Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Be a Network Weaver ♦ by Deborah Fishman and Naava Frank

The term “network weaver” occurs throughout this issue. This article provides a job description and suggestions for operational techniques for this newest of occupations.

The DSLTI (Day School Leadership Training Institute) part-time network weaver, Jane Taubenfeld Cohen, became aware of several alumni who had a common need. They had previously served as heads only of high schools but would be starting at the helm of K-8 schools, and were concerned about their ability to lead instruction without background in emerging language and literacy in young children.
She turned to early childhood educator Anna Hartman for advice, and out through the DSLTI listserv zoomed an invitation to a series of webinars on early and emerging literacy in Judaic and general studies for leaders moving from high school to elementary school. Five people responded, “This is just what I need right now!” They generated a flurry of 37 emails in one night, discussing, How should we organize the webinars? When should we meet? How will we let others we might have missed know our plan?
They designed a series of three small-group webinars to be publicized through Facebook and Twitter and held in August, and a follow-up discussion to assess further need and decide on next steps. “It was contagious. You would think they had just won the lottery. We understood their need and responded quickly. We also didn’t overdesign up front; we brought them in to make the content and structure their own,” Jane reflected on this project.
This all was able to happen because the people involved recognized the possibilities that emerge from working with a network. A social network is a collection of individuals and the connections that exist between them. The more connections there are, the more potential that exists for those in the network to become more effective in their jobs, be it fostering communication, spreading ideas, bringing in resources, getting work done, or influencing others.
In Jewish education, like general education, teachers often face isolation in their classrooms. Yet the enormous, rapid change happening in education today means that educators and administrators need to develop new skills and strategies, and they can’t do that alone. Indeed, research affirms the importance of educators learning from each other. While there is some vulnerability in sharing curriculum and ideas, there’s also enormous power to strengthen the Jewish educational experience through connecting with and supporting each other. In a Jewish day school, this could look like teachers seeking to connect with other teachers to find and share new classroom resources; directors of admissions looking to reach new families and increase enrollment; and school administrators wanting opportunities for professional development.
The way to create more connections within a network is by network weaving. June Holley, who coined this term, gave the following definition: “A network weaver is someone who is aware of the networks around them and explicitly works to make them healthier [more connected]. Network weavers do this by helping people identify their interests and challenges, connecting people strategically where there’s potential for mutual benefit, and serving as a catalyst for self-organizing groups.”
In some networks, someone steps up to volunteer to be a network weaver. In other networks, an organization may pay or assign someone to be the primary network weaver such as the coordinator of a community of practice or professional learning network. Yet the more people involved in weaving the network, the stronger the network becomes, and the more resources, ideas, and projects the network comes to embrace. The idea of weaving networks is not new; many of us naturally operate in and weave networks as part of our day-to-day life. Yet we are not always as deliberate in this as we could be, especially now that best practices are emerging through academic research in social network theory. Each of us can be proactive as a network weaver for the networks we care about.
Are you ready to be a network weaver? Here are some first steps you can take.

Identify the strengths and gifts of those in your network

The first step in strengthening your network is getting to know the people in your network. Look around you. Start in your physical school building or office, and also look virtually at people you know in different schools and communities, whether through virtual or in-person connections. What are their interests, strengths, challenges, and resources they use from which you may be able to learn and benefit? In most cases, asking people about their work or expertise makes them feel valued, and most people like to be recognized for as having expertise and being able to provide helpful information.
Once you know about what information someone would be happy to share with you, you will know you can turn to them
for help in specific areas in the future, and they may contact you in areas of your expertise, or because you have positioned yourself as someone “in the know,” in contact with different parts of the network. Best of all, you will then be able to suggest ways to connect to create productive synergies. But all of this requires an investment in getting to know people before you can begin to reap the rewards of the network.
If you are a teacher, find out more about the parents and grandparents of your students. There may be all kinds of interesting non-monetary resources they can provide to your classroom. If you are in a small school, find teachers in other schools who are teaching similar grade level and content areas. Sharing resources and ideas can you save you time and energy and lead to creative new possibilities of collaboration. If you are an administrator, create a personal learning network (PLN) of people and places that provide value to you when you check in with them. (For more on PLNs, seee the article by Meir Wexler in this issue.)

How can you learn about those in your network?

Meet at a coffee shop: For people who are local, take advantage of your geographic proximity. While online communication is revolutionary, it has not overthrown the fundamental benefit of human in-person connection. Meeting in person helps each party gain a more complex and holistic understanding of the other—and a coffee shop (rather than at your school or organization) is a comfortable “third place” which can provide a good environment in which to really get to know someone.
Interview those in your network: If you have a professional role as a network weaver, plan a formal interview with members of your network. Asking someone questions about themselves and their work is always the best way to get to know someone. Even more, consider documenting their answers. At minimum, you will have a record of the conversation which can be referred to later. If the interview produces information you find useful or interesting, it can also be shared publicly. Recording the conversation adds a layer of formality and purpose to the meeting and also gives it a concretely productive goal.
Below are questions from that can be used in a conversation.
Exploration/expression of interest (getting the lay of the land): What have you been working on recently? This week? Today? What are your top priorities at the moment?
Probe for successes and challenges (be sure to learn about both): How is it going? Anything really exciting / successful / fulfilling / surprising? Where are you stuck?
Offer of support: Is there anything I or other members of the community can do to help you better realize your goal? What do you think would help you get unstuck (skills, resources)?
What special talents or passions do you have that you might be willing to share with your peers?
To see a sample of an interview done by a professional community of practice facilitator along with other resources, go to the wiki of the Baltimore Associated Family Engagement COP and clink on the document “COP Member Interview Guide” (bjfamiliescop.wikispaces.com/Evaluation+Resources).
Send out a survey: If you have a preexisting group of people you are looking to learn about, want to collect such a group, or already have been through all your coffee shop meetings and interviews, you can set up a simple form (using Google forms or wufoo.com) to learn about the group’s interests and skills. (Click here for an example: tinyurl.com/kehilliyot.)

Help people with common interests connect

Network-weaving goes beyond simply making connections, or “networking.” The next step in weaving a network is to actually form productive working relationships. Weaving can be done through thinking about whose skills you have identified in a particular area could be useful to someone else, and introducing them to each other. Then collaborations can develop, starting with small projects and growing to strengthen the community and increase the knowledge available in it.
Questions for weaving the network: How can we share your success with others? Whom do we know who can be of help to you?

Encourage complex reciprocity

While establishing collaborations, it is important for a network weaver to foster a culture that values complex reciprocity: sharing information and resources with others without expecting a return from that person, because you know others will share with you.
Dov Emerson, the facilitator of the YU2.0 Community of Practice, has a motto for his CoP: “As always, remember that the strength of our CoP lies in all of the wonderful resources and thoughts on Jewish EdTech that you can share! It may be ‘obvious to you,’ but it’s ‘amazing to others!’”
Another teacher posted an example of a homework assignment given to a class, and thanks to the use of technology, teachers in another school saw it and reported it started a “homework revolution” among their teachers. This is how helpful ideas are spread.

The importance of diverse perspectives

When you are working hard on specific projects or within the context of a school or organization, it is very easy for the conversations and ideas sharing to be concentrated in colleagues directly involved with those projects or groups. Yet it is critically important to maintain and cultivate relationships with those outside of this immediate group—known as yourperiphery. The periphery has fresh perspectives which will bring new ideas and innovation into your work. Even when those views at times conflict your own, exposing yourself to them is important, will help you grow, and benefits the network as a whole.
Ask yourself: Who can I connect to this network who has some parallel but not many overlapping interests? Perhaps a non-Jewish educator or someone from a different school? Their questions and perspectives will help you get out of your own limitations, discover your blind spots and likely solve your problem more quickly and easily.

Grow more network weavers

Traditionally, leadership has been appointed through titles and positions. But new trends in technology, communication and theories of distributed leadership have empowered individuals to exercise grassroots leadership, regardless of their technical position.
With network leadership like other forms of leadership, there is always a temptation to practice it by yourself. But it is actually part of a network weaver’s role to set the culture of the network, including the expectation that all will take responsibility to build the relationships that will strengthen a network supportive of learning and work. As an indirect leader, the weaver identifies, mentors, and influences new emergent leaders appearing throughout the community who will eventually take over much of the network building and maintenance. This transition is necessary for the network to increase its scale, impact and reach.
We hope these steps will lead you on a journey of network weaving which will not only increase your productivity, access to resources, and professional growth, but also will expose you to new perspectives you may not have found otherwise and new fulfilling relationships that will add value to your life on both personal and professional levels. Behatzlachah!♦
Deborah Fishman is the director of communications at The AVI CHAI Foundation. She can be reached at dfishman@avichaina.org.
Naava Frank EdD is the director of continuing education and professional development at the Institute for University School Partnership at Yeshiva University. She can be reached at nfrank1@yu.edu.
A major part of network weaving is connecting people. But before you type in two email addresses and press “send,” be aware that there are many ways of forging those connections. Are you using the most appropriate mode for your context? Are you just encouraging schmoozing, or truly facilitating productive collaboration? Here’s a table to help you be a strategic network weaver.

The Introduction Pyramid by June Holley*

Level
Activity
1
Suggesting to A that A should talk to B
2
Suggesting A talk to B; tell B to look for A
3
Introducing A to B in an email
4
Introducing A to B in a joint conference call
5
Introducing A to B in person
6
Introducing A to B in person, following up with A & B to nurture connection
7
Introducing A to B in person and offering transitional collaboration to get A & B off to a successful partnership
*p. 113 in the Network Weaver Handbook – www.networkweaver.com


Cited from:

http://www.ravsak.org/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=605&cntnt01returnid=53#.UmgE-HC-1I4

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Barriers and Benefits to Knowledge Sharing

There are many natural barriers to people and organizations sharing knowledge.

  • Failure to appreciate the value of sharing knowledge.
  • Lack of understanding how to effectively share knowledge.
  • There are no incentives or rewards (material or psychic) for knowledge sharing.
  • People are busy and even with the best of intentions don’t develop a habit of knowledge sharing.
  • Professionals are afraid to reveal they do not know something; they do not want to take risks or be shown wrong because they would feel embarrassed.
  • Concern that sharing knowledge will reduce one’s own value, prestige or recognition. Competition -- real or perceived -- for limited resources decreases motivation and safety for sharing.
  • Perceived benefits of knowledge hoarding: makes people feel secure, safe or powerful; people hope to benefit (dollars, power, and credibility) from having exclusive access to knowledge.
  • Lack of clarity on issues of confidentiality can lead to either withholding information that can be helpful or sharing it inappropriately.


Benefits to sharing knowledge include:

  • Enhancement of effectiveness and efficiency by spreading good ideas and practices.
  • Cost effectiveness – knowledge is developed and then re-used by many people.
  • Time savings - Professionals learn from their mistakes and those of others.
  • Emotional relief and decreased tension are experienced when problems are shared.
  • Bonds and connections between professionals are strengthened; solving problems brings people together.
  • More sophisticated ideas, insights and information sources are applied to problems resulting in better solutions.
  • Innovation and discovery increase as does: excitement, engagement and motivation.
  • A feeling of satisfaction from sharing knowledge, much like giving charity, results from making a contribution to society.
  • Respectful ways of using knowledge – with attribution and permission -- benefit the person who generates the knowledge and the person who shares it.


People who have a positive experience of knowledge sharing typically wish to continue to invest in knowledge sharing activities.


Good Habits of Knowledge Sharing

"Whoever repeats a statement in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world." (Avot 6:6)

Commentary: The sages deemed it so imperative that credit should be given for another's ideas that they identified the act as a cause for redemption, both communal and personal (Midrash Shmuel).

Thank you to Michael Miloff and Ilene Vogelstein for their contributions to this document.

Distributed by Naava Frank & Associates/ Knowledge Communities

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Jewish Virtual Learning Networks: A mapping of online ‘Communities of Practice’ by Dr. Erik Cohen

From the Jim Joseph Foundation Website.

"Please find linked here a groundbreaking piece of research entitled “Jewish Virtual Learning Networks: A mapping of online ‘Communities of Practice’ in the North American Jewish institutional world”. This work, led by Bar Ilan University’s Dr. Erik Cohen, is dedicated in the memory of the remarkable Jack Slomovic." http://jimjosephfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/JVLN_dedicatedtojackslomovic.pdf

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


My comment to a wonderful EJewishphilanthropy post by Rabbi Hayim Herring. 
Hayim,
Thank you for this wonderful piece on the timely and important topic of networks. I particularly like this phrasing “They rely on influence and not control, connections and not command.” I want to build on your piece and ask the question how do networks integrate with organizations, or put another way, how do networks integrate with hierarchies?
The reason I find this question interesting and relevant is that at this point in the life of the Jewish community the building blocks of our community are organizations (note it need not be in the future – see the example of Berkana that reorganized itself out of an organizational structure).
How do organizations integrate network thinking, values and structures? In my recent experience I see a few organizations going the mile and leading the path to become networked non profits, hybrids of sorts. And a challenge I note in the integration is the lack of clarity of how networked and how hierarchical and where the boundaries are. I think that as networked thinking penetrates an organization, a fear — or a wish — sets in that everything is now networked and flat and resentment and demoralization can set in about existing hierarchical features of the organization. In order to avoid this problem (and I may be pushing the envelope beyond where most organizations are) I encourage leadership that are moving in this direction to be thoughtful about setting expectations and try to be clear about where the boundaries and limits of network and the hierarchy exist. Its messy and evolving but I think it gets beyond the all or nothing thinking that can paralyze those who want to take the risk and bite those who are out in front. We are living in interesting times and need to figure this out together. Thank you for continuing the dialogue.
Naava

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Why Do So Many Online Communities Fail?




The good news is that technology has created unprecedented opportunities for people to meet like-minded peers to learn, collaborate and support each other. The bad news is that so many of these well-meaning and inspiring projects that have enormous potential to help people and strengthen causes, are failing. Not just in the Jewish community, throughout the nonprofit world, hundreds of thousands of dollars (at least) have been spent over the past decade on designing systems that ended up not being utilized. I don’t mean to point a finger – my guess is most of us have participated in, dreamed of, sponsored, or funded one of these projects. And there is no simple answer to explain what went wrong. What I would like to present today is a way of thinking that in my experience has helped communities succeed.

The idea is that when we focus on building a technology infrastructure, we often neglect to build an accompanying relationship infrastructure. The word community can be defined as “a group of people with a common background or with shared interests within society.” Those interests may be shared geography, affiliation, values, purpose, enemies or problems.

When you bring a group of strangers or acquaintances together for a gathering, a party, you don’t expect them to suddenly bond, reveal their secrets or foibles, or become best friends. So why do we expect that if we build a website or community platform which is even more remote than an in person gathering, people will jump in and participate? An online space has fewer social clues such as age, clothing, body language or accent than a face-to-face gathering. When we go online the only social clues we usually get are an email address or name, and if we are lucky a small image of the person. We all know how resistant we are to completing the profile section of online social platforms, even though it would help a lot.

So what would you do if you were a host or hostess at a cocktail party? You would circulate and get to know people, introduce people to each other that have shared interests, maybe set up some games or some interesting conversation pieces. You might encourage a few of the more gregarious folks to help make people feel comfortable. There might be some people you would not invite because they cause trouble.

In order to make online communities successful we need to pay attention to the relationships not just the technology infrastructure. We need to help people find each other and connect around shared interests.

What does relationship infrastructure consist of? Roles, protocols, norms, expectations, motivations, mission and purpose and other social structures. (Think about Daniel Pink’s work on motivation.) Note I said motivation – not incentives – research has demonstrated that incentives are only good for simple tasks not for complex knowledge based tasks. So let me be concrete about what relationship infrastructure looks like:

This past week I was working with the National Consortium of Deaf-Blindness – they are just finishing up a platform for a national community of practice that includes representative from 50 states. They want to introduce the platform to their 20 staff members. We talked about the usual approach – a technology training – letting staff get in the site and press buttons. The focus was on technology. Then we asked ourselves, how can we do this in a way that develops relationships – both relationships between people and relationships to the mission of the organization? We came up with the following protocol.
      • We paired people up – intentionally thinking about who might benefit from doing this work together – make sure someone who is technology averse is paired with someone who is technologically comfortable. Maybe pair people who work on the same team? Or maybe pair people across teams?
      • We sent them into the platform with an assignment. While they are in the site and “kick the tires” we helped them imagine what it would be like driving the car. We gave them some guiding questions to think about.
      • Name 3 ways this platform can help you forward your mission.
      • Name 2 technology improvements you would like to see for this platform.
      • Name 1 surprise from this experience.
      • We asked everyone to post these responses in the site so that others can see how their peers respond to the experience. (Thereby giving them another opportunity to get to know others – by reading their responses.)
Relationship infrastructures have to be carefully matched to the culture of the community, stage of development of the community (how well do people know each other) and many other factors. Just like technology may need to be revisited and upgraded, the relationship infrastructure needs to be revisited and changed as the community changes.

So next time you think about designing a technology platform for a community – don’t forget to take the time and effort and get the expertise you need to build the accompanying relationship infrastructure that will ensure the success of your investment.

Naava Frank, EdD, is a consultant and researcher focused on the impact of communities of practice and networks. She can be reached at naavafrank1@gmail or knowledgecommunities.blogspot.com

Cross posted from EJewishPhilanthropy May 2, 2013  check out the comments section of  this blog post on EJewishphilanthropy for some interesting follow up comments.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How to Give Effective Feedback Both Positive and Negative

The nuanced distinction in the article below between feedback for young people and feedback for senior people is important.  I like when the complexity of an issue is presented and this article does that.  It also validates my own experience.

At the goodbye party held for me at YU School Partnership I was touched and surprised by the ways that younger staff in the office articulated the positive impact my encouragement had on them.  They reported things like I had pushed them out of their comfort zone, helped them gain confidence and find their voice.

I learned a great deal from the feedback I received from Dr. Scott Goldberg my supervisor at YU School Partnership and Jane Taubenfeld Cohen my wise colleague.

Hope others find this useful as well.

Thank you to Kerri Kervatsi and Hildy Gottleib for bringing this to my attention.

How to Give Effective Feedback, Both Positive and Negative  By ALINA TUGEND

Monday, April 22, 2013

67% find company training/e-learning of little or no value – according to the Learning in the Workplace 2013 survey results.

This survey, by Jane Hart, (600 people sample) replicates the findings of Etienne Wenger's first study of IBM repair professionals (see #1 below). People learn best with contextualized peer-mediated learning. 

"I’ve aggregated the Very Important and Essential scores and  highlighted in blue the top 5 rated ways of learning in the workplace. This shows …
  1. that company training/e-learning is the lowest rated way to learn at work , and
  2. that workers find other (self-organised and self-managed) ways of learning at work far more valuable – with team collaboration being the highest rated."

"Nevertheless as a whole, these survey results are yet another piece of evidence that show how workers are continuing to organise and manage their own learning in many different ways –  and in doing so are bypassing the L&D Department. What’s more a comparison with the 2012 Learning in the Workplace survey results shows that this is a continuing trend."

How are you organizing learning in your workplace?

source:  Learning in the Social Workplace: Jane Hart's Blog
 
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#1: A famous example of a community of practice within an organization is that which developed around the Xerox customer service representatives who repaired the machines in the field (Brown & Duguid 2000). The Xerox reps began exchanging tips and tricks over informal meetings over breakfast or lunch and eventually Xerox saw the value of these interactions and created the Eureka project to allow these interactions to be shared across the global network of representatives. The Eureka database has been estimated to have saved the corporation $100 million. source: Wikipedia article on Etienne Wenger