By Devin Vodicka
There are many benefits of working in teams. Teams typically outperform individuals when the tasks being done require multiple skills, judgment and experience.
Teams are flexible and responsive to changing events. This is particularly important during times of rapid change when multiple perspectives help to inform a more comprehensive and informed understanding of the context.
Unfortunately, most schools have been designed to promote isolated practice where teachers are assigned to “self-contained” classrooms with very little time for professional collaboration. In addition, we often spend the scarce time that we do have focusing on operations and logistics. During the pandemic, the challenges of establishing and sustaining meaningful professional relationships have only become more apparent.
While we conceive of a school organization as being consistent with an orderly and hierarchical organizational chart, our actual interactions are much more dynamic and complex. A useful way of looking at this is through the lens of social capital. Social capital is, essentially, the benefit that emerges through the patterns of our interactions that facilitate the exchange of resources and expertise. Social capital is what emerges from the connections between people.
Put in context, we often think of capital in terms of the conventional definition of goods and money, and sometimes we extend the model to include human capital, the expertise that resides within individuals as a result of their experiences and learning. Social capital is the connective tissue between people; it is like the road system that facilitates the flow of resources and expertise. It turns out that high-performing systems have high levels of social capital because collaboration is key.
For example, when I was a principal who was tasked with opening a brand-new school, I found it very helpful to connect with other principals who had been through a similar process. Through their experience, they had developed checklists and could offer reflections that were extremely beneficial. We developed relationships and connections, creating a channel for them to share the resources and expertise they had developed. The connections I formed with the principals did not create new resources but helped me access existing resources that likely would not have been available to me had I not developed those personal relationships. In this way, a social network connection creates social capital that improves performance.
Each of us can play a role in increasing social connectedness and developing social capital. Here are three simple suggestions:
- Reach out to someone that you don’t normally connect with and begin a conversation about an area of interest. Social media can be a fantastic way to engage and to develop new professional relationships.
- If you are contacted for professional support, be open and responsive. Even a brief exchange of short messages can result in the exchange of important expertise and perspective.
- When engaging in conversation with one other person, add a third to triple the amount of social connections. This is an easy way to increase social capital.
Along the way, please remember that the company of others is a gift. Enjoy the journey and let’s come together to connect and share so that we can best serve all learners.
Check out the book Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in learning Communities for more insights, reflections, and suggestions.
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