Professional Learning and Change Through Social Networks and Social Capital

Professional Learning and Change Through Social Networks and Social Capital

Sascha C. Mowrey (Missouri State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5089-2.ch007
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This chapter considers how leaders in early childhood education can use social networks and social capital to promote professional learning and change. First, the author explores the ways in which effective leadership and social relationships are inextricably linked, through distributed leadership and collective work. Drawing on social capital theory, the author includes the importance of identifying the knowledge, skills, and resources (social capital) among the members of the school community, developing or maintaining formal and informal networks, and providing support for collaboration within and across those networks to support individual and collective goals. The affordances and constraints of intra- and inter-organizational networks are examined.
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Leaders in the early childhood context include principals, site administrators, and teacher leaders who are responsible for the daily functioning of their school buildings, the annual growth and development of their student population, the innovation and implementation of curricular programs, and the support and development of high-quality teachers and teaching (Douglass, 2018; Muijs, et al., 2004). Every early childhood school or site has one or more goals in these areas as well. These goals may be led by the principal, administrator, or formally designated teacher leaders, but they cannot be achieved by one leader; they require the engagement of others in the building (Spillane, 2005).

Leadership in early childhood education is not an isolated activity, but rather one that requires social interaction and relationships with other educators (Douglass, 2018). More than other educational settings, early childhood contexts play host to a number of educators in different roles including lead and assistant teachers, coaches and instructional support, administrators, and professionals from supporting fields such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech and language specialists. To lead individuals with such a broad range of experiences and educational backgrounds effectively requires more than personal knowledge and skill around child development, early childhood education, and effective teaching practices. It also demands that the leader be able to coordinate among professionals in the school to maximize collective resources to support student learning and achieve school goals. Effective early childhood educator leaders must be aware of and use the social networks at their site to “facilitate and constrain action” among their teachers and other staff (Balkundi and Kilduff, 2006; Solé et al., 2018).

This chapter will explore social components of leadership in early childhood education, including the importance of collective collaborative work to the success of the school or program as a whole, the different types of social networks and structures within the organization, as well as the responsibilities and benefits of interorganizational social networks. First, the chapter will discuss the shift from individual leadership in schools to a model of achievement through collective effort, and the consequences to leaders, teachers, and student outcomes. Then, the author will explore the ways in which leaders’ social ties, as well as ties between others in the organization, can determine the success of the school in achieving their goals. Within organizations, the author will consider the ways in which social relationships and leadership decisions interact to form formal and informal networks. The affordances and constraints of formal and informal networks will be assessed. The designation and membership of different formally structured interactions will be explored. Finally, the author will extend the discussion to the role that school leaders can play in developing relationships across school sites and programs to support high-quality early childhood education across the preschool to 3rd-grade span in their community.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Capital: The information, ideas, and resources available to an individual through the others with whom they have social relationships.

Network: The collection of individuals to whom one is connected via social or other relationships.

Diffusion: The process of the spreading of information or ideas among individuals or groups.

Informal Interactions: The action, involvement, and influence that takes place through natural and unmanaged relationships among individuals and groups, often limited by geographic location and/or program.

Formal Structures: The policy- or program-created roles and hierarchies determined by hiring practices, designated responsibilities, and accountability measures in districts, schools, and programs.

Leader: A formally designated individual who is responsible for the overall management and/or performance of a school or program. There may be more than one designated leader in a school or program.

Community: A group or collection of individuals bounded by a common element, such as geographic location or shared characteristics (such as job responsibility, need, etc.).

Human Capital: The knowledge, skills, and resources held by an individual and acquired through their own education and experiences.

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