Sense of belonging: an invisible essential condition for thriving school-based Learning Ecosystems

Last Friday December 3rd 2021 we celebrated our SchoolWeavers Workshop with the project Community of researchers, school leaders, teachers and district leaders from 17 countries around the world, spread over the five continents. These precious time together allowed us a deeper weaving, a deeper thinking and a deeper support between people froma schools, universities and educational organizations who join the SchoolWeavers. It is amazing how connected and aligned we are beyond our contexts and diverse realities, we speak the same language and we face similar issues, and most importantly, we share the purpose of reimagining our school communities to enhance learning and wellbeing opportunities for all. Thanks for your involvement in the session and to share your learnings, thoughts, ideas and expertise with all of us. The Workshop experience is an invaluable source of collective wisdom that allowed us to grow together and strengthen our community and purpose. 

The ScholWeavers tool is an International project led by the NetEduProject team (Catalyzed by PSITIC, Blanquerna) and funded by the Jacobs Foundation and the Government of Spain. The intention behind the SchoolWeavers tool is to weave school communities around the globe to rethink learning and bound the transition from standardized educational systems to human and caring ecosystems that enhance personalized learning and equity. The tool claims to facilitate a process of cultivating and weaving trustful ecosystems in school communities around the world, strengthening and expanding meaningful human interconnections within and across school borders, focusing on seeding a relational environment that holds and inspires the best version of all its members. 

During the session, we explored how we can better create opportunities for a sense of belonging in our lives, schools and communities. We started by sharing experiences where we felt that we belong, and discussed how these sense of belonging ideas resonated with our dayly work. Then, we shared the school and university experiences to support the engagement of all school actors (students, families, teachers, leaders, staff and community collaborators). And finaly we shared how we are doing all this through the ScholWeavers tool. 

A key assumption of the SchoolWeavers model is that a sense of belonging is essential for us to feel connected and involved in our communities. Thus, a sense of belonging is a fundamental human need that is crucial in the process of weaving learning ecosystems. Here we can grasp a few ideas shared around the science of sense of belonging.

  • Social relationships are important because they provide opportunities to belong and grow together. 
  • Sense of belonging makes people feel distinctive and special, so a lack of it is associated with a host of negative psychological outcomes. 
  • Sense of belonging increases positive interaction between individuals and is related to feeling trust and passion. 
  • It also fosters individual and community resilience.
  • A good organizational culture can play an outsize role in fostering belonging via beliefs and values.
  • Sense of belonging in students drive positive peer and teacher relationships and helps to intervene against bullying. 
  • Finally, sense of belonging in students is also related to academic achievement, expectations and aspirations. It also adds more value to learning experiences increasing self efficacy. 

Therefore, we should create opportunities for people to feel and experience a sense of belonging to our communities as an invisible but powerful condition in the work we are all doing in our schools and universities. Some of the ideas shared by team members were: ‘if everybody knows that they will be heard, this creates a powerful sense of belonging’; ‘feeling valued and that we belong is essentia on building trust’; ‘we should shift thinking from -I do what I do and I belong- to -I belong and then I do what I do-’; ‘being yourself is a key ingredient to be part of the community, and allows you to LEARN and participate in a wider range of community experiences’; ‘having a supportive and encouraging environment cultivates our sense of belonging’.

As a beautiful gift, our colleagues and leaders from Daniel Mangrané School (Catalonia, Spain) and Montemorel School (Chia, Colombia) presented their ongoing experience on strategies to involve the school community in the SchoolWeavers project. Mainly, these experiences and strategies focus on creating spaces to engage with all actors in the community, exchange ideas and actively listen them. Daniel Mangrané has linked the Tool model (Showed in the images above) to their ongoing school pilars: Cultivate dimension is related to cohesion within the school community in a project called “junt@smilor” that involves participation in the daily life of the school. Facilitate dimension involves immersing in innovative projects through the process called #makingmagrané. Thrive dimension focus on #strategiclearning, a learning comprehension where students not only get good marks but focus on individuals. With this in mind, they are mobilizing their community with teachers and students involving also families. It is highly interesting the way students are actively involving their families in the project.

Montemorel School main strategies used in the initial phase are to generate expectations and prepare communities around the different dimensions the tool proposed in its model. They work in each dimension progressively starting from empathy and finishing with equity. Some of the strategies used are: To share videos in families-teachers meetings; To develop human flourishing workshops; To explain benefits and goals the tool will help to achieve through posts on social media; To organize Individual meetings with community actors (parents, administrators, students) to talk about dimensions. 

Some final ideas from our discussion

  • Sense of belonging is essential in the development and involvement in the SchoolWeavers project
  • We need holistic and interconnected strategies to reach all school actors and weave a collective sense of belonging in our community.
  • It is important to explain to schools and teachers that the tool is not to evaluate their work but to improve learning. 
  • It is important to open spaces to share better with families what we are doing and the sense of education. Sometimes they don’t understand why schools are proceeding in some ways at the same time that we do not take advantage of the potential of the families being engaged with the school project and feeling that they belong.
  • We need to understand that many changes are needed to weave better ecosystems, so as leaders we have to use diverse and multi dimensional strategies.
  • Researchers can better support school communities in the SchoolWeavers by being part of their team and purpose, being part and belonging to the school communities.
  • Although some circumstances are similar between contexts others are different and need differentiated and contextualized approaches.

Schools, universities and educational organizations who join the School Weavers tool project are co-creating learning ecosystems around the globe, and at the same time, are starting to become a global learning ecosystem. We are part of something greater, we belong to a wider movement where energies and efforts support learners to take care of themselves, society and planet, and we are not alone, there are other communities and schools sharing this values and mooving toward these learning goals. We are the type of change we want to see in our schools, experiencing a shift in our collective mindset beyond achievement, deeply taking into account relational and collaborative processes to strengthen human relationships, and holistacaly support each other in our learning and living journey.

Invitation to UNESCO-NetEdu Learning Ecosystem discovery event

We invite you into a participatory discussion and the project initiation of the UNESCO-NetEdu Learning and Digital Ecosystem Tool. Sign up now to October 27th 5- 6.30pm CET (RSVP here). We would like to engage with you on the novel approach being taken to co-design and co-prototype an online tool aimed to support government leaders and policymakers to weave country and local learning and digital Ecosystems.

Our hope is that, in time, this tool will support and enhance opportunities for lifelong learning and wellbeing at country and regional levels. The intention for the tool is to facilitate a process of cultivating and weaving trustful and innovative learning ecosystems, through strengthening the quantity and quality of meaningful interconnection between public, private and civil society stakeholders.

The project is led by the NetEduProject –FPCEE, Blanquerna– in collaboration with Teach MIllionsKaleidoscope lights and the Jacobs Foundation. The tool is being commissioned and supported by UNESCO and will be built in the context of the Global Education Coalition, as part of the efforts to achieve a resilient and sustainable recovery from the pandemic.

We are hoping to connect with potential partners that share our collective purpose and that would be interested in the further collaborative development of the UNESCO-NetEdu tool, as well as share their experiences and learnings within this space. At this point, the tool is in process of development. A prototype pilot is being designed for application in a country to be selected. 

The Ecosystem tool will use social network analysis and Ecosystemic visualization features, allowing users to collect live data from social relationships, map community interconnections, analyze strengths and weaknesses and finally, translate insights into strategic action to strengthen the learning and digital ecosystem. 

We are very looking forward to your participation.

With gratitude,

UNESCO and NetEdu team

Practical wisdom from the NetEdu Workshop on Cultivating trust in learning ecosystems

Last Tuesday January 19th 2021 we celebrated our NetEdu Workshop on TRUST as a fundamental seed to be cultivated in learning ecosystems. It was lovely to see and listen to you all, and was amazing to share the learning space with more than 40 leaders and educators from the 5 continents that are really devoting their energy on making educational systems more human, relational and interwoven. The term ‘Learning Ecosystem‘ is gaining a powerful attention across the world -and this will increase in 2021- as a crucial approach to transform education and enhance learning opportunities for all, empower every student as a changemaker, weave caring and meaningful relationships within and across school boarders, enable school-community collaboration, grow individual and collective well-being and foster planet sustainability. But the huge expectations on the concept and named outcomes contrast with the low research based knoledge and understanding we have around how we can weave these human ecosystems and try to enhance all these relevant and ambicious challenges. And this is why the NetEdu Community and all these faces are so important!

Meditating and connecting to our collective purpose

However, there is already a big consensus around the idea of TRUST being the glue of learning ecosystems, but we strugle when we are willing to land in schools, districts and cities and start weaving meaningful relationships based on individual and collective TRUST. And this was the purpose of our session, to capture our collective experience and expertise to enlight the dialogue with practical wisdom. For this, we had the wonderful close testimony from three leadership teams from diverse countries that are using our tools to collect data around TRUST in their educational ecosystem levels and build TRUST as a crucial seed and sistemic outcome. Down here I will share some of the highlights of the session shared by members and facilitators, not as a conclusion but as a starting point to continue our glocal conversation and learning journey around how are we building trust in worldwide learning ecosystems.

One of the words that best captured the very rich and deep discussion that we had was “together“. Trust is built when we engage around shared hopes and dreams, and are able and willing to work together to achieve them. It can be expressed through words with a “com-“prefix, that indicate togetherness, such as “Com-passion” (shared struggle) and “Com-fort”(shared strength). Trust is also built when there is integration and “togetherness” individually across heart, mind and spirit, and organizationally and systemically across different systems levels and objectives, for instance education department, district, school leaders, educators, learners and community levels. 

In this sense, being integrated within ourselves also allows for healthy mirroring to occur. It is now known that the phenomenon of  mirroring is a neurological, biological and emotional occurence. We work well together when we are able to mirror back to each other what is happening in our system. Students thrive in environments where teachers and leaders are able to mirror to them what agency looks like. It is therefore so important for us to attend to these levels of teacher and leader wellbeing, so that these environments of healthy mirroring can occur – and not to focus solely on what is happening at the learner level. When leadership and educator levels are well, and are integrated across heart, mind and spirit, environments are created where not only learners, but everybody within that system can thrive. 

Social Network analysis helps visualize emotional and intangible exchanges in the ecosystem

We also discussed how trust struggles to emerge because of the lack of “familiarity” with an organization, with someone or with her or his work: familiarity is connected to empathy and compassion, and may emerge from an authentic interest in the other person and from testing ways to connect with his or her work. This last point is particularly salient for trustful interactions in inter-organizational contexts, where people may have a preconception of how distinct their different organizations and actions are. In this sense, a “silo structure” and individualistic culture, where there is low transversality and low empathy, dramatically decreases trust across the whole organization.

Therefore, the ability to listen emphatically becomes a proxy for benevolence. To develop a trusting environment, we need first to insist on developing an authentic disposition towards students’ wellbeing. A caring teacher, for example listens empathically, knows how to express and make sure that the student felt that she/he is genuinely interested in her/his well-being. We also believe that teachers and staff should always be able to step back, emphatically, and distinguish what the student “is” from how she/he may behave or have learned. Institutionalized spaces and dispositions to express feelings and emotions are a key element. For this we need to work on rebuilding the relationship we all may have with mistakes, distinguishing the error from the person who commits it, and this happy-error culture needs to travel from classes to teachers labs. In this sense, trust in a school or community setting is a situation where the individual is empowered and not judged by his or her actions. The lack of judgment was also central in the discussion as a cross-sectional trust driver.

However, measuring trust in order to inform the conversation and enact was also a relevant piece in our conversation. Colleagues from Barcelona shared the metaphore placed by Kaplan in 1964. As we guess from the image below, an illuminated area is an area where it is possible, even simple, to find something and obtain quantitative data. The light provided by the research itself means that the data found can be presented as objective, even indisputable. The dark street is the rest of the space, and these are the areas where obtaining data would be complex, perhaps impossible in relation to the means available. Thus, collecting data on trust in practice can be sometimes imprecise but extremely meaningful and useful to strengthen the community and weave the ecosystem. And this was highlighted by leaders as a core value of the research-practice partnership lived and experienced with diverse tools co-developed in the NetEdu community.

Regarding school leader’s relationships with teachers and other staff, we shared that it is essential for school leaders to replicate these relational features in their interactions: coherence is fundamental to promote a caring and trusting environment. Also, for this latter kind of relationship, we need to rethink the idea of control as a support on teachers’ activities, for example, shouldn’t be an external judgement but collaborative and adaptive support in order to foster trust: their formulation and implementation may be co-constructed and adaptable to ground dynamics. In this sense, we discussed the differences between the trust-terms Solidarity and Support. Solidarity is connected to community and a sense of belonging, and is an ongoing process, while support can be momentary as a feeling of “someone having your back”, as the school leader or the colleges.

Regarding the city level ecosystem, we came into the idea of the need of supporting the multiplicity and interconnection of diverse formal and informal networks that conform the whole ecosystem, identifying weaving opportunities and duplicities and favouring the flow of resources exchange. The strategies discussed to generate trust across levels were mainly based to create a relational climate in the network of diverse organizations and professionals based on horizontal and supportive relationships, considerng purpose and previous learnings of the participants, and facilitating universal learning conditions where everyone feels part of the whole and feels supported to participate. It was also relevant the intent of building new learning across all actors through spaces of metacognition, sensemaking and deep reflection; thus favoring the increase of professional capital among teachers and educators, and being faithful in each session to coherence and symmetry priciples: what we want to happen in our organizations and classrooms, we make it happen first with the global network. Thus, four systemic strategies were shared to be developed at this macro level of the ecosystem ecosystemic: leverage Systems thinking and networks to create a shared vision; focus on collective intelligence and co-ideation; personalize and contextualize; and co-design solutions to create the enabling conditions for change.

Finally, we were all invited to continue our deep conversation in our local contexts and organizations. A second invitation was to encourage all of you to consider whether your work on trust could be captured in a blog post and shared across our community and beyond (contact us if you have an idea for that;-). In our view it’s vital that all of us are encouraged to continue to experiment with the ideas around cultivating trust in learning ecosystems and specifically wrestle with applying and learning from them. We will end with special thanks to all the energizers of the session: Juan David and Diego Pinzon, school leaders from Montemorel School in Cundinamarca, Colombia; David Vannasdall, superintendent weaving the Arcadia Unified School District of 12 schools from California, United States; and Tatiana Soler, Victoria Ibañez and Imma Adell, co-leaders of the City School network Networks for Change weaving around 300 schools in Barcelona, Spain. And of course, special thanks to our beautiful trust builders and co-facilitators in the session, Alan Daly, Gitte Miller, Martin Scanlan and Juan David Pinzón.

How learning ecosystems evolve and how can leaders weave the whole change process

Weaving educational ecosystems in our districts and cities has become one of the greatest worldwide challenges for our systems to enhance learning and equity for the new era. The UNESCO (2020) publication “Education in a Post-COVID World: Nine Ideas for Public Action” indicates that those communities that have responded in an innovative, effective and resilient way to the crisis of COVID-19 are those who had shown greater collaboration between teachers, and between school and community actors. These ideas are also shown by other recent studies on school networks by Daly (2020) Azorín (2020) and Ion & Brown (2020). The reality of this pandemic has reminded us as a species that we are deeply connected to one another (Lancet 2020).

Learning ecosystems are social infrastructure formed by diverse actors that share a purpose, and engage in collaboration to co-design and co-implement innovative responses to existing social and educational challenges. Learning ecosystems provide a new understanding of education from an ecosystemic perspective of actors and their relationships; they challenge traditional organizational boundaries while providing place-based focus on local schools, neighborhoods, cities, or transnational networks; they are based on systemic and cross-sectorial collaboration; and pursue systemic impact (Díaz-Gibson et al., 2020). Thus, one of the most relevant questions in the global educational sphere is how learning ecosystems can be intentionally supported, cultivated and weaved, and how these place based ecosystems grow and evolve over time.

A natural way to approach and better understand learning ecosystems’ development and growth process is to dig into how biological ecosystems change and evolve. Science shows us that collaboration between organisms and species, not struggle for survival that allows ecosystems to evolve and species to truly flourish. As Darwin defended, if humans are the most advanced species it’s because we have the most advanced means of collaborating, and our communities care for the most vulnerable, the sick, the elderly and impoverished. Thus, collaboration is actually a natural and social driver for species survival and for thriving communities.

Ecosystems evolution is drawn by ecological succession, understood as the process of change in the species structure of an ecological community over time, where a network of different populations and organisms coexist and interact. The time scale for a biological ecosystem to evolve can be decades -for example, after a wildfire-, or even millions of years. The community begins with relatively few pioneering plants and animals and develops through increasing complexity until it becomes stable or self-perpetuating as a climax community. The engine of succession becomes the impact of established organisms upon their own environments. In other words, intraction among species and within the environment are the drivers of change in all ecosystems.

Colleagues in the NetEduProject have been studying networks, partnerships and ecosystems that enhance learning and equity in the last two decades (Daly, 2010; Riera and Civís, 2008; Díaz-Gibson, 2014; Díaz-Gibson et al, 2017 and 2020). Our learnings show that the development of learning ecosystems and their relational networks become a taugh and complex process that needs time and efforts to be properly cultivated, weaved, and consolidated. Personal relationships require time and intention to emerge and sustain, and their growth involves devoting intentional efforts. With this in mind, Mireia Civís and I have worked on a model to cultivate and weave learning ecosystems in three non linear steps, where we identified some patterns of evolution. Thus, to weave learning ecosystems we need to focus on different conditions depending on its level of maturity:

Biological and learning ecosystem’s evolution/ NetEduProject
  1. The initial stage of the ecosystem’s growth is shown in the image as ‘Young network’. Following the idea of ecological succession, ecosystems change depends on the initial conditions found in the social network, and the type and number of actors, and the quantity and quality of relationships draw an initial starting point. At this stage, it is necessary to develop a structural design to cultivate the social foundations that will sustain the whole ecosystem: trust, empathy, recognition of others and collective purpose. It is the moment where members share goals and expectations, adjust rhythms and levels as new relationships are woven. This social capital will sustain the future development of the whole ecosystem of people and organizations, and will become the pillars that pave the way for a new collaborative culture. At this point, collective learning is a priority flow that needs to be planned, at the same time, will be part of the network’s own working culture. Ecosystems can take from one to three years to move into a second stage, and only the construction of solid intangible pillars will allow networks to change and evolve.
  2. The second stage, named as ‘Mature network’, is more difficult to limit in time as its duration depends on several factors beyond the initial network conditions, such as investment, political support or system coherence. Here, we need to move towards the development and sustainability of social networks, and one of the aims is to consolidate the transition from individual to institutional commitment. It becomes a stage where we want to sustain a collaborative model of action and where we must continue to feed the social intangibles generated. At the same time, new strategies are being sought to assess and increase the impact of collective action. Once networks are weaved, they must come to live and make sense for themselves, they may not depend (or only depend) on external leadership. Also, at this point they must generate clear benefits for their participants according to the established objectives. The design and the structures need to be flexible and readjust to optimize resources to respond to needs and expectations of the people and organizations involved, also drawing clarity on paths for local based outcomes to emerge.
  3. Finally, the third stage named as ‘Climax network’, is also imprecise in time for the same reasons. In this stage, the ecosystem creates intentional infrastructures for its sustainability beyond personal relationships, establishing institutional agreements, coordination documents, new opportunities for participation, among others. These strategies are aimed to facilitate interaction and self governed initiatives within the network. Here the ecosystem acquires an optimal level of maturity that is evidenced by consolidation of a new culture, where new rules and new ways of doing are practiced in professional and institutional levels. The network organization within the ecosystem in this stage tends to be characterized by a collaborative governance. People are empowered to open new cycles of revision and regeneration in order to create new meaning and new opportunities for individuals and for the collective.

We believe these three fluid and organic steps can inform the type of systemic support needed in the evolution of ecosystems to enhance social capital, learning and equity in our communities and cities across the globe. In the NetEduProject we are ‘hands on’ working on learning and sharing new leadership strategies that can move these social and participatory structures forward over time. As shared in the begining of this post, science has shown that collaboration is a natural driver for species survival. In this new era we are all embracing, humans and social systems really need to improve our collaborative competences to better take care of one another and create a thriving world for all.

Jordi Díaz Gibson

What if we understand Schools as a Learning Ecosystems in times of COVID-19 pandemic

Written by Jordi Díaz-Gibson and Alan Daly, NetEduProject

As we write this many of us across the world are sheltered in place, not being able to safely leave our homes.  This pandemic has its roots in how connected we are as a planet.  Ironically, we only seem to attend to our human connectivity when it comes to historically negative events such as a pandemic.  However, what if we really focused on the fact that these connections also hold the potential for equally positive impacts for our world.  Sadly, it seems we rarely activate these systems for this purpose.              

In countries across the globe there are long standing educational inequities despite decades of attention, study, and work to alleviate systemic disparities.  This statement is not to undermine the strides made, but as an educational community we still have a great distance to travel in becoming more equity minded and growing our educational systems in new and different directions.  Perhaps one of contributing factors in not making greater progress on these issues is that many educational systems, and in fact individual educators, operate as independent units and as such may continue to create and replicate separate and unequal outcomes for students and communities.  Typically, educational institutions and public agencies have not viewed themselves, either as organizations or individuals, as part of a larger interdependent and interconnected eco-system. This failure to recognize and embrace the idea that decisions, actions, and inactions are mutually influential and consequential has perhaps inhibited the collective ability to address pressing issues that have for far too long plagued educational organizations across the globe.

In recent days, there have been a number of proposals around the world that are being implemented on an experimental basis to reopen schools after the long breakouts responding to the complex challenge of education in times of pandemic. What surprises us about the proposals is that most of them focus on the school as a center of education and ignore the community as the natural eco-system for development and growth of students and families. Strictly focusing on the school-level at the expense of the community may inhibit our ability to expand educational spaces and flexible learning opportunities. 

Schools are increasingly important parts of the social ecosystem, a part that cannot function alone or disconnected from the system to which it belongs. The significant educational challenges we face today are complex and intertwines with other public good issues such as promoting health, encouraging well-being, eradicating poverty, providing employment, creating work-life balance, and building strong intra and intergenerational relationships.  We need to be aware that all parts of the system must work in concert and embrace the social and educational complexity that comes with that collective ecosystem participation.  Thus, we need to connect disciplines to assess risks, map the educational assets of each territory, activate diverse people, organizations, institutions and services capable of contributing to a better understanding of our ecosystem.   

Bronfenbrenner (1999) suggested that in order to understand schools and learning with high ‘ecological validity’, generating authentic knowledge that could be applied in real life and not just in ideal labs, we need to study the various subsystems that ecologically affect children and schools not as discreet individuals, but interconnected units. In this sense, the perspective of educational change and innovation in schools must evolve to take on a more systems focus as each school is located in the context of a neighborhood that, at the same time, is highly relevant as an informal education space. 

Social network theory builds on the idea that social resources such as knowledge, information and expertise are exchanged through informal networks of relations between actors in a system. A fundamental element in this theory is concerned with the pattern of social ties that exist between actors in a social network that creates an overall social structure. In this sense, actors with more ties are more likely to quickly move resources across the network as they are well-connected to a large number of actors. In contrast, actors with fewer or no relational ties may have limited access to the mainstream information and may not be able to efficiently move information because their communication channels are less well-connected (Liou et al, 2019). Hence, as a growing body of research suggests, leaders need to have a clear map of the schools’ and community social networks to better understand how the resources flow in the wider ecosystem, and to promote broader opportunities to all the actors.  This approach brings to life the idea of ecosystems and sets of interactions that hold promise for increasing the public good. 

Although seeming like an obvious statement, that relationships matter, traction around this space for positive change has not taken hold as deeply in the education space.  It may be that in the education space we are still very much focused on the “technical core” of the education process.  In contrast to the technical core of schooling, progress through a relational perspective or the “social work” of improving outcomes requires a set of skills and capacities some leaders and educators may or may not possess.  Interpersonal skills such as facilitating, questioning, active listening, and collaborating are often assumed to be among capacity of educators, but that assumption is potentially faulty and can derail efforts.  Moreover, the ability to rebuild and repair damaged trust is a complex and nuanced endeavor that may require a new set of leadership capacities.  

Thus, thinking about schools as social networks and considering the diverse actors that influence education and wellbeing in a community and their multiple interactions, allow us to understand schools as living and organic ecosystems. Clayton (2016) defines ecosystems in education as the intersection between a wide array of innovation actors such as teachers, school leaders, students, parents, technologists, civic entrepreneurs, designers, researchers, philanthropists and policy makers.  Moreover, the coming together of these different groups may enable the disruption of existing practices, designing new learning models, and building new learning communities beyond the traditional notion of a school.

Godfrey and Brown (2019) defined a school ecosystem frame based on three key issues: 1) the need to connect all school change ultimately to its intended educational impact on youth, and by corollary to society; 2) to ensure that elements of the system -especially at the individual school level-are not viewed reductive or in isolation; and 3) to see system change as both interconnected and working in patterns of multidirectional cause and effect. Thus, the idea of a school understood as a learning ecosystem embraces a networked and systemic understanding of all school units; a collaborative action within and across the community to increase social capital and collective learning; and finally, the innovative and disruptive component as a central focus that promotes systemic impact across the whole ecosystem.

However, transforming schools into a learning ecosystem demands principals and educational leaders to be systems thinkers and focus on relationships between people and entities that can strengthen the school purpose, aligning shared objectives, promoting trust, connecting synergies, and facilitating a shared discussion and a collective construction of knowledge. The idea of network weaving is quickly emerging around the globe as a transdisciplinary leadership perspective that embraces a relational, distributed, networked and systemic approach. Weaving is defined as an approach to leadership that intends to transit from ego to eco, relying on curating circles, hosting conversations, building trusted relationships and shepherding people with highly diverse institutions, roles, backgrounds and perspectives into meaningful collaborations that have systemic impact (Luksha et al, 2020). Moreover, weaving entails the idea of securing the health and the potential of the wider ecosystem by cultivating relationships between people, and encouraging to lead organizations as living cells. Thus, weaving as an educational leadership approach completely aligns with the networked, collaborative, systemic and disruptive purposes of learning ecosystems.

Based on what we have shared in this essay, what if schools come back and challenge school boundaries and take advantage of the community as the natural environment for students and their communities. What if teachers welcome a small number of children and families at once, and children occupy diverse spaces in the community accompanied by diverse community professionals and other volunteers. What if schools in the same neighborhood, along with other educational and social agents, map spaces and actors involved in different fields such as museums, libraries, sports fields, parks, forests, beaches and mountains. What if leaders -as gardeners- seed a rich ecosystem and then start the tasks of growing and connecting these environments, care for social relationships, and look for common educational goals to co-create new opportunities and new proposals. What if policy makers empower the local level, and invest more resources in those neighborhoods and with those families who need more resources, more professionals and new infrastructure.

At a time when educational space and time are gaining in importance as vectors of educational quality, a look at the local and community educational ecosystem can help us ideate and design a proposal appropriate to the difficult challenge we face with the reopening of schools in the months ahead. Certainly, it will be necessary to evaluate risks, but at the same time to take them in order to devise, prototype and experiment with new schooling proposals.


Bronfenbrenner, U. (1999). Environments in developmental perspective: Theoretical and operational models. In S. L. Friedman & T. D. Wachs (Eds.), Measuring environment across the life span: Emerging methods and concepts (pp. 3–28). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press.

Liou, Y., Bjorklund Jr., P., & Daly, A. (2019). Climate change in Common Core policy context: The shifting role of attitudes and beliefs. Educational Policy.

Clayton, R. (2016) Building Innovation Ecosystems in Education to Reinvent School. A study of innovation & system change in the USA. Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.

Godfrey, D., & C. Brown. (2019). An Ecosystem for Research-Engaged Schools: Reforming Education Through Research. Oxon: Routledge.

Luksha, P., Spencer-Keyse, J. & Cubista, J. (2020) Learning Ecosystems: An Emerging Praxis for Education. Global Education Futures and SKOLKOVO.

Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 20, 2020 ID Number: 23374, Date Accessed: 8/19/2020 7:18:01 AM