the goals of the network are not advanced. Every connection has its effect.
In libraries, after all, the human network is our most valuable resource. We need to pay attention to our relationships and nurture our interconnected human network. Every interaction counts.
More from Judy: “We have seen how the creativity, brilliance, curiosity, passion and commitment of educators is strengthened and nurtured when they get to work with similarly passionate colleagues. No better reason to keep networks flourishing!”
Is there anything that a human network cannot accomplish collectively when building on shared goals?