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” (
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 to learn about the group’s interests and skills. (Click here for an example:

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
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
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*

Suggesting to A that A should talk to B
Suggesting A talk to B; tell B to look for A
Introducing A to B in an email
Introducing A to B in a joint conference call
Introducing A to B in person
Introducing A to B in person, following up with A & B to nurture connection
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 –

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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