7.1 Network features
“It’s a place of gathering, the personal and emotional connection. It’s unconditional support. There is no competition; no question is better than another, no hierarchy. It feels so powerful, trusting and not judgmental at all—it’s about improving student learning, that’s the key… What other body or entity is allowing and supporting people to talk about our work? It’s respectful of our vulnerability, and allowing teachers to wrestle with these questions safely. I don’t know where Aboriginal education has a spot for this… it has brought us together. There was no venue before this structure to bring us together, to push our thinking forwards. We are moving away from silos and isolation and instead of [the work] falling to only those who are funded through Aboriginal funding tools, it is allowing us to take up this work among the broader community. It gives us the ability to ask our colleagues the question, “What are you doing to make a difference for our kids?” And it is really growing.”
This introductory quote captures the passion and commitment many AESN members expressed about the value, importance and opportunities the Network provides for many of its members. It encapsulates what will be discussed in greater detail later in this section, including the issues of purposeful inquiry, the value of collaborating and shared learning, and how this effects change in professional practice. Perhaps most notable however, are the ways in which the Network creates a safe and accepting environment for members to do their work. How is this accomplished?
This is not a simple matter to trace, however we believe one component that assists in this is the structure of the Network itself. By structures, we are making reference to the basic protocols that members are required to comply with if they wish to participate in an AESN inquiry. As outlined earlier in this report, this includes: creating a team of inquirers, including a formal school leader; requiring conscious links to the AEA in their district; a willingness to hold and participate in multiple school team and scheduled district meetings; to ask questions that get behind the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the inquiry; to collect data to show how change in student learning has been effected; and to write a summary report that can be shared. The structure has been described by some participants as “a ‘flexible container”, implying that its structure gives a framework that keeps people on track and focused, but doesn’t restrict what may be accomplished because it is open enough to permit wide ranging, teacher directed and initiated inquiry. As another participant said, “I value the meeting structure, its flexible. It keeps us on task, so we don’t forget to focus on what we are doing.” A third described it in this way: “The strength of the Network is being flexible and structured all at the same time.”
One of the most important impacts of my participation in the Network has been the many opportunities to collaborate and network with colleagues from various areas of BC . I feel our rich conversations, their skillful insight and perceptions are a fantastic support system and provide me with the confidence to continue creating my own learnings as I engage in my teacher inquiries. My Network colleagues are my anchor throughout my teacher research. Listening to colleagues’ suggestions authentically empowered me to determine what I was relating to and perhaps what I was not. I find the colleagues at the Network continually challenge my thinking, fill me with knowledge and provide the necessary guidance as I continue on my roller coaster learning journey. The new ideas I gain from our meetings help sustain me on a daily basis in my teaching and give me the courage to continue learning about myself both personally and professionally.