Building Social Capital Through a Learning Network

Posted by Jacie Maslyk on May 1, 2018 4:31:14 PM

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As educators, we are in a unique position to serve as a conduit between school, home, and the broader community.  We work to develop lasting relationships with students, parents, teachers, and families, but our reach can extend beyond those groups.  Learning networks are one way to bring people together around common goals and advance positive change in education.

 

In my county, we have established a network called the Beaver County Innovation and Learning Consortium (BCILC).  As an organization, our goal is to create innovative teaching and learning in our schools by sharing best practices and engaging in shared professional development.  Our work has included 6 school districts, our local intermediate unit, and our career and technology center (CTC). We have also created meaningful connections with local businesses and corporations that support innovation, including manufacturing, engineering, medical fields, and entrepreneurs.  Our consortium was the first of its kind in our county and serves as a means to build community capital for all stakeholders involved.


While our network focused on solely on learning, our work enabled us to take some simple strategies to build relationships throughout the community, as discussed in the Hoonuit Learning Module on the topic of building social capital https://www.hoonuit.com/home.  These three steps, and the others presented in the module can serve as a roadmap for building capital in the school community, the business community, or other relevant fields.  


Since school leaders can create a bridge across groups, we can maximize capital.  We are a central member of the community and thus, have the opportunity to talk with different stakeholder groups.  Teachers and leaders can reach out to businesses, child care providers, and universities as a way to build a network focused on helping students learn and grow.

 

1. Bring Groups Together

Building social capital starts with relationships.  When schools and other organizations bring groups of people together, they can engage in meaningful dialogue.  The face-to-face interactions connect people and encourage dialogue across groups. The discussions strengthen bonds among group members and support the collective work of the group.


Strategy in Action: Our  consortium brought together multiple school districts, connecting students, teachers, and administrators to build our learning around the 4 Cs:


  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

Our educational network expanded our learning in the 4 Cs in through small group discussion around curriculum and instruction, as well as the ways that these 21st Century Skills are evident in K-12 classrooms.  Bringing groups together allows members to find common interests with others in the group and drive the mission of the group forward.

 

2. Develop a Shared Focus


Bringing groups together provides the opportunity to engage in dialogue around common goals.  Developing a shared focus for a school community might mean describing the profile of a district graduate.


Strategy in Action: We connected the importance of these 21st Century skills to college, career, and beyond.  This allowed us to connect our work to the Career and Technology Center for an added layer of community capital.  We were able to discuss the important skills that we want our graduates to possess. We shared ideas ways that our organizations were able to work simultaneously towards the goal of equipping our community’s young people with the skills to become passionate and productive citizens after graduation.

 

3. Be a Liaison


Liaison is defined as “communication or cooperation that facilitates a close working relationship between people or organizations.” (Dictionary.com)  School leaders and teachers can connect those in different fields or with different interests and bring them together around a common goal.  As liaisons, we are always looking to broaden our network and include new partners into the network to support that goal.


Strategy in Action:  As out consortium grew, we expanded our reach and became a liaison between other groups.  We connected educators in one district with an engineering corporation within our region. Through Remake Learning, we connected teams with museum educators and out-of-school learning groups.  Our learning network also connected schools to innovative companies like Boxzy who could support their efforts to infuse STEAM and Making into their schools.


Benefits of Social Capital

The outcomes experienced through our learning network were similar to the benefits of building social capital in any community.  We observed collaborations and accomplished tasks together. Most importantly, we established true connections to sustain our educational community and highlighted the importance of connected learning.  

 

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