Kickstart networks for the good of the school ecosystem

The restrictions of the pandemic have impacted the networks required to maintain effective collaboration. Now is the time to bring them back to life.

It is reassuring to see that we are not alone in our suggestion that getting your networks going again is an essential component of building your future. In an article published in The Times on March 22, 2021, Hannah Prevett writes that “entrepreneurs risk incurring lasting damage to their businesses by letting their networks stagnate”. 

She highlights the work of Ben Spigel, a senior lecturer at Edinburgh University’s Business School.  His area of research is entrepreneurial ecosystems. This emphasises the local ecosystem and focuses upon how the system can be locally invigorated rather than by interventions from regional or national sources. 

The result of his research shows that entrepreneurs with bigger, stronger, more diverse networks do better than those without them. Thus, as the chances to develop these have been limited by the restrictions placed on us by the pandemic it is essential that businesses start networking in earnest as soon as possible. He says they use these networks to find investors, customers and peer review support. 

The same principles apply to the school ecosystem. Networks link with resource providers, parents/careers and students and colleagues willing to engage in peer review.

Two other groups we report upon who potentially had their ability to network curtailed by the pandemic restrictions are Challenge Partners and Olevi. 

Kate Cahhatwal, CEO at Olevi,  said Challenge Partners is looking forward to the opportunity for its practitioners to again collaborate and challenge each other through in-person peer reviews and events. Meeting face-to-face provides superior opportunities for building the trust and social capital so critical to effective collaboration, and for a level of creativity and deep learning that is unobtainable  via a screen. 

Nevertheless, Olevi will continue with a blended approach next year, recognising the contribution that digital collaboration and innovative virtual peer review can make to the rapid identification and sharing of leading practice across a wide geographical network. The combination of in-person and digital contact will ensure every school community can benefit from the combined wisdom of the system.

The next large networking event for Olevi is the 2021  National Conference on Thursday April 22.  The keynote speakers are Lemn Sissay, Author and Broadcaster and Rt Hon Justine Greening,  former Minister for Education and Co-Founder of the Social Mobility Pledge.  A range of knowledge sharing activities covering student and staff learning and leadership will also take place. 

Olevi CEO Richard Lockyer added that the organisation has embraced the changes to the working environment brought on by the pandemic. It has acted as a catalyst for change in how the organisation interacts with its worldwide network of schools, strengthening its relationship through digital contact. 

This has given Olevi the opportunity to grow its bespoke development offer, which recognises that groups of schools are at different stages of their development or operating in different contexts. In the past a major strength had been to bring everyone physically together, which has not been possible. So the focus has moved to how Olevi can personalise its programmes for its schools. To do this has been moving all of the programmes online.

To support this Olevi has developed an online excellence programme, to which every member has free access. The programme is designed to ensure that existing facilitators have the capacity to operate effectively in the new environment. Four principles have emerged:

In addition, the Olevi Institute accredits educational coaching. One example of the institute’s work is with the leadership teams of the nine English School Boards in Quebec, which has been undertaken over the past two years. Many members of these school boards have become accredited as OLEVI Advanced Coaches and a number are moving to the next stages as OLEVI Professional Coach.   

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As we enter the Easter break, with what we hope is a more optimistic outlook for the future as a result of the easing of restrictions, we hope that you have time to relax with those you care for and reflect on what has been a most unusual year of schooling for us all. 

Take care and stay safe

George