A Review of The Networked Teacher by Kira-Baker Doyle

Emily Magee, University of Pennsylvania

The Networked Teacher by Kira Baker-Doyle provides beginning teachers, teacher educators, school administrators, and interested scholars with a lens to examine new teachers’ social networks and their impact on a teacher’s development and success. Through an immersion in social network theory, paired with stories of real first-year teachers, readers are exposed to the complex role that networks play in a new teacher’s personal and professional life. Additionally, Baker-Doyle provides the tools—a vocabulary and a pair of frameworks—for readers to examine and grow their own networks.

The first section of the book is dedicated to the first of two frameworks: the Continuum of New Teacher Support. This continuum characterizes the types of support offered by a school or program to its new teachers. Support ranges from traditional (i.e. short, infrequent support that sees teachers as isolated deliverers of content) to reform perspectives (i.e. long-term, frequent support that treats teachers as collaborative, reflective professionals). Though most schools fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum, research supports Baker-Doyle’s assertion that reform development approaches—ones that view teaching as collaborative, PD as long-term and frequent, and teachers as reflective, constructive professionals—are preferable. This portion of the book provides the information and the impetus for school administrators and teacher mentors to analyze and adjust their own approach to new teacher support. 

 While this initial continuum frames Baker-Doyle’s discussion, the primary focus of the book is the second framework. This second framework explains how teachers’ social networks impact their access to the continuum of formal supports. Here Baker-Doyle borrows from social network theory, distinguishing between teachers’ strong and weak ties. Baker-Doyle divides teacher networks into two distinct types: Intentional Professional Networks and a Network of Diverse Professional Allies. Their Intentional Professional Network is a primarily local network of colleagues a teacher “select[s] to collaborate and interact with to solve professional problems” (p. 22). These networks help teachers to “navigate the norms of their schools, establish their status and professional identify, solve everyday problems, and feel more confident about their work” (p. 22). Meanwhile, Diverse Professional Allies are often community members (parents and students) who “provide new ideas, foster innovation, and, for the teachers, a deeper sense of engagement with students and their curriculum” (p. 58). Each supports new teachers in important but distinct ways, and throughout the book, Baker-Doyle describes how the size and strength of these networks are essential to a new teacher’s ability to survive and thrive.

To help differentiate between Intentional Professional Networks and Diverse Professional Allies, as well as to offer concrete examples of the impact of strong and weak networks, Baker-Doyle provides case studies of four beginning teachers. Through these case studies, Baker-Doyle neatly connects their struggles and successes to the quality and size of their networks. The four cases typify a range of first year teacher personas, and their networks vary in size, composition, location, and impact. These cases provide readers with a welcome set of concrete examples to ground an often theory-heavy book. 

If we accept that teaching done well is not done in isolation, we recognize the necessity and inherent value of networks. Baker-Doyle’s book makes the strong case that beginning teachers need to purposefully network. It may be debatable whether network members can be so neatly defined as Diverse Professional Allies or as part of an Intentional Professional Network, but the value of examining and reflecting on one’s network cannot be denied. The book wisely advises readers to map their own network, to identify needs and gaps, and to take action to grow and develop their network. Despite the inevitable challenges new teachers will face, this book provides concrete, actionable steps that have been shown to lead to improved practice, and to help all teachers to become Networked Teachers.

 

Emily Magee

is a doctoral student in Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum at Penn GSE. She taught middle school math for three years before coming to Penn and continues to focus on math education.