Networks in Education and Change: Lead the Change Interviews for AERA (part 3)

This week, IEN shares the third in a series of posts featuring presenters from the Educational Change Special Interest Group sessions at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association.  This post features presenters from the session titled: Networks in Education and Change: Contexts, Theories, and Practice and includes responses to the question “What are some of the ideas you hope the field of Educational Change and the audience at AERA can learn from your work related to practice, policy, and scholarship?” Part 1 of this series featured presenters from the session titled: Transforming Education and Teacher Education: Technologies, Pedagogies, and Practice. Part 2 of this series featured presenters from the session titled: Conditions Conducive to Learning that Promote Ed Change. The full interviews can be found on the LtC website. The LtC series is produced by Alex Lamb.

“Researching With Communities to Promote Inclusive Education in Latin America”

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Ignacio Calderón Almendros, University of Malaga, Spain.

In different Spanish-speaking countries we have worked to promote inclusive education based on this idea of contributing to the
community itself by building the sense of inclusion in the school. Starting from the analyzes of oppressed groups implies that the narratives emerge from an emotion: pain. Building inclusive education from there gives a profoundly humanist meaning to a concept that has been manipulated by neoliberalism to the point of reducing it to nothing. Therefore, this approach, which seeks to subvert power relations in schools, goes through a mobilizing emotional cartography: from solitary pain to collective recognition, anger as a revolutionary impulse, and love by becoming a collective project hoped for by social and educational justice.

For this to happen, the discourses have to maintain the languages of the oppressed people throughout the process (Calderón-Almendros, 2019). These languages (sometimes maternal, intuitive, loving) are being abandoned throughout schooling, and replaced by professional, bureaucratic, and supposedly scientific and neutral languages.

We have studied this idea particularly with people with disabilities: a mother who goes to school talking about her son as a correct person, leaving the limits imposed by normality, ends up succumbing to the overwhelming power of the institution and professional language: reality is what the institution says. That mother has to assume that her son is not well, and refusing to do so is interpreted as not seeing reality. She has to undergo to the interpretative schemes of the professional, which are loaded with the historical prejudice that has kept people like her son out of school. This school’s rejection of an emerging narrative—a new conception of reality—eliminates any option for transformation. This logic is shared among many disadvantaged groups, who are disarmed of their languages, and thus demobilized. In the face of institutional language, they are left naked.

For this reason, educational change focused on inclusion and equity needs to start from these genuine languages and fight to maintain them. It implies a connection with other people who little by little are joining the struggle, because they connect with those interpretations that they have been abandoning, forced by the system. The connection between different pains shared within the school produce the emergence of broader and intersectional narratives that take into account different groups and sectors of the educational system: a school that excludes, causes pain in the student body, but also in the families and in the teaching staff. All of them are abandoning their own senses of the meaning of educate. And together they can rebuild new collective meanings, based on their own research made by conversations and actions at different levels.

“Educational change focused on inclusion and equity needs to start from these genuine languages and fight to maintain them.”

In our work, both in Spain and in Latin America, we have generated moments of collective narrative construction, with conversations among a large number of people in which they analyze the situation of their educational systems, their limits and possibilities, as well as the role that they can take on its transformation. These conversations —nourished by personal and biographical experiences— constitute the new interpretation framework, in which they have been able to collectively transgress what is not allowed to think. These narratives are the breeding ground for other narratives focused on action: the community begins to build responses to the reality it lives. Reality is also constructed by them.

“Creating Boundary Infrastructures in Networks of Collaboration for Educational Change”

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Jeremy F. Price, Amy Waechter-Versaw, Brooke Moreland, AJ Knoors, Indiana University

We are presenting a fairly novel context for educational change—a diverse and distributed network across a state—rather than bounding the work institutionally in a school, district, or set collection of schools and districts. The use of Actor-Network Theory as an analytic frame has been particularly useful in this regard, as we work through and examine the ways that the people, processes, and tools worked together to facilitate ongoing change with equity and inclusion with technology as the goal.

A rapid response—as was necessary in the face of the shutdowns caused by COVID-19— followed by intentional and rigorous analysis can yield lasting insights into reverberations in practice, policy, and scholarship caused by catastrophically and profoundly disruptive events and by quotidian uncertainties alike. As we face a persistent pandemic, enduring climate change and the drastic weather events that accompany it, and a genuine reckoning through advances in and backlashes against racial and social justice, we must think, plan, and react agilely, creatively, and across networks if we wish to facilitate and see sustainable educational change with inclusion and justice at the forefront.

“We must think, plan, and react agilely, creatively, and across networks if we wish to facilitate and see sustainable educational change with inclusion and justice at the forefront.”

On a very practical level, our scholarship can also serve as a case study to help scholars and practitioners learn from the work to promote the use of the knowledge for justice-oriented and inclusive educational change in new contexts. Case studies are well-suited for bringing ideas from one setting to another, by prompting ideas and questions when thinking through how the ideas can be brought to a new context (Lincoln & Guba, 1988; Ruddin, 2006).

Last, and certainly not least, we provide an account of infrastructures and relationships that have allowed us to learn to listen and work together as a diverse network and strategic coalition. Designing and sustaining long term equitable and inclusive educational change means engaging with lots of different people in lots of different ways, learning from them and facilitating the development of their agency and capacities. This process needs to be salient and accessible for all members of the network, and through the relationship- and infrastructure-building, we have charted one way of engaging with communities, with educators, and with institutions for just and inclusive educational change.

“Educational Transformation and Relational Accountability in Education Change Networks”

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Leyton Schnellert, University of British Columbia, Sara Florence Davidson, Simon Fraser University, Bonny-Lynn Donovan, University of British Columbia, Okanagan

We explicitly conceptualize an Education Change Network (ECN) as dialogic space where educators engage with equity-deserving community partners to disrupt colonizing one-size-fits-all conceptions of education and collaborate to bridge from reflective dialogue to making situated, responsive, community-honoring changes to practice (Schnellert, Davidson, Yee, & Donovan, 2023; Washington & O’Connor, 2020). Not enough is known about how partnering with Indigenous community members and researchers within an ECN might support teacher learning, innovation, and decolonization. For example, school districts across Canada seek to support educators to address the TRC Calls to Action. However, teachers often do not know who to access and/or how to work with equity-deserving community partners and resources to transform pedagogy and school practices.

Educators who engage in collaborative approaches to professional development may “find themselves more apt to venture into the unknown, to engage in long-term inquiry, and/or to share what they are learning with others than those who are unsupported by their colleagues” (Van Horn, 2006, p. 61). In our research, we investigate whether and how inquiry-based ECNs can support educators to access and collaborate with Indigenous community partners to disrupt and transform teaching and learning in classrooms to increase success for Indigenous learners and expand mainstream notions of success.

We conducted a critical case study (Grosvenor & Pataki, 2017; Merriam, 2009) guided by Indigenous Storywork principles (Archibald, 2008) to research ECN processes and outcomes. An Indigenous Storywork principle-informed critical case study enabled us to engage in respectful and responsible data collection, analysis, and knowledge mobilization approaches that position Indigenous communities as curriculum and educational change partners. The ECN in this study met together as one large network five times during the school year. At the ECN meetings local Indigenous educators and Knowledge Keepers shared foundational concepts and related stories from local syilx* Knowledge Keepers. Educators were also introduced to the concept of white privilege, exploring decolonization, Indigenization, and protocols for sharing Indigenous knowledge. For educators in the ECN this work was complemented by participation in “small fire” inquiry groups of 5-18 educators engaging with related ideas and practices. Small fires met 5-7 times in addition to the full group ECN meetings (Schnellert, Davidson, & Donovan, 2022).

Our study contributes to understanding how to develop teacher capacity to enact decolonization and reconciliation. Research suggests that this can lead to the development of culturally sustaining pedagogies and address systemic racism (Sleeter, 2012; Washington & O’Connor, 2020). We saw evidence of this from teachers’ collaboration with local Knowledge Keepers and Elders, learning from and with the Land, and taking up practices that welcome all students’ identities in inclusive classrooms. Most critically we demonstrate how an ECN that positions Indigenous Knowledge and community partners as curriculum informants can address the pressing needs brought to light by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action (2015) and anti-racism efforts.

*“According to nsyilxcən language speakers, there are no capitalizations in the spellings of any nsyilxcən words. In an egalitarian
society, capitalization insinuates there is something that holds more importance over another, and that does not fall in line with syilx ethics” (Bonneau, 2022, para 28).

“Elements of Network Culture”

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Leyton Schnellert, University of British Columbia, Mehjabeen Datoo, University of Toronto, Donna Lynn Kozak, University of British Columbia, Okanagan, Miriam Miller, University of British Columbia, Graham Giles, York University

Educational change agendas will have little impact if they fail to engage educators in generating and mobilizing knowledge about and for their own practice and contexts. However, PLNs that engage educators in situated collaborative inquiry can impact teachers’ agency and result in positive changes at the classroom, school, and system levels (Butler & Schnellert, 2012; Daly & Stoll, 2018). When educators inquire together, they have the opportunity to grapple with research and practice in ways that are meaningful in their particular contexts. Creating spaces for rural educators to collaborate and innovate can result in situated, place-conscious pedagogies and teacher leadership (Schnellert, 2020).

In our research with rural PLNs, educators have described their increased awareness of their own capacity for change-making and problem-solving. They also identified the value of meeting online with innovators from rural and remote communities very different from their own. The unique attributes of each context and situated innovation offer inspiration, motivation, and creativity. Thus, if PLNs are structured to enable collaborative inquiry processes, they have the potential to be particularly helpful in fostering innovation.

Innovation, like learning, is social and emotional and occurs within relational contexts; emotional aspects of innovation and educational change have often been overlooked and researchers are now turning their attention to this element (Datnow, 2018; Hargreaves, 2019; Woodland, 2016). Trusting, collegial relationships allow educators to nudge each other’s thinking and learning beyond superficial matters and open up opportunities to deepen their thinking and practice (Ciancutti & Steding, 2001).

“Change is challenging and with discomfort comes growth.”

In the study we will present at AERA 2023, the nested nature of education change was evident in many ways within the Growing Innovation in Rural Sites of Learning PLN. The PLN is comprised of teams who attend online networking sessions during the school year and an annual symposium in the Spring. In each context, educators work together in inquiry teams with the goal of improving student engagement. To join the PLN, inquiry teams must outline how they plan to collaborate with community partners to address a local issue or opportunity.

Data analyses showed that the Growing Innovation in Rural Sites of Learning PLN offered educators a space to reflect on and process experiences. These relational exchanges motivated participants to continue innovating at their own sites; however, their emotional experiences related to educational change and their projects were not limited to pleasant emotions like inspiration and fulfilment. For example, one participant shared that they felt uncomfortable when they experienced criticism and pushback regarding their innovation. Data analysis suggested that the PLN created a forum to share experiences, identify barriers and challenges, and problem solve together. Of note, the supportive and generative nature of the PLN community helped educators to persevere and sustain their innovations. This normalized that change is challenging and with discomfort comes growth.


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