Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 66(5) 482–493, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
A national consortium of more than 90 universities and 100 school systems has been organized as a Networked Improvement Community (NIC), which combines the disciplined inquiry of improvement science with the power of networking to accelerate improvement by engaging a broad set of participants.
The purpose of this article is to describe an important aspect of organizing a NIC by a large national effort, namely, the role of leadership structures. The article analyses a case study of the formation of a particular NIC, the Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership (MTE-Partnership).
Two primary data sources were used to analyze the MTE-Partnership’s progress in one domain of that framework: network leadership, organization, and operation.
First, primary documents produced since the inception of the MTE-Partnership were considered, including public documents, internal white papers and other working documents. Second, input gathered directly from participants in the project since its inception was also considered.
NICs combine the disciplined inquiry of improvement science with the power of networking to accelerate improvement by engaging a broad set of participants to create well-founded improvements that can be adapted to a range of contexts.
The highly structured nature of a NIC, typically spanning multiple institutions, presents significant challenges in developing the necessary leadership and organization structures. This is particularly true in the case of the MTEPartnership, which has a broad and complicated structure reflecting the deep complexities of the needed national education change addressed by the partnership.
This case study has used the NIC Initiation Framework to analyze the leadership, organizational, and operational activities in the formation of the MTE-Partnership.
Six factors were identified as particularly important.
The first factor, convening the network, required having a strong organization to gain the attention of institutional leaders in forming the initial coalition focused on transforming the preparation of secondary mathematics teachers. The partnership combined institutional leadership, professional credibility within the field, and the growing expertise of the Carnegie Foundation in organizing its work to harness the power of the network.
The second factor is development of a membership framework. The initial coalition’s definition of membership was based on a collection of institutions lead by an APLU university, along with partners that might include other universities and school partners, with a common commitment to improving secondary mathematics teacher preparation.
The third factor, development of participation structures, derives directly from the definition of membership. The membership framework defines how members become a part of the overall effort and their relationships to each other and the whole. Within the framework, there need to be participation structures that define how members actually undertake the work. These structures have not been static, but have evolved over the development of the partnership.
The fourth factor, building the leadership and hub functions of the partnership, likewise required evolution to match the emergence of the NIC design.
One challenge for the leadership team has been maintaining a sense of common purpose and steadily reinforcing the identity of the MTE-Partnership as an overall network in meetings, communications, and leadership structures.
The fifth factor is development of an effective infrastructure for communications. Communications between the hub and its participants has been critical in maintaining the network.
The sixth and final factor is developing human and material resources needed for the partnership to function effectively. Developing a self-sustaining model for the human and material resources needed to maintain the partnership is a high priority for the leadership team. A balance needs to be found between ensuring the resources needed for the network as a whole and opportunistically pursuing funding for particular aspects of the work that might be the focus of one or another of the subnetworks.
In conclusion, the factors identified in this case study provide insights into how a particular NIC was formed, focusing on the development of its leadership and organization functions.
First, the MTE-Partnership’s leadership and organization functions have been layered on top of structures that existed before it was constituted as a NIC. Thus, the experience of the partnership would seem to be relevant and instructive to others.
A second recurring theme throughout this discussion has been the critical need for the MTE-Partnership to attend to the needs of the network as a whole. Maintaining focus of the NIC membership on the common aim must be a constant concern of the leadership team; the network otherwise might all too easily devolve into a loose confederation of research efforts that do not meet the promise of a NIC as a scientific learning community that accelerates improvement across the network.
Finally, this study implies that the initiation of a NIC must not be regarded as a singular event but rather an evolving process.
The NIC Initiation Framework provides a valuable resource for examining progress and highlighting areas where additional attention is needed in establishing structures for leadership and organization, as well as other aspects of network formation.