1.4.4 Leadership in the network
An important reason for the growth of the Network and its growth since inception has been its ability to both create and sustain opportunities for leadership. When discussing leadership in this context, it is important to distinguish between formal and informal leadership roles; the AESN relies on both in its day-to-day operation. Formal leaders—principals, directors, superintendents and other leaders at the local and district level are involved in Network inquiry work either as members of teams or as informal coaches and supporters to existing and emerging school teams. This is an important aspect of how the Network gains influence and is able to extend its work beyond its current participants. Just as importantly however, it builds opportunities for formal and informal teacher leadership: many current Network leaders are individuals who began as team members and have emerged over time as individuals willing to play more formal roles in the operation of the Network and have taken on additional responsibilities. It is also important to note that the Network principals, Drs. Kaser and Halbert, have emphasized the lateral and non-hierarchical qualities of the Network itself. By this we mean that they emphasize the role that all participants play as learners and coaches to one another as they learn together. They also emphasize the purpose of the Network as being centered in creating the conditions for “all learners to walk the stage with dignity, purpose and options” (Halbert & Kaser, 2011, p. 8). This emphasis on shared, equitable educational purpose is designed to create a level playing field for all members, regardless of their status as formal or informal leaders. In creating this culture of shared purpose, inclusivity and knowledge building/mobilization, deep commitments typical of strong learning communities have emerged as a foundational feature of the Network. It is this collegial frame that builds trust among its members. As Stoll, Halbert and Kaser (2012) stated:
Their roles are diverse – from classroom teachers to superintendents – yet they manage to facilitate the regional Networks with considerable consistency. Network leadership requires a facilitative style with an interesting and unusual blend of qualities. Leaders work well in networked communities when they can be both authoritative and open, when they understand power and can give it up for the sake of a larger community, and when they are curious but defined by purpose (p. 12).