SNA TIG Week: Rebecca Woodland on Social Network Analysis as a Tool for Improving Teacher Collaboration

Hi, I am Rebecca Woodland, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Through the Collaborative School Leadership Network (CSLN), I work with superintendents and administrators to evaluate and strengthen teacher collaboration. Recently, I have begun to incorporate the use of social network analysis (SNA) into this work, which has strengthened my evaluation practice and proven to be highly beneficial to school improvement stakeholders.

District leaders can use SNA generated sociograms (maps of the relationships within a network) to better understand teacher communication redundancies and inefficiencies in their schools. For instance, in one school, maps demonstrated that principals and staff were the most highly-connected people at the center of the networks, while classroom teachers were on the periphery and not connected to one another. Not what you want when you are trying to bring instructional improvement to scale!

Lessons Learned: I’ve learned that SNA can be a powerful tool for evaluating teacher collaboration. Findings can be reported in illustrative formats that stakeholders are able to use to promote the capacity for collaboration.

Hot Tip #1 – Use software that is right for you. There are a number of free, open-source, and for purchase SNA software options to choose from (see Irina Agoulnik’s AEA365 post this week for details about some SNA software choices). I have collected and organized network raw data in a 2-mode matrix in ©Excel and then imported this matrix into Pajek and R to conduct the analyses and generate sociograms.

Hot Tip #2 – Promote understanding to get more than “gee whiz” out of SNA. To truly reap the benefits of SNA it has to be a part of a comprehensive evaluation strategy – not just used to generate cool pictures. It is important to facilitate stakeholder understanding of such concepts as nodes, centrality, connections, and diffusion of innovation. For example, I’ll ask stakeholders to study their SNA maps and use their own words to describe what they see. They might describe how some people on the edge of their maps look like “loners,” or how the network looks “really clogged up” (instead of the SNA terms of “isolate” or “high degree of density”) Then we’ll discuss what issues might be associated with loners and clogs in a network. This process enables stakeholders to construct an understanding of SNA concepts without having to develop a whole new (and yes, somewhat jargon riddled) language.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating SNA TIG Week with our colleagues in the Social Network Analysis AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our SNA TIG members and you can learn more about their work via the SNA TIG sessions at AEA’s annual conference. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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