“Unsatisfactory” schools in Dubai are being encouraged to find and develop collaboration with other schools to improve teaching and learning. The collaborative approach is based on network learning – which has proved to be a useful, sustainable, and potentially cost-saving approach to school improvement. But, it needs to be done well – or – it can be a timely, frustrating, and costly endevour!
Dr. Abdulla al Karam, Director General of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (Authority that inspects the schools) encourages schools to partner in a newspaper report in The National. He offers the partnership between the Indian High School and the Zabeel Public High School who have exchanged expertise as an example. The public school helps the Indian school with teaching better Arabic, and the Indian school helps the public school offer better computer lessons. A fair exchange with results that demonstrate improvement in both schools.
The IHS-Zabeel partnership success story illustrates a start to the potential of school-school partnerships for educational improvement. Progressing from this exchange of professional expertise to a regular collaborative structure – like a teacher network – is a worthwhile process that promises sustainable school improvement.
Teacher Networks are social structures where teachers learn together. Professional development in these kinds of network learning communities has been shown to have a greater sustainable impact on teacher beliefs and classroom practices. There is research that shows that good teacher networks (in or across schools) can improve instruction, increase student learning, increase the use of innovations in classrooms, prevent teacher drop-out, and increase teacher enjoyment.
So why are Teacher Networks so effective?
In Teacher Networks, teachers are involved in deciding what and how they are learning and they bring real classroom issues to the discussion table. It is about adult learning styles where experience and work are respected. Teachers in the network work with each other and with experts to examine the real issues and find, try, and refine practical solutions. This process builds collective capacity that is shared across the group and brought back to the classroom.
It sounds simple right? It also makes sense that when professional development is relevant to teacher needs, the outcome will be more sustainable. So why don’t we have more examples of success?
Well, there is some work that is required when building network learning communities like Teacher Networks. Leadership is critical to help structure the network and support the professional learning so that it is focused, relevant, and feasible. For this to happen, there are some dimensions of network learning communities that are essential to consider such as strategic focus and collaborative inquiry.
For an introduction on network learning community for school improvement, you will find the slides in English and Arabic for Dr. Ben Jaafar’s talk at TeachME2010 in Dubai on the EduEval Resource Sharing page (click on Title below).