Initial teacher education is increasingly happening online, both formally and informally, within networks that are commercial, institutional, governmental, and research-driven. These networks make use of the capabilities of the internet and related technology to better support teachers. The scholarship of teacher learning within online networks can be divided into four main strands: network design, outcomes from network participation, agency within the network of networks, and critical perspectives on online networks of teachers. Online networks are designed environments, and there are design decisions involved in developing different types of teacher network. Research into networked learning provides a common language for talking about these networks that allows for articulation of transferable design principles and comparison between networks. Some studies of networks of teachers are conducted with a focus upon the forms of social support that teachers provide for each other. These studies look to understand the role of online networks within the profession, and to contribute to growing and testing the base of theoretical knowledge about how teachers can be better supported through online networks. There is a growing strand of literature that focuses upon how teacher agency can be developed so that each teacher can take advantage of a world in which online networks are prevalent and can use them to flourish within the profession. Teachers can learn to develop their own professional learning network that makes use of existing online networks. While there is much optimism about the potential of online learning networks to support teachers and serve the profession, there are also perspectives that are critical of the widespread embrace of online networks by teachers and the way in which this development is changing the profession.
David Middlewood and Ian Abbott
Effective schools are widely recognized as those in which the adults who work there are committed to their own learning and where learning is at the heart of everything undertaken, in effect learning organizations. In such learning cultures, there is a perpetual process of change and development and such schools have become known as Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Such PLCs are discovering that one of the most successful ways of supporting continuous development is through the use of in-house structured research which identifies relevant learning needs at all levels and strives to meet these needs through the school’s provision. In the 21st century, very few schools operate in isolation and collaboration between schools or groups of schools has become essential for their improvement and for the development of the education system as a whole. The use of in-house research both within and across schools increases the validity of both the learning and the collaboration, which, at its most effective is based on willing participation, trust, and notions of professional partnerships, where all parties are willing to learn from each other, whatever their official or apparent status. Although barriers to this development of cross-school PLCs through in-house research do exist, notably pressures from a competitive environment with a focus on measurable outcomes, a lack of resources including time, the growth of such communities is proving powerful through the use of student voice, staff involvement and leaders’ firm beliefs. Furthermore, a new kind of educational leadership is emerging which depends much less on hierarchical structures and more on openness to new ideas, acceptance that progress is often uneven and rarely simplistic, and a recognition of the importance of personal qualities of all those involved, including the leaders.