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Fostering connection, learning and collaboration to advance systems change

For organizations working to create meaningful, systemic change, it can be helpful to come together with other organizations to work together on a shared challenge. This was the case for a group of education networks working to evolve the way they provide support to teachers and administrators. Education networks (e.g., associations of education professionals) have …

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For organizations working to create meaningful, systemic change, it can be helpful to come together with other organizations to work together on a shared challenge. This was the case for a group of education networks working to evolve the way they provide support to teachers and administrators.

Education networks (e.g., associations of education professionals) have long been a source of knowledge and support for teachers and administrators, but for many education networks, it has been difficult to keep up with the pace of change in the field and ensure their knowledge and resources are reaching those who need it most. Many networks are struggling to find formats that align with education professionals’ busy schedules and needs. Others have realized they are not reaching diverse audiences whose engagement is essential to achieving equitable student success — whether it be professionals holding various roles in the education system, working in different parts of the country, or representing different races, ethnicities, and other diverse identities.

Given the changing landscape, how might education networks think differently about their approaches to educator support? How can they help educators learn and adopt new practices in service of more equitable education outcomes for students?

To address this challenge, eight education networks came together from January 2022 – March 2024 to form a community of practice focused on supporting better outcomes for Black and Latino students and students experiencing poverty. They identified two common questions to focus their time: How might we build resilient networks for knowledge mobilization? How might practitioner networks adapt and transform to meet future challenges? Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded the community of practice, as part of its K-12 Education Strategy.* Community Wealth Partners led the design and facilitation.

The community of practice’s power was that it created a mechanism to facilitate knowledge sharing across organizations that had not collaborated before. It provided a space for networks to learn from peers, pilot new approaches, inspire further learning and collective action, and share insights with the field.

“At the start of this community of practice, I didn’t know most of the people involved, and wasn’t familiar with all of the organizations,” said one community of practice participant. “Now I feel like I have a bigger community of other network leaders I can talk to and collaborate with in different ways.”

A summary report shares more about the activities of the community of practice and the outcomes that came out of the work.

One key learning for community of practice members was that creating space for members to build community, share knowledge, and pilot new approaches will help educators and administrators adopt new practices in pursuit of educational equity. This ethos can be characterized as a network approach — a method for navigating complex challenges by fostering connection, learning, and collaboration.

We partnered with network consultant Amelia Pape to create a resource — A Network Approach to Educator Support: Cultivating Networks to Advance Educational Equity. The publication includes principles that comprise a network mindset and considerations for assessing the overall health of a network. While this publication is framed in the context of the education field and includes examples from the community of practice, the principles and recommendations are more broadly applicable. Networks exist everywhere, and embracing a networked approach is an important strategy for advancing systemic change.

We hope this resource sparks new ideas for nonprofits, funders, and other organizations working together to create meaningful systemic change on the issues they care about.

* This blog post and resources linked in it were written through funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the foundation.

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