Social Network Analysis & Network Weaving

Social Network Analysis and Network Weaving in a fifth grade classroom

I noticed this article, One Teacher’s Brilliant Strategy to Stop Future School Shootings—And It’s Not About Guns, making the rounds on Facebook in the wake of the latest school shooting in Florida.  It’s about a teacher’s weekly practice to identify students at risk for loneliness, rejection, isolation — and, just maybe, to prevent future school shootings.  Here’s the author’s description:

Every Friday afternoon, she asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student who they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, she takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her, and studies them. She looks for patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who can’t think of anyone to request?

Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down—right away—who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.

Put another way, each week this teacher conducts a social network analysis, with information about the students (“nodes”) in her classroom and the subjectively felt connections among them.  And, to the extent that she takes any actions to mitigate the isolation of any of her students, she is network weaving.

This teacher’s simple practice illustrates lessons that apply to social networks at all scales — from a fifth grade classroom to international peace building initiatives:

  • Networks exist all around us.  Almost every social context can be considered in terms of its identity and purpose as a network.
  • Networks tend to be invisible and amorphous, often overshadowed by more formal structures.  We usually don’t think of networks as entities that have meaningfully discernable structures.
  • Information about connections among members of the network can be ascertained.
  • Such connection information can be represented visually, revealing structures and patterns within the network.
  • These structures change over time.
  • Deliberate actions can be taken to influence (“weave”) the structure, to make the network more robust and resilient, and to more effectively realize objectives of the network weaver.

Just as we often don’t notice or name the networks around us, we are often unaware of the social network analysis and network weaving happening all the time by people who may not use those terms, but who intuitively realize that we live in a world of networks that can be comprehended and influenced.  Maybe we can make more efforts to notice and name when these happen, and enhance our collective network consciousness.

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