2.3.3 Networking for inquiry
How are such connections and collaborations realized? The idea of networking is closely aligned with the notion of community, the heart of the PLC concept (Stoll et al., 2006). Network theory is also helpful in understanding personal capacity, where both strong and weak ties in personal networks are necessary for professional learning and development (Mitchell & Sackney, 2011; Mitchell & Sackney, 2001). According to Mitchell & Sackney (2011), strong ties in personal networks generally develop among educators with similar professional belief systems, providing a stable foundation and a safe environment for incremental change. Considering the characteristics of PLCs as described in the previous section, it is likely that such strong ties are typically found in effective PLCs. Weak ties in personal networks, on the other hand, generally develop between educators from diverse backgrounds and professional belief systems and “provide a rich source for new ideas and possibilities as well as a foundation for experiments in practice” (p. 28). Therefore, networks that link educators from different schools and regions hold more potential for these kinds of weak ties to develop and for educators to break away from their “horizon of observation” (Little, 2003, as cited in Vescio et al., 2008, p. 89). In a more contemporary sense, with the help of new media tools, networked professional learning communities enable teachers to get out of isolation by sharing teaching practices (Lieberman & Mace, 2010). With schools “going wider” through networks, lateral capacity building is promoted for improvement and change (Stoll, 2006). International networking experiences enable educators to break boundaries in their own thinking and bring about a generative and dynamic process of learning (Stoll et al., 2007). In this way networking implies a wider and more inclusive community where transformative learning can take place. This has been demonstrated in a recently completed research study completed by Stoll, Halbert and Kaser (2012). Their work demonstrated how deeper forms of school-to-school networking have enabled PLCs based on individual schools to form a wider school-to-school PLC, which is “organic” and “consistent with living system models and notions of complexity” (p. 13). Not only do networks make PLCs wider, they also help them to go deeper by facilitating knowledge animation (Stoll, 2009b) through inquiry and making a difference to learning at all levels—teachers, leaders and students alike.