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Networking in Service-Learning



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This article appeared in Spanish and Catalan on “The Journal of Education”1, 16 October 2018. It is about the challenge of networking when schools and social organisations launch together Service-Learning projects. The article identifies 10 tips to get a good network

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Networking in Service-Learning

  1. 1. Networking in Service-Learning By Roser Batlle. Appeared on “The Journal of Education”1 , 16 October 2018. Translated with permission of the author. Collaborating with other teachers, as well as with organizations outside the school is one of the most important awards of service-learning. Three years ago I was working, dining, chatting and laughing with six friends of the Service-Learning Group of the Comunitat Valenciana who, among other things, were then weaving the eighth meeting of the Spanish Service-Learning Network which would take place in December 2015. Previously in this network we had decided to hold our annual meeting each time in a different territory. Among other things, this was going to help us distribute efforts, disseminate service-learning better and, rebound, strengthen the driving group of each territory and its networking. That's how it was. But setting up an event does not in itself guarantee the cohesion of a group. The dinner-meeting with the Valencian team revealed to me many of the clues to networking, one of the aspects which we have learned the most in recent years... I take a leap in time and place myself just a few months ago, in a conversation with a Public Authority: - Tell your secretary to send me the final document. - I don't have a secretary - I answer smiling. - Well, I meant the secretary of the Network. - The Network doesn't have a secretary either. No accountant, no concierge, no stamp, no telephone... - How can that be? So... how do you do things? This conversation, with slight variations, is repeated from time to time. Hardly anyone understands how the Spanish Service-Learning Network has endured 10 years without having what is normally understood as a solid organizational structure. We are organized, of course we are, but from the beginning we wanted to equip ourselves with a light structure, among other things, to avoid the risk of ending up working to maintain a heavy structure unintentionally disregarding the purpose of the association. But, then... if we are already 18 groups; if we all have local and state projects; if service-learning is spreading at a considerable speed... How the hell do we manage? Again the key is networking! Networking is the serendipity of service-learning. A serendipity is an unintended result, like an unexpected gift. And the truth is that the service-learning extension process is activating an effect that was not, at least, the main thing being pursued. The surprise has been how in all these years we have been reinforcing networking. Indeed, if for the majority of service-learning projects, it is 1 el-aprendizaje- servicio/?fbclid=IwAR2RvURDA1UF5dqFwP4VmdTQWjd9RpuSxB7si1mWUH9GAGqYfNIf4toneOI
  2. 2. necessary to establish alliances between educational centers and social organizations, alliances are also needed at the time of constituting service-learning in each territory. In short, alliances are needed throughout. This need for alliances generates a broad consensus. Everyone accepts that it is necessary to work in a network and that is fine with them. The problem is that there is not enough training for this in the educational and social sectors. Therefore, in order to promote service-learning in a specific territory, in addition to the novelty of promoting an educational methodology, it is necessary to deal with the novelty and the effort to move it collaboratively, something very unusual. Networking means cooperating. And cooperating is not the same as coordinating. Let's say that coordination is an act of intelligence -because lack of coordination is a threat-, while cooperation is an act of love because, apart from intelligence, it needs a plus of affectivity and generosity. To cooperate is to take a second step, it is to set to work together educational centers and social organizations, foundations, NGOs and town councils, sharing the same project, although each party assumes what it has to do. Networking not only improves the effectiveness of each party involved, but also strengthens the social capital of the population. As José Antonio Marina says, the social capital of a community is understood as the set of shared values, the way of solving conflicts, of interacting, of living together, the level of citizen participation in organizations, the way of caring for common goods. It is important to remember that the main studies on this subject - those of Coleman, Putnam or Fukuyama - have shown that social capital is a decisive factor in the effectiveness of a community's educational system. Since service-learning elevates social capital, it influences the quality of education in two ways: through the direct effect on students, and through the indirect effect, through the improvement of social capital. Those of us who began to promote service-learning in our country knew that we would learn a lot about this educational methodology, but we never imagined that we would learn so much about how to promote it collaboratively. We recognize ourselves as more flexible, more interested in other projects that are not exactly ours, more cosmopolitan and tolerant. Perhaps because of this, we can already begin to identify what the clues or tips are in our networking experience. Clues or tips: 1. Identify the common purpose and produce something concrete. The purpose of networks is best made explicit and shared when there is a tangible objective towards which we can all move to. Beyond the philosophical reason - absolutely essential- that justifies the existence of the network, we must be able to set milestones along the way. If there are no concrete objectives, the trajectory of the network becomes blurred. 2. Sharing the objectives of others. As Josep Maria Puig puts it graphically, all the members of the network must be able to "take advantage". If we work in different organizations, each of them must be able to win in some particular aspect that is relevant to them. Otherwise, the network will lose strength and end up being demotivating. Therefore, working in a network requires a very
  3. 3. practical exercise of democratic virtues: listening, understanding, repeating, agreeing, giving in. 3. Distribute and organize the work in an efficient and rational way. It is neither necessary nor convenient for everyone to do everything. Everyone has to have their space and their mission clear, based on whether or not it will be necessary to be willing to assume a large amount of voluntary effort, since not everything that needs to be done can be remunerated. On the other hand, this distribution must avoid the creation of meaningless commissions, which cause a sense of slowness and ineffectiveness. 4. Take advantage of everyone's resources and avoid duplicating efforts. What do you, a member organization of the network, know how to do? What are you competent at? If there are universities, they know how to research, publish, set up congresses; if there are teacher training centers, their playing field is training... Furthermore, although the network does not have a professional structure, many of its member organizations perhaps do, and can contribute to solving what voluntary work alone could not solve: legal, accounting, administrative aspects... 5. Autonomy and individual responsibility. Networking can never be an excuse for not disciplining oneself on one's own, without waiting for others to claim the task entrusted to them. In fact, the opposite is true: the more individual discipline, the more effective networking becomes. 6. Circulate information. A basic food for a network to work is for members to feed on meaningful information. It is necessary to oblige oneself to this, selecting the relevant and discarding what only makes noise, because the rush of daily life sometimes pushes us to overlook this aspect or even to communicate only with some people (and almost without realizing it!) outside the ordinary channels we have endowed ourselves with, with which other members feel that they are not taken into account. 7. Be open minded. An endogamic network does not have a long way to go. Be open to weaving alliances with other organizations to promote joint projects that we cannot assume alone. Although in reality alliances do not only make sense for practical reasons: they are also a way of multiplying social capital and humbly acknowledging that in order to face social challenges we are not alone: there are many different approaches, experiences and initiatives. Feeling part of larger collectivities increases satisfaction in networking. 8. Seek human quality. People are the ones who create networks. And although extraordinary people can sometimes build mediocre or inoperative networks, the truth is that the opposite does not happen. In a network that works, one is proud to be where one is and motivated to contribute to its purpose not only by the goodness of this collective purpose but also by the goodness of the people with whom it is shared. 9. Nurture trust among members. This trust is the basic glue that sustains networks when there are problems. And, as Anna Ramis says, it is such a basic element in human relationships that sometimes, of course, we forget it (...). However, it is an element that does not appear by chance, it needs will and time. And if we stop practicing it, the mistrust that we all wear as a series appears.
  4. 4. 10. Servant leadership. To sustain and advance, networks need social leaders. But these social leaders must respond to the description of "servant leadership" which, as Josep Maria Lozano describes, quoting Robert K, Greenleaf, is a leadership based on the desire to serve others and a purpose beyond personal interest. Leadership in a network can and should be rotational, but in any case it must always be impregnated with this style of leadership. This has been our serendipity, our unexpected gift: those of us who have long been promoting service-learning in our country have learned to work in a network. We still have a long way to go to get an excellent result in this "subject", but without a doubt we have come a long way since we made the decision to join efforts to multiply results.