Ties With Potential: Social Network Structure and Innovative Climate in Dutch Schools
by Nienke M. Moolenaar, Alan J. Daly & Peter J. C. Sleegers - 2011
Background/Context: Similar to the United States, government efforts to improve education in the Netherlands are focused on innovation and the development of collaborative structures to support the generation of new knowledge. However, empirical evidence of the relationship between social linkages and innovation in education is scarce.
Objective: The aim of the study was to examine the impact of social network structure on schools’ innovative climate, as mediated by teachers’ involvement in decision-making.
Setting: This article reports on a study among 775 educators in 53 elementary schools in a large educational system in the Netherlands.
Research Design: A quantitative survey using Likert-type scales and social network questions on work-related and personal advice was analyzed using social network analysis and multiple regression analyses.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings indicated that the more densely connected teachers were in regard to work-related and personal advice, the more they perceived their schools’ climate to be supportive of innovation. Highly dense work-related network structures also typified teams that perceived strong teacher involvement in decision-making. Moreover, results suggested that the positive relationship between density of work-related advice networks and innovation-supportive school climate could be partially explained by increased shared decision-making. Implications of the study for teachers, organizations, leadership, and policy are discussed.
Efforts at improving public educational systems in support of better student achievement are commonplace across the globe. Renewed interest in improving education is being heavily influenced by government agencies that are encouraging educators to reconsider existing processes and engage in the development of innovations (Gewertz, 2009). The push for creating new knowledge and practice is present both in the United States and in the Netherlands, where this study takes place. Scholarly attention has reflected this emphasis through a growing focus on change and the development and diffusion of innovation through networks and professional learning communities (Giles & Hargreaves, 2006; Lieberman, 2000; Penuel, Riel, Krause, & Frank, 2009). In educational practice, these communities are increasingly developed to create a climate oriented toward knowledge exchange and shared learning, with the goal to improve instruction and student learning (McLaughlin & Talbert, 1993; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995; Wood, 2007).
Recently, a developing set of educational studies suggests that social network structures underlying professional learning communities may be related to schools capacity to change and orientation toward innovation (Coburn & Russell, 2008; Penuel, Frank, & Krause, 2007; Penuel & Riel, 2007). Innovation is believed to be closely linked to social relationships (ties) within and across systems (McGrath & Krackhardt, 2003; Tenkasi & Chesmore, 2003). Literature from outside education indicates that social relationships between organizational members, whether formal or informal, should be considered a valuable resource in the creation of new knowledge and practices (Ahuja, 2000; Tsai & Ghoshal, 1998). In this study, we add to the literature by exploring the extent to which structural characteristics of schools social networks are related to their climate for innovation.
In debates about innovation and instructional improvement, the importance of teachers as active participants in decision-making processes that shape school goals is stressed. Shared decision-making provides teachers with the opportunity to collaboratively refine and deepen practice in a conducive environment (Hargreaves, 1999; Smylie, Lazarus, & Brownlee-Conyers, 1996). Research suggests that schoolwide shared decision-making processes may support innovation and instructional improvement (Conley, 1991; Geijsel, Sleegers, Van den Berg, & Kelchtermans, 2001; Smylie et al., 1996). Although scholars have pointed to the value of social ties for joint problem-solving and teacher involvement (Liden, Wayne, & Sparrowe, 2000; Uzzi, 1997), evidence on the interplay between social network structure and shared decision-making is scarce.
This article extends recent literature by emphasizing the potential of relational ties for organizational outcomes (Balkundi & Kilduff, 2005; Daly & Finnigan, 2009; Kilduff & Krackhardt, 2008) and makes a unique contribution by examining the mediating role of shared decision-making in the relationship between social network structure and schools innovative climate. In this article, we present the results of an investigation into the potential of ties to support schools climate for innovation in 53 schools representing a large educational system in the Netherlands. Our inquiry examined the following question: To what extent are school-level characteristics of social networks predictive of schools innovative climate, as mediated by shared decision-making? We will provide a brief overview of the literature on organizational innovative climate, followed by a more comprehensive review of social network literature, which provides the conceptual frame of our study. After reviewing the literature on (teacher) involvement in shared decision-making, we will pose hypotheses around the relationships between social network structure, innovative climate, and shared decision-making.
SCHOOLS INNOVATIVE CLIMATE
The study of innovation has a rich history in management and organizational science literature (Hage, 1999). One of the most salient and consistent features of innovation studies is an emphasis on the creation of new knowledge, as opposed to transmission of existing knowledge (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Thought of in a different way, innovation is concerned with creating the societal new, meaning engagement in learning processes that takes place with others and generates new practices and knowledge (Paavola, Lipponen, & Hakkarainen, 2004; Tsai & Ghoshal, 1998). Although studies around innovation have a common focus on the generation of new knowledge, the construct has been examined in a variety of ways. In this article, we narrow our focus to a subset of the innovation literature that examines the potential of an organization to generate new knowledge through an innovation-conducive climate. This stands in contrast to other literature that has examined the adoption, diffusion, or implementation of innovations themselves (Geijsel, Van den Berg, & Sleegers, 1999). We draw on Van der Vegt, Van de Vliert, and Huang (2005) in defining innovative climate as the shared perceptions of organizational members concerning the practices, procedures, and behaviors that promote the generation of new knowledge and practices. Key elements underlying this definition are teachers willingness to adopt an open orientation toward new practices and change and to collectively develop new knowledge, practices, and refinements to meet organizational goals. In the next sections, we will describe the organizational structures and social processes that are suggested to contribute to an innovative climate in organizations.
Supportive Organizational Structures
Previous research suggests that the creation of new ideas is facilitated by the technical expertise and knowledge of organizational members (Andrews & Smith, 1996; Perry-Smith & Shalley, 2003). Individuals drawing on their work-related knowledge, skills, and experiences provide the initial catalyst in creating knowledge. This suggests that the human capital within an organization is essential for the generation of innovations. However, for an organization to capitalize on its innovative capacity, interactions with others in change-oriented innovative climates that support risk-taking are equally necessary components (Calantone, Garcia, & Droge, 2003; Hage, 1999; Nohari & Gulati, 1996).
A prochange climate has been associated with informal organic organizational structures that yield opportunities for collaboration and input in adapting to nonroutine challenges (Hage, 1999). More centralized organizations have been found to be supportive in the exchange of more technical knowledge (Cummings & Cross, 2003), but in turn may also inhibit the development of flexible responses to change (Daly, 2009; Daly & Finnigan, 2009). Those organizations that provide for more flexibility and encourage participation in decision-making by community members have also been associated with generation of new ideas (Daly).
Supportive Social Processes
Major theorists have described the process of innovation as iterative and cyclica process that is established and maintained through interaction that provides opportunities for refinement (Kanter, 1983). Conceptualized in this manner, the development of innovations can be understood as a social process. This stands in contrast to the more traditional narrative of an individual making a sudden discovery. Innovation can be described as a circular and recursive process with multiple opportunities for input, insight, and initiative (Engeström, 1987; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Social processes are therefore critical in knowledge creation to the point that innovation emerges between rather than within people (Paavola et al., 2004 p. 564). Communication and opportunities for organizational members to engage in discussion are central to an open orientation toward innovation (Monge, Cozzens, & Contractor, 1992). Moreover, the degree to which actors are willing to take risks and accept the vulnerability of possible failure supports a climate oriented toward organizational learning and change (Klein & Knight, 2005). When faced with nonroutine challenges that require the creation of knowledge, as is often the case in contemporary schools, actors must often collaboratively invent the way in which they work through managing and drawing on social ties in realizing goals (Honig, 2009).
An innovative climate therefore can be conceptualized as a resource within a social network that comprises creative actors, the ideas they initiate, and the ties connecting them (Tsai, 2001). Providing the supportive structures and processes for community members to engage in risk-taking and to be involved in the stream of social activity related to developing new knowledge is essential (Frank, Zhao, & Borman, 2004). Supportive relationships developed over time may also foster risk-tolerant climates, which are critical in the creation of knowledge (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Frank et al.). Hargreaves (1999) argued that to create innovative educational institutions, educators must be the creators of professional knowledge and provided with opportunities to collaboratively refine and deepen practice in a conducive environment. This implies the importance of teachers as active participants in the decision-making processes that shape the goals and directions of schools.
SOCIAL CAPITAL: THE ROLE OF SOCIAL NETWORKS
To understand the supportive role of social ties for an innovative climate, we draw on the concept of social capital. Several scholars have contributed to social capital theory, each offering a nuanced understanding of the concept and emphasizing a different aspect of social capital (see, for example, Bourdieu, 1986; Burt, 1992; Coleman, 1988; Lin, 2001; Putnam, 1993). Our research is guided by the work of Lin, who defined social capital as the resources embedded in social relations and social structure which can be mobilized when an actor wishes to increase the likelihood of success in purposive action (p. 24). From an organizational standpoint, social capital may be conceptualized as an organizations pattern of social relationships through which the resources of individuals can be accessed, borrowed, or leveraged (Tsai, 2001). This differentiates social capital from human capital, which refers to training, development, or certifications of individuals (Bourdieu; Coleman, 1988; Dika & Singh, 2002; Lin). The pattern of social ties that provide access to social resources is often assessed by exploring social networks (Tsai & Ghoshal, 1998).
Social networks can be characterized by the content that is exchanged within the social relationships (Scott, 2000). For example, friendship networks may primarily be aimed at the transfer of personal support, confidential discussions, and information sharing. Collaboration networks may encompass information exchange, knowledge transfer, and advice. The content of the resources flowing through the social network creates a structure that defines the purpose of the network. Common terms to describe the social network structure at the organizational level are density, reciprocity, and centralization. Density refers to the existing proportion of ties in a network to possible ties; in a dense network, many people are connected to one another, whereas in a sparse network, there are far fewer connections between the individuals in the network. Reciprocity addresses the mutuality of ties; a relationship between two people is reciprocal when both individuals indicate to be connected to one another. The higher the reciprocity in a network, the more dyadic (one-on-one) relationships are mutual. Centralization of a social network is high when certain individuals are more popular in the social network than others, meaning they send and receive more ties. This variability can translate into some individuals having more access to network resources than others.
Social network structure may vary according to the resources that are being exchanged and influence the speed and ease with which resources travel through the network. For instance, a social network around the exchange of technical knowledge, information, and expertise may look significantly different from a social network around personal support and the discussion of confidential matters. Although both networks transfer resources through their ties (the first being knowledge, the second personal support), the social network structure of both patterns of interaction may appear quite different. Accordingly, social network researchers often distinguish between two types of social networks according to their function: instrumental and expressive networks (Ibarra, 1993). Instrumental social networks describe relationships among organizational members that transmit information and resources that can help successfully contribute to organizational goals (Cole & Weinbaum, 2007). Examples of instrumental relationships are advice-seeking, advice-giving, and discussing work-related matters. In contrast, expressive social networks most often refer to affective relationships between organizational members that are formed to exchange social resources such as friendship and social support; these networks are not directly aimed at achieving organizational goals. Expressive relationships, in comparison with instrumental relationships, tend to be stronger, durable, and more difficult and time-consuming to develop given the level of trust necessary for their formation (Granovetter, 1973; Ibarra; Marsden, 1988; Uzzi, 1997).
The study of social networks in education is receiving increased attention. Research has been conducted in a variety of settings, including school and teacher networks (Bakkenes, De Brabander, & Imants, 1999; Coburn & Russell, 2008; Daly, Moolenaar, Bolivar, & Burke, 2010; Lima, 2007; Moolenaar, Daly, & Sleegers, in press; Penuel et al., 2007, 2009); leadership networks and departmental structures (Friedkin & Slater, 1994; Lima, 2003, 2004; Spillane, 2006); school-parent networks (Horvat, Weininger, & Laureau, 2003); between-school networks (Mullen & Kochan, 2000; Veugelers & Zijlstra, 2002 ); and student networks (Lubbers, Van der Werf, Kuyper, & Offringa, 2006). Many of these studies examined social networks at the individual or dyadic level of analysis. This study contributes to the existing literature by defining and assessing the effect of social network measures at the school level. Moreover, although many studies refer to the potential of social networks for innovation, empirical evidence on the relationships between social network structure, innovative climate, and shared decision-making is scarce.
Opportunities for the transfer of resources in the form of social capital are dependent on the pattern and quality of the social ties in the network (Burt, 1992; Coleman, 1988, 1990; Granovetter, 1982; Lin, 2001; Putnam, 1993). Prior research demonstrates that strong social relationships facilitate joint problem-solving (Uzzi, 1997) and the exchange of tacit, nonroutine, or complex knowledge (Hansen, 1999; Reagans & McEvily, 2003). Moreover, strong ties have been associated with low-conflict organizations (Nelson, 1989). Less dense networks can yield brokering opportunities between actors (Burt; Granovetter, 1973) and tend to be well suited for the transfer of simple, routine information (Hansen). Interestingly, both strong and weak ties are necessary within a social structure because they facilitate access to different kinds of information (Haythornthwaite, 2002; Tenkasi & Chesmore, 2003).
The exchange of resources in a social network may be facilitated by an optimal configuration of ties in a network. For instance, the cohesion and connectivity of a network enable the circulation of creative knowledge and material that can be recombined into new creative materials and ideas (Uzzi & Spiro, 2005). However, when the necessary relationships are lacking or insufficiently accessed, networks may also constrain the flow of knowledge and information (Daly & Finnigan, 2009; Hite, Williams, & Baugh, 2005). Given the importance of social network structure for an individuals access to the flow of resources in the organization, Cross, Baker, and Parker (2003) posed that the old adage It is not what you know, but who you know is more accurately Who you know defines what you know. Social network structures in schools may hold valuable potential for innovation, because an increase in the number and depth of social relationships may facilitate the generation, application, and diffusion of new knowledge and evidence (Cross et al.; Daly & Finnigan). Moreover, a centralized network structure may facilitate the diffusion of knowledge and practices related to a top-down implementation of innovations, as is often the case in (Dutch) school improvement programs. Based on these findings, we expect that social network structure (density, reciprocity, and centrality) will have a positive effect on perceptions of a schools innovative climate (Hypothesis 1).
As schools respond to increased pressure to improve through the development of innovations, the importance of exploring teacher interactions in support of an innovative climate becomes evident. Dense social networks among teachers may be of particular use in the development of an innovative climate because social interactions provide opportunities to increase teacher involvement in decision-making. Involvement of educators, in the form of shared and participative decision-making, is receiving increased attention (Chrispeels, 2004; Murphy, 2005). Shared decision-making and involvement have been described as an instrument of school improvement (Smylie, Conley, & Marks, 2002, p. 164) and a pre-condition for school improvement (Datnow & Castellano, 2004, p. 5), and without this involvement, it is unlikely that schools will achieve or sustain outcomes (Chrispeels, 2004, p. 13). Previous studies have shown that organizational barriers like isolation often act against teacher involvement and constrain the development of new practices (Bakkenes et al., 1999; Chrispeels, 1992).
Shared decision-making refers to the degree to which teachers are jointly engaged in the decision-making processes within their schools (Sweetland & Hoy, 2000; Terry, 1996). Schoolwide decision-making processes support schools innovative climate by providing teachers with the opportunity to widen [their] focus from the immediate outcomes of their performance to continuous learning by the organization as a whole (Somech & Drach-Zahavy, 2004, p. 285). The notion of being a part of a larger collective decision-making group may yield an increase in ownership, responsibility, and ultimately success for school efforts (Chrispeels, 2004; Clune & White, 1988; Smylie, 1996). Moreover, a sense of involvement is a critical foundation on which to deepen and sustain change efforts in schools that require the generation of new knowledge (Coburn, 2003; Copland, 2003). Shifting existing decision-making structures to provide for more active involvement and voice for teachers is an important step in the work of school change (Geijsel, 2001; Geijsel et al., 1999; Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2001; Murphy, 2005; Van den Berg & Sleegers, 1996a).
A theoretical relationship between teacher interaction and collective involvement in decision-making has a strong intuitive appeal (Bogler & Somech, 2005; West, 1994), yet a small empirical base (Smylie et al., 1996; Weiss, 1993). Many scholars have pointed to the importance of social relationships to enhance joint problem-solving and develop coordinated solutions (Uzzi, 1997) and to engage and empower teachers (Liden et al., 2000; McBride & Skau, 1995; Thomas & Velthouse, 1990). In turn, teacher involvement in decision-making processes may give rise to ample opportunities to collectively create new knowledge and practices, thereby strengthening the schools innovative climate. It is suggested that teacher involvement in decision-making may be related to the generation of knowledge (Redding, 2000), to seeking new ways to improve teaching (McBride & Skau), and to creating innovative solutions to problems of practice (Wilson & Coolican, 1996). However, this shift to more involvement is unlikely to occur unless it is supported by the broader organizational and institutional contexts in which teachers interact and function (Smylie et al., 2002, p. 175). If schools are to improve, attention must be paid to social interactions and opportunities to collaborate because both may trigger the generation of new knowledge and practices (Geijsel, Sleegers, Stoel, & Krüger, 2009; Obstfeld, 2005).
The balance of literature suggests the importance of social ties, in combination with shared decision-making, in developing a schoolwide innovative climate. Densely connected social network structures with many reciprocal ties may foster an innovative climate both directly and indirectly by increasing opportunities for shared decision-making. In contrast, it is plausible that in a strongly centralized network, teachers may perceive limited influence in the decision-making process in their school, because the power to decide is shared among only a few influential people. Hence, we pose that social network structure (density and reciprocity) will have a positive effect on shared decision-making, whereas network centralization will have a negative effect on shared decision-making (Hypothesis 2). Moreover, we expect that the relationship between schools social network structure (density, reciprocity, and centralization) and their innovative climate will be positively mediated by shared decision-making (Hypothesis 3). To examine these hypotheses, we will now describe the data collection and analysis methods employed in this study.
Similar to the United States, the Ministry of Education in the Netherlands is focused on school improvement through innovation (Ministerie van Onderwijs, 2009). The study was conducted in 53 Dutch elementary schools located in the south of the Netherlands, representing 775 educators. The schools reside under a single district that provides the administrative, financial, and professional development support to the schools. The sample schools were selected because the district participated in an ongoing school and teacher monitoring process around improvement.
We surveyed 53 schools and collected data on the schools social network structure, shared decision-making, and innovative climate. Data were gathered from 775 educators (teachers and principals), reflecting a response rate of 96.8%. Of the sample, 27.1% of the respondents were male and 72.9% female. These numbers approximately reflect the gender ratio in Dutch elementary education across the country. Each school-level team had a minimum 6 months of experience in their current configuration, with the majority of teams (62.3%) having had at least 2 years of shared experience. Additional sample demographics are presented in Tables 1 and 2.
Table 1. Teacher and School Demographics (n = 775)
Table 2. Sample Characteristics of Teachers (n = 775) and Schools (N = 53)
We assessed schools social network structure as a characteristic at the school level. The patterns of social interactions in the sample schools were examined using social network analysis. In the survey, respondents were asked to identify the individuals with whom they have a relationship described by the social network question. Based on previous organizational studies on social networks and innovation (Copeland, Reynolds, & Burton, 2008; Obstfeld, 2005), we used advice relationships in examining schools social networks. Advice relationships are important to innovation because asking for advice implies vulnerability and risk-taking on the part of the advice seeker. Moreover, advice relationships are a powerful tool to assert social control because they convey information about the advice seeker, thus giving the advice giver the power to actively influence his or her behavior.
We assessed two types of advice relationships, namely, work-related advice and advice on personal matters. Although the exchange of technical knowledge and personal support is associated with the generation of novel ideas (Perry-Smith & Shalley, 2003), few studies have compared and contrasted the impact of these types of advice on an organizations innovative climate. In this study, work-related advice relationships were captured by asking the respondents the following question: Whom do you go to for (work-related) advice? In line with Ibarra (1993), we will refer to this social network as the instrumental network. The expressive network, regarding social relationships around personal support, was assessed with the question, Whom do you go to for guidance on more personal matters? A school-specific appendix was attached to each survey, which included the names of all the schools team members and a corresponding letter combination (e.g., Mrs. Erin Smith = AB). Respondents could answer the social network questions by indicating the letter combination of the intended colleague(s), and they could name all the colleagues with whom they interacted.
Schools innovative climate (IC) was measured with six items designed to assess schools orientation to improve (Bryk, Camburn, & Louis, 1999; Consortium on Chicago School Research, 2004). The scale taps the extent to which the teachers perceive the organizational climate in their school as innovation-supportive. The scale measured the degree to which teachers collectively: are willing to try new things; are continually learning and creating new ideas; and have an open orientation toward change. For example, teachers were asked to evaluate the statement, In our school, teachers are willing to take risks to make this school better. The questions were translated and adapted to fit the context of Dutch elementary education. Principal component analysis provided evidence that the six items contributed to a single factor solution explaining 60.1% of the variance (Cronbachs α = .87).
Shared decision-making (SD) measured the degree to which teachers perceived that they have the opportunity to influence school-level decisions and share in the decision-making process. This scale comprised seven items based on Geijsel et al. (2001). For instance, teachers were asked to respond to the prompt, At our school, we decide together on the use of new teaching strategies. Principal component analysis confirmed that the seven items loaded highly on a single factor, explaining 61.9% of the variance (Cronbachs α =.90).
Both constructs were defined and measured at the individual level of analysis, as teacher perceptions of organization-level phenomena. Both instruments used a 4-point Likert-type agreement scale with the anchors 1 = disagree and 4 = agree. The IC and SD items were both entered in a single principal component analysis with varimax rotation; this resulted in a two-factor solution, explaining 61.5% of the variance, which indicated that the two scales assessed separate constructs. The items and factor loadings of this principal component analysis are summarized in Table 3.
Table 3. Items and Factor Loadings of the Scales Used in the Study (n = 775)
Note. Highest factor loadings of item are displayed in bold.
We collected demographic variables to assess the presence of any relationships between demographics and social network structure, IC, and SD (see Tables 1 and 2). At the school level, we assessed the following demographic variables: school size, team size, gender ratio, average age, years of team experience in current formation, and socioeconomic status (SES). We included school size (number of students) and team size (number of educators) as important background variables because they are known to be directly related to the social network structure of organizations (Cole & Weinbaum, 2007; Tsai, 2001). Also, large schools may have more resources at hand, in terms of personnel, financial resources, and community and district-level support, to develop innovation. We included team composition variables such as gender ratio and age, because they provide a context in which certain team beliefs and processes are likely to evolve (Chen et al., 2002, p. 385). Experience of the team in its current formation was examined because groups with shared experiences may have higher expectations, or higher standards based on previous experiences. We added the SES of the schools (based on a government weighting factor for additional financial support) because the community surrounding the school may influence the extent to which there is a perceived urgency for innovation. Typically, schools, especially those under pressure to improve and that serve more high-needs communities, are associated with greater urgency in developing new approaches (Sunderman, Kim, & Orfield, 2005).
At the individual level, we entered the following variables as demographic control variables: age, gender, number of working hours (FTE), staff (administrative) tasks, and number of years of experience in the school. Age and gender have been shown to be related to perceptions of organizational innovative climate, participative decision-making, and innovation in education (Geijsel, 2001). The number of working hours was included because it could both influence the perception of the schools innovative climate and directly limit the possibility of involvement in shared decision-making. We also added whether a teacher fulfilled additional staff (administrative) tasks in support of the principal, given that this may directly affect the teachers actual involvement in decision-making and perceptions of innovativeness because of increased contact with the staff. Finally, we included number of years of experience in the school because individuals with more experience in the school may have different expectations and standards for the schools climate than newer teachers, which may color their perception of their schools innovative climate and process of decision-making.
We used the social network measures of team density, reciprocity, and centralization for the instrumental (work-related advice) and expressive (personal advice) relationships within each school (Borgatti, Jones, & Everett, 1998). These social network characteristics were calculated and analyzed using UCINET 6.0 (Borgatti, Everett, & Freeman, 2002). The following paragraphs discuss the network characteristics in detail.
The density of the advice networks was calculated as the proportion of existing relationships to the maximum number of relationships possible in the network. The value of density varied between 0 (no relations in the network) and 1 (all actors are connected to each other). For example, the more dense the advice network, the more team members seek work-related advice from one another. The more dense the network of personal advice, the more teachers turn to each other for advice on personal matters. The social network measure of reciprocity mirrors the two-way nature of the relationships in the network. Reciprocity was calculated as the ratio of the number of pairs with a reciprocated relationship relative to the number of pairs within any given relationship. A high level of reciprocity thus reflects a mutual exchange of work-related and personal advice. Centralization of a social network refers to the difference between one or a few highly central person(s) and other (more peripheral) people in the network. A highly centralized network is one in which all ties run through one or a few nodes, thus decreasing the distance between any pair of nodes (Wasserman & Faust, 1997). The value of centralization will reach the maximum of 1 when every teacher in a network only asks for advice from a single person in the network, while these teachers themselves are not asked for advice at all. The lowest value of 0 indicates that all members of the network are chosen for advice as frequently. The more centralized the social network, the more knowledge and advice spreads from a single or a few influential sources to the rest of the network; this is in contrast to a decentralized social network, in which advice is much more evenly shared among all members.
Innovative climate and shared decision-making
For the IC and SD scales, we calculated descriptive and inferential statistics, including correlations and internal consistencies (see Table 4).
Table 4. Means, Standard Deviations, Intercorrelations, and Internal Consistencies (Cronbachs α) for the Variables Under Study (Nschools = 53, nteachers = 775)
Note. Significant estimates are displayed in bold: *** p < .001. ** p < .01. * p < .05.
Correlations in regular font are calculated at the individual level of analysis (N = 53).
Correlations in italics are calculated at the individual level of analysis (n = 775).
Testing the hypotheses
The proposed hypotheses were tested through a four-step process. First, we examined correlations to analyze the relationships among the study variables. Second, we studied the influence of demographic variables on the proposed relationships between social network structure, IC, and SD. Third, we conducted multilevel (hierarchical linear modeling) analyses to test the direct effect of density, reciprocity, and centralization of the instrumental and expressive social networks on IC and SD (Hypotheses 1 and 2). Finally, we tested the mediating influence of SD on the relationship between social network structure and IC (Hypothesis 3). For comparing the multilevel models, we used maximum likelihood estimation in the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences version 16.0.
According to Baron and Kenny (1986), four conditions must be met to support the mediation hypothesis (see Figure 1 for a path diagram of the hypothesized multilevel relationships under study): (1) a significant effect of social network structure on IC (Path c in Figure 1, addressed by Hypothesis 1); (2) a significant effect of social network structure on shared decision-making (SD) (Path a, addressed by Hypothesis 2); (3) a significant effect of SD on IC while fixing the effect of social network structure (Pearl, 2000) (Path b); and (4) mediation is indicated when the direct effect of the independent variable is either zero (full mediation) or reduces significantly in absolute size (partial mediation) after adding the mediating variable (addressed by Hypothesis 3). Following Krull and MacKinnon (2001), we calculated the size of the mediated effect by multiplying the estimate for Path a with the estimate for Path b while fixing the effect of social network structure. The significance of the mediated effect was evaluated by calculating Sobels test (1982).
Figure 1. Path diagram of hypothesized multilevel mediation
It is an important methodological point to note that when conducting regressions using network measures, violations to the basic assumption of independence underlying regression analysis may occur (see Kenny, Kashy, & Bolger, 1998). Individuals in a social network are by definition interdependent, and the two types of networks describe the same set of individuals, so the school-level social network measures of our two network types cannot be considered independent. This is reflected in the high correlation (.79, p < .01) between the densities in both types of networks. Therefore, using similar network measures in the same regression equation (e.g., density of instrumental and expressive network) would challenge the assumption of independence of the data. We avoid this methodological challenge by comparing the work-related and personal advice networks and contrasting their respective impact on schools innovative climate, as mediated by shared decision-making. Another issue is multicollinearity, which arises because of the moderate correlations between the school-level social network data within each type of network. Although multicollinearity does not affect the predictive power of the model as a whole, it may inflate the standard errors of the individual predictors. We checked whether multicollinearity formed a serious threat to the stability of our findings by rerunning the models on different subsets of the data (by alternatively excluding reciprocity and centralization) and found that the results for density remained largely unchanged across all models. In combination with the substantial size of our data set, we may assume that multicollinearity did not pose a significant threat to the robustness of our findings.
INSTRUMENTAL AND EXPRESSIVE ADVICE NETWORKS IN RELATION TO SCHOOLS INNOVATIVE CLIMATE AND SHARED DECISION-MAKING
As is displayed in Table 4, the social networks of expressive relationships (personal advice) tended to be slightly more dense and reciprocal than instrumental relationships (work-related advice). On average, there were more personal than work-related advice relationships in the school teams, with personal advice relationships being generally more mutual than work-related relationships. With regard to centralization, findings indicated that instrumental relationships in schools were slightly more centralized around a few actors than expressive relationships. Results from the correlation analyses indicated that both schools IC and SD were moderately related to density of the instrumental and expressive networks. The more dense the advice networks in the sample schools were, the more teachers perceived the schools climate as innovative, and the more they felt that they shared in the decision-making process at their school. IC and SD were weakly associated with centralization of both networks, and SD was marginally related to reciprocity in the expressive network. Finally, findings indicated that shared decision-making was significantly and positively related to schools innovative climate.
The intercept-only multilevel model for IC showed that a statistically significant amount of variance in individual trust scores is attributed to the school level. The intraclass correlation coefficient for IC is .244, chi-square (1) = 103.85, p < .001, thus indicating the need to use multilevel analysis techniques to examine the relationship between school-level social network measures and schools innovative climate. In other words, 24.4% of the variability in teachers climate perceptions occurs between schools, and the remaining 75.6% of the variance occurs within schools at the teacher level. The intercept-only multilevel model for SD also confirmed that a statistically significant amount of variance is accounted for at the school level, ICC = .153, chi-square (1) = 68.85, p < .001. In other words, 15.3% of the variability in teachers perceptions of shared decision-making occurs between schools, and the remaining 84.7% of the variance occurs within schools at the teacher level. Results for the multilevel models are depicted in Table 5.
Table 5. Multilevel Regression Analyses of the Effect of Social Network Structure and Shared Decision-Making on Innovative Climate and the Effect of Social Network Structure on Shared Decision-Making (Nschools = 53, nteachers = 724)
Note. Significant estimates are displayed in bold font: *** p < .001. ** p < .01. * p < .05.
Intercept-only for innovative climate: chi-square (3) = 1101.287; ICCIC = .244, chi-square (1) = 103.853, p < .001.
Intercept-only model for shared decision-making: chi-square (3) = 1055.645; ICCSD = .153, chi-square (1) = 68.849, p < .001.
THE INFLUENCE OF DEMOGRAPHIC VARIABLES ON SCHOOLS INNOVATIVE CLIMATE AND SHARED DECISION-MAKING
Prior to testing our hypotheses, we examined the predictive effect of various demographic variables on both IC and SD. In a first step, we ran our multilevel models, including all demographic variables in varying subsets. Results indicated that only one demographic variable had a significant effect on the relationships in the study; whether a teacher also fulfilled staff (administrative) tasks in support of the school leader (see Table 5). Therefore, in the second step, only this demographic variable was included in all subsequent multilevel models. These models showed that teachers who perform staff tasks generally perceive the schools climate to be less supportive of innovation and change. In contrast, performing staff tasks was positively related to perceptions of shared decision-making within the team. However, the influence of performing staff tasks on IC and SD is relatively small. Other demographic variables were excluded from the analyses.
IMPACT OF SOCIAL NETWORK STRUCTURE ON SCHOOLS INNOVATIVE CLIMATE AND SHARED DECISION-MAKING
The first hypothesis concerned the influence of social network structure (density, reciprocity, and centralization) of the instrumental and expressive advice relationships on IC (see Table 5). Findings indicated that the density of both instrumental and expressive social networks had a significant effect on IC. Both models explained, respectively, 10.1% and 9.1% of the school-level variance, and 31.3% and 28.7% of the teacher level variance. The more densely connected the school social networks around work-related and personal advice, the more teachers perceived their school to have an innovative climate in which teachers were willing to collectively create new knowledge and practices. Contrary to our hypothesis, the more reciprocal the social network around personal advice, the less the schools climate was perceived to be innovative. Moreover, the extent to which the advice networks are centralized around a few influential people is not significantly related to perceptions of innovativeness in schools. Therefore, these findings only provided partial support for Hypothesis 1.
Hypothesis 2 involved the relationship between advice network structures (density, reciprocity, and centralization) and SD (see Table 5). Results indicated a significant positive effect of the density of schools instrumental social network structure on SD, explaining 7.0% of the school-level variance, and 49.5% of the teacher-level variance. The more teachers were embedded in a densely connected work-related advice network, the more teachers perceived that they were involved in the decision-making process with their colleagues. This finding was not replicated in the expressive network, indicating that the number of personal advice relationships among team members did not significantly influence educators perceptions of shared decision-making. These results suggest that work-related advice relationships have a more substantial impact than personal relationships on creating a sense of involvement around decision-making in schools. Similar to the results of the IC analysis, reciprocity in both networks had no significant effect on SD. Surprisingly, the extent to which the advice networks were centralized did not significantly affect the teachers sense of shared decision-making. As such, Hypothesis 2 was only partially supported.
MEDIATING ROLE OF SHARED DECISION-MAKING IN PREDICTING SCHOOLS INNOVATIVE CLIMATE BY SOCIAL NETWORK STRUCTURE
To test whether SD played a mediating role (Hypothesis 3), additional analyses were conducted. We followed procedures as suggested by Baron and Kenny (1986) and Krull and MacKinnon (2001) to test for full mediation. Findings indicated that centralization was not significantly related to both IC and SD. Moreover, reciprocity was not significantly related to SD, as was the density of the expressive network. Thus, preconditions for mediation of the relationship between these social network measures and IC were not met. Therefore, we only tested the mediating role of SD in the relationship between density of the instrumental network and IC (see Model 3 in Table 5).
Previous analysis already established that the density of the instrumental social network structure accounted for significant variance in IC (Path c in Figure 1) (Betac = .145, p < .001). Findings also suggested that the density of the instrumental social network was positively related to schools SD (Path a) (Betaa = .114, p < .001). To confirm mediation, it must be shown that the mediator is related to the dependent variable while fixing the independent variable (Pearl, 2000). Therefore, we entered SD in the regression equation in which IC was regressed on the instrumental social network measures to examine whether this mediator accounted for any additional explained variance above the impact of social network structure on IC.
The mediator Model 3 (see Table 5) indeed explained more variance at both teacher and school level than the model without the mediator (Model 2a). Results showed that teachers shared decision-making influenced their perception of their schools innovative climate significantly, above the prediction of IC by social network measures (Betab = .368, p < .001). However, the main effect of density of the work-related advice network on schools innovative climate remains significant as well, indicating that density and SD both affect teachers perceptions of schools IC. Mediation by SD is evidenced when the direct effect of density on IC in this model is either zero (full mediation) or reduces significantly in absolute size (partial mediation). Addition of the proposed mediator SD to the regression equation reduces the direct effect of density on IC significantly (from Betac = .145, p < .001, to Betac = .103, p < .01), thus indicating partial mediation. Examination of Sobels (1982) test confirmed the significance of the reduction (Sobel test statistic = 3.46, p < .001). The mediated effect can now be calculated as (Betac - Betac) or Betaa * Betab, which results in a mediated effect of Betab = .04. This suggests that the relationship between density and IC is partially explained by SD. In other words, density of the work-related advice network facilitates the creation of new knowledge and builds orientation toward innovation partly because teachers in more densely connected advice networks perceive more participation in shared decision-making. Being embedded in a dense network of work-related advice facilitates a more innovation-supportive school climate and involves teachers in shared decision-making, which in turn also benefits this innovation-supportive school climate. Therefore, results provided partial support for Hypothesis 3.
In this line of inquiry, we explored the relationship between school-level social network structures and shared decision-making in support of a schools innovative climate. Our study was guided by three hypotheses built on literature around social networks and innovation. Hypothesis 1 concerned a test of the positive effect of school-level density, reciprocity, and centralization of advice networks on schools innovative climate. Our findings provided partial support for the first hypothesis, with density of work-related and personal advice networks having a significant positive effect on teachers perceptions of the extent to which their school is characterized by an innovation-supportive climate. Neither the amount of reciprocal relationships nor the centralization of the expressive and instrumental networks affected teachers perceptions of their schools innovative climate. Second, we hypothesized a positive effect of density and reciprocity and a negative effect of network centralization on shared in decision-making. Results partially confirmed Hypothesis 2, indicating that density of the work-related advice network positively influenced perceptions of shared decision-making. Third, we tested whether shared decision-making would positively mediate the relationship between schools social network structure and their innovative climate. Results also provided partial support for Hypothesis 3. The effect of the density of the work-related advice network on schools innovative climate could be partially explained by increased teacher involvement in decision-making.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
With government pressure on school systems to develop new knowledge and practices, there is an increasing need to better understand how organizations support orientation toward innovation. Scholarship from business indicates that ties within and across systems are important for innovation (McGrath & Krackhardt, 2003; Tenkasi & Chesmore, 2003). In addition, a few smaller scale studies within education suggest the relationship between innovation and social networks (Coburn & Russell, 2008; Penuel et al., 2009). This article contributes to the literature around innovation in education by empirically testing the predictive quality of advice relationships on innovative climate with a large sample of schools.
In this article, we draw on social network theory as a way to explore school organizations innovation-supportive climate rather than focus on the implementation of specific innovations. In support of this goal, we examined the relationship between social network structure and innovative climate in 53 schools in a large educational system in the Netherlands. We also explored the potential mediating effect of shared decision-making on the relationship between social network structure and schools innovative climate. The literature around innovation suggested that relationships involving risk-taking may support the development of new knowledge (Calantone et al., 2003; Hage, 1999; Nohari & Gulati, 1996). To operationalize these risk-taking relationships, we examined the social networks around work-related and personal advice because these relations imply a level of vulnerability and risk. Results indicated that school teams with more densely connected relationships around advice were characterized by a more innovative climate than less densely connected teams. These findings lend support to the importance of relational linkages (bonding) as a resource on which to draw in fostering and sustaining schoolwide innovation-supportive climates. In this section, we provide the key themes from our findings and implications for research and practice.
DEVELOPING ADVICE RELATIONSHIPS CATALYZES SCHOOLS INNOVATIVE CLIMATE
Our findings indicated that teachers embedded in more densely connected networks around work-related and personal advice perceive their schools climate as more innovation-supportive and more open to change and knowledge creation than schools with less dense networks. The relationships around work-related and personal advice have at their core a willingness to be vulnerable and engage in a level of risk-taking. It is this willingness to be vulnerable and engage in risk-taking with multiple others in the organization that appears important for the development of innovations and the creation of new knowledge at the school level. Risk-taking and vulnerability are central to trusting relations, which have been found to support productivity, leadership, and a more responsive climate in schools (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Daly, 2009; Frank et al., 2004; Tschannen-Moran, 2004). Our findings build on this work and suggest that relationships based in trust may also be associated with the generation of new knowledge and practices. Therefore, efforts to create trusting environments within a school may also improve the schools innovative climate.
Interestingly, patterns of reciprocity within work advice were not predictive of perceptions of the schools innovative climate, whereas reciprocity of personal advice was only slightly negatively related to innovative climate. This is not to suggest that reciprocated advice relations are not important within organizations; reciprocated relationships may in fact be very important in low-trust climates. Research has shown that low-trust settings in schools are characterized by less dense networks but relatively high reciprocity compared with high-trust settings (Moolenaar et al., 2009). In those uncertain environments in which trust is perceived to be lacking, actors may seek out only a few safe colleagues with whom to interact (Granovetter, 1982; Shah, 1998). In contrast, in systems in which relationships are embedded in a risk-tolerant climate, actors may depend less on reciprocated relationships with only a few reliable individuals, because there may be multiple other actors with whom one has trusting relations (Moolenaar et al.). This explanation may also account for the small negative correlation between reciprocity of personal advice and schools innovative climate.
Similarly, the extent to which schools social networks around work-related and personal advice are centralized did not affect perceptions of innovative climate and shared decision-making. In comparison, a rich stream of organizational literature has provided evidence of both positive and negative relationships between formal centralization and innovation (Moch & Morse, 1977). In education, scholars point to the potential benefits of the distribution of leadership among formal and informal leaders based on expertise and knowledge (Spillane, 2006) and suggest that formal centralization may hinder schools adaptation to changing environments (Ouchi, 2009; Tschannen-Moran, 2009). Although advice network centralization and innovative climate were weakly associated, multilevel analyses did not support a predictive relationship between centralization and innovative climate. In other words, the distribution of work and personal advice among team members did not influence teachers perceptions of the teams openness to change and willingness to collectively develop and implement new practices. Because few studies have addressed social network structures in schools, additional research is warranted to deepen our understanding of the extent to which, and the way in which, informal centralization and the distribution of leadership practices shape conditions for school improvement.
In the current educational climate, there is an increasing need to collaborate and redesign the way in which teachers work through managing and drawing on social ties (Honig, 2009). Access to these ties may be facilitated through a general orientation within the organization toward change and risk-taking. This orientation provides increased opportunities for actors to interact with multiple others and potentially create new knowledge and practices. Therefore, the more an organization provides opportunities for members to enter the stream of social activity, the more actors are exposed to multiple others, and the more likely new ideas can be exchanged and practices created. Innovation in this sense is a less linear process and involves more circular and recursive paths with multiple opportunities for the engagement of actors (Engeström, 1987; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Prochange environments may reduce the need to rely on only a few reciprocated relationships as the source of information, as may be the case in low-trust environments, and open the systems to multiple interactive opportunities for the development of new knowledge.
Research into innovation in schools suggests a relationship between a schools innovative climate, and expectations and satisfaction in regard to the degree of collaboration (Geijsel et al., 1999; Van den Berg & Sleegers, 1996b). Studies showed that teachers in schools with a strong innovative climate had higher expectations of collaboration than teachers in low-innovative-climate schools. In addition, teachers in innovative environments were less satisfied with the existing extent of collaboration in their schools and preferred a higher level of interaction. Our work suggests that a stronger innovative climate is related to higher levels of teacher interaction with regard to advice. This implies that in schools with strong innovation-supportive climates, there may be a continual push from within the school to intensify teacher interaction by setting and maintaining high goals for collaboration and its schoolwide outcomes.
INCREASING SHARED DECISION-MAKING IN SUPPORT OF SCHOOLS INNOVATIVE CLIMATE
The notion of being a part of a larger decision-making process has been suggested to provide ownership, responsibility, and ultimately success for school efforts (Chrispeels, 2004; Clune & White, 1988; Smylie, 1996). Moreover, this sense of shared decision-making is a critical foundation on which to deepen and sustain change efforts in schools (Coburn, 2003; Copland & Boatright, 2004). Our work suggests the importance of the relationship between shared decision-making and an innovative climate, which to date has had a limited empirical literature base (Frank et al., 2004). This study adds to the knowledge base in finding a significant positive relationship between teacher involvement in the decision-making processes and teacher perceptions of their schools innovative climate.
We found that although both the work-related and personal advice networks were predictive of schools innovative climate, it was only the work-related advice network structure that also predicted shared decision-making. Therefore, in supporting the collective development of new knowledge and practices and an open orientation toward improvement through innovation, teachers and leaders would be advised to create prochange climates in which members are encouraged to seek one another for work-related advice. Our findings also suggest the importance of teachers seeking work-related information from a variety of colleagues as a way to be informed members of shared decision-making processes in their schools.
Our results indicate that network relations are important in predicting teachers perceptions of their schools innovative climate. For work-related advice, this effect could be partially explained by teachers perceptions of shared decision-making. Therefore, shared decision-making can be seen as the means through which work-related advice relationships build a schoolwide innovative climate. This article provides evidence to suggest that teacher involvement in decision-making can be strengthened through more densely connected work related advice networks. To increase innovation potential, teachers and leaders would be well advised to invest in work-related advice relationships. As our work suggests, these work-related advice ties not only support the schools innovative climate, but also yield gains in shared decision-making that in turn augments the schools capacity to generate new knowledge and practices to constantly adapt to changing environments.
The larger implication of this work is for educational policy. Many educational policies stress the importance of access to technical knowledge and work-related information as important in the generation of new practices. Our findings indicated significant relationships between advice relations, shared decision-making, and innovative climate. However, many policy instruments are unidirectional in targeting the development of technical skills and rarely attend to relational linkages. Therefore, as policies around innovation are being crafted and implemented in both the Netherlands and the United States, policy makers would be well served to include both a human and social capital component in policy aimed at enhancing the orientation toward innovation of schools.
Although we see the potential of this article for influencing research and practice, we recognize its limitations. A sample size of 53 schools provided reasonable statistical power, but we acknowledge the sample size limits in making definite statistical claims. However, finding statistically significant effects of the magnitude as reported suggests the importance of the relationships under examination (Mohammed & Ringseis, 2001). Studies including larger and more varied samples are clearly indicated. We also would like to test the relationships with schools in different stages of reform efforts at multiple levels (secondary and higher education). It should be noted that Dutch schools in general serve fewer students than elementary schools in the United States, which may limit generalizability to larger school districts in the United States. Moreover, although causality of the relationships in the study is suggested by literature, our methods were not intended to validate the causal nature of these relationships. Therefore, caution must be exercised in regard to causal interpretation of the findings.
Several authors have investigated teacher social networks by choosing the teacher as the level of analysis (Coburn & Russell, 2008; Penuel et al., 2009). Our study extends the potential of social network research in education by examining social networks at the school level. We illustrated that examining a larger sample of schools renders valuable insights in the variability of social network structures among schools and its influence on school outcomes, such as orientation toward innovation. While acknowledging the value of studying teacher interactions at the individual level, we also underscore the need for studies of social networks with schools as the unit of analysis, given that these studies can identify differences between schools that modify their potential to meet goals. In addition, studies that include social network measures at multiple levels of analysis are needed to clarify the interplay between social relationships at both teacher and school level. Multilevel social network studies have the potential to refine our understanding of social linkages in relation to characteristics that are associated with teacher communities, such as trust, collective efficacy, shared norms and values, and ultimately student achievement.
Although in this study, we did not formally examine the role of leadership in supporting organizational capacity for innovation, many of our findings may be directly related to the practice of leadership. As has been noted in the literature, climates that support risk-taking and reflection are necessary components for an innovative climate (Calantone et al., 2003; Hage, 1999; Nohari & Gulati, 1996). Leadership may play an important role in providing opportunities for increased interaction and engaging teachers in shared decision-making (Geijsel et al., 2009). In fact, recent research suggests that the more opportunities for involvement provided to teachers, the more flexible educators are in responding to increasing demands for improvement (Daly, 2009).
Approaching leadership as a shared practice that is spread over actors is a central feature in the study of distributed leadership. The developing empirical base around distributed leadership suggests a positive relationship between the distribution of leadership and school change (Harris, 2007; Spillane, 2006). This work around distributed leadership underscores the manner in which leadership provides opportunities for teacher involvement around decision-making, with recent work suggesting strong relationships with professional learning communities (Stoll & Louis, 2007). Future work in this field may also assist in more nuanced understanding of professional learning communities as potential structures to improve student achievement. The intersection among social networks, teacher involvement, and distributed leadership appears a rich area for further investigation.
TIES WITH POTENTIAL
Government pressures in the Netherlands and the United States continue to demand innovative practices in order to increase performance. However, despite the push for more innovation, there is a limited empirical base on supportive conditions for innovation in schools. In this article, we suggest that the first step in the push for innovation is to understand what makes the fertile ground on which innovations can flourish. Building and sustaining relationships that support risk-taking and informed participation appear to be one route to increase the organizational capacity to innovate and perhaps ultimately improve performance. It is through these ties with potential that the development and generation of new knowledge and practices flow and hold the promise of building capacities toward improvement.
1. For example, a teacher with 0.40 FTE is employed at the school for (a total of) two days per week.
2. SES is calculated as the weighted percentage of students for whom the school receives extra financial resources.
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