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What is Professional Capital and how can it transform your school?

“People can only teach like pros when they want and know how to do so”.

This simple line got my attention and made me read on.

I am currently reading Professional Capital- Transforming Teaching in Every School and felt compelled to share an extract from the introduction as it has completely changed the way I think about professional development in schools.

In the extract below Hargreaves and Fullan describe the difference between business capital and professional capital. As someone born and raised in England, it’s sad to see that the UK has been used as an example of a country where schools find good teachers, but don’t really develop or invest in existing human capital—hunting for talented individuals, working them hard, and moving them on when they get restless or become spent.

Without doubt, there are many schools out there who are invested in professional capital. Off the top of my head: UK school leaders such as Jeremy Hannay and Chris Dyson and UAE school leaders such as Sasha Crabb and Jeremy Williams are just a few examples of leaders who are clearly invested in building and developing the capabilities of their staff for the long-term.

According to Hargreaves and Fullan, Professional capital is itself made up of three other kinds of capital— human, social, and decisional. A lot has been written about the first kind— human capital. However, the best leaders know you can’t get much human capital by just focusing on the capital of individuals. Capital has to be circulated and shared. Groups, teams, and communities are far more powerful than individuals when it comes to developing human capital. Therefore, social capital is key to building professional capital as a group .

Hargreaves and Fullan measure this in terms of the frequency and focus of conversations and interactions with peers surrounding instruction, that are based on feelings of trust and closeness between teachers. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the examples of leaders above and many others school leaders are regular contributors to discussions within the teaching community on Twitter, which shows their collaborative nature and commitment to professional capital, not just within their school, but with educators worldwide.

The more I read about leadership, the theme of building a healthy culture within your school or organisation continuously comes up. According to Hargreaves and Fullan: When the vast majority of teachers come to exemplify the power of professional capital, they become smart and talented, committed and collegial, thoughtful and wise. If we can build a culture like that, we can’t fail!

I’m going to keep reading to find out what the practical steps are to create this in our schools. Educators- Please comment, if you have suggestions that have worked for you.

In the meantime, here is the extract from Professional Capital- Transforming Teaching in Every School in full:

CAPITAL RELATES to one’s own or a group’s worth, particularly concerning assets that can be leveraged to accomplish desired goals. We already know about business and financial capital. We understand that you have to make an investment if you want a return, that if you want growth, you can’t just squirrel away your assets but instead you need to put them to work.

Capital must circulate if assets are going to grow. And governments are crucial in creating the conditions and the levels of confidence that can stimulate or discourage capital investment. Of course, we’re not talking only about financial capital—we’re talking about how we invest in people and get returns from those investments too.

People have written about and argued in favor of developing many different kinds of capital. Financial capital is the obvious one. But cultural capital, spiritual capital, “natural” capital, and even “erotic” capital all have their proponents as well. This book is about professional capital. It takes the basic and powerful idea of capital and articulates its importance for professional work, professional capacity, and professional effectiveness- particularly in the teaching profession.

TWO KINDS OF CAPITAL


People don’t really disagree about the importance of getting and keeping good teachers and good teaching. However, two schools of thought about different kinds of capital are driving entire nations in diametrically opposite directions on this front.

Business Capital


In the first view, what kinds of teachers we need and how best to get them
are driven by ideas about business capital. Here, following the collapse of
worldwide property and financial markets, the primary purpose of education is to serve as a big new market for investment in technology, curriculum and testing materials, and schools themselves as for-profit enterprises. In the estimates of some multinational moguls, this is a massive $500 billion market. When education is organized to get quick returns on business investment, and to increase immediate returns by lowering that investment, it favors a teaching force that is young, flexible, temporary, inexpensive to train at the beginning, un-pensioned at the end (except by teachers’ own self-investment), and replaceable wherever possible by technology. Finding and keeping good teachers then becomes about seeking out and deploying (but not really developing or investing in) existing human capital—hunting for talented individuals, working them hard, and moving them on when they get restless or become spent. This is the human widget image of the profession.


The business capital strategy toward teaching is advocated aggressively in
the United States and is gaining ground in places like the United Kingdom
and several countries in Europe. Yet, as we will see later, none of the most
successful school systems around the world go anywhere near this approach in building one of their most valuable societal assets. In Finland, South Korea, and Singapore, teachers are nation builders, top leaders say. They are indispensable national assets.

Professional Capital


A second view—our own—promotes what we call professional capital. This strategy has already been adopted by the highest performing economies and educational systems in the world. Countries and communities that invest in professional capital recognize that educational spending is a long-term investment in developing human capital from early childhood to adult life, to reap rewards of economic productivity and social cohesion in the next generation. A big part of this investment is in high-quality teachers and teaching. In this view, getting good teaching for all learners requires teachers to be highly committed, thoroughly prepared, continuously developed, properly paid, well networked with each other to maximize their own improvement, and able to make effective judgments using all their capabilities and experience.


Professional capital is itself made up of three other kinds of capital—
human, social, and decisional. A lot has been written about the first kind—
human capital. Alan Odden’s book on The Strategic Management of Human
Capital in Education defines human capital as “talent” and describes how to
get more of it, develop it, and sustain it. Strangely, though, as we will show,
you can’t get much human capital by just focusing on the capital of individuals. Capital has to be circulated and shared. Groups, teams, and communities are far more powerful than individuals when it comes to developing human capital.


Human capital therefore must be complemented by and even organized
in terms of what is called social capital. Like human capital, the idea and
strategy of social capital, as we will explain later, also has a distinguished
history. The important point for now concerns the contributions of human
and social capital, respectively. Carrie Leana, a business professor at the
University of Pittsburgh, points out the well-known finding that patterns of
interaction among teachers and between teachers and administrators that
are focused on student learning make a large and measurable difference in student achievement and sustained improvement. She calls this social capital, which she contrasts with individual capital that is based on the belief in the power of individuals to change the system. By contrast, Leana shows that the group is far more powerful than the individual. You need individuals, of course, but the system won’t change, indeed individuals won’t change in large numbers, unless development becomes a persistent collective enterprise.



In short, high social capital and high human capital must be combined. Because it is necessary to have both high human and high social capital, the question remains: How can we develop both of them? Here is the answer: If you concentrate your efforts on increasing individual talent, you will have a devil of a job producing greater social capital. There is just no mechanism or motivation to bring all that talent together. The reverse is not true. High social capital does generate increased human capital. Individuals get confidence, learning, and feedback from having the right kind of people and the right kinds of interactions and relationships around them.

Consider what happens when a talented individual enters a school low on social capital. Although it is possible to make a difference through heroic effort, eventually the overwhelming likelihood is that the person will leave or burn out in the process. We set out considerable evidence later on to back up this observation. Now consider the reverse: A teacher who is low on human capital and has poor initial confidence or undeveloped skills enters a highly collaborative school. Chances are high that this teacher will be socialized into greater teamwork and receive the assistance, support, ideas, and feedback to help him or her improve. This is dramatically powerful when you stop and think about it. Imagine that you would become a better teacher just by joining the staff of a different and better school.


Everything we say about individual human capital versus collaborative
social capital applies not only to teachers but also to schools. A few unusually innovative schools or ones that beat the odds here or there through the brilliance of individual teachers, the charismatic leadership of their principals, and the endless self-sacrifice of everyone may perform far beyond expectations for a few years. But efforts to turn around individual schools by finding the right individual leaders, or by replacing all the bad individual teachers with good ones, or by parachuting in an outside intervention team are doomed to achieve temporary gains at best. The gains almost always disappear after the intervention teams pull out, once the key leaders leave, or when the overworked and isolated staff finally run out of steam. If we need much more social capital within our schools—colleague to colleague, peer to peer—we need this just as much across and between our schools. Professional capital as human capital plus social capital is therefore a personal thing, a within-school thing, and a whole-system thing. In the end, professional capital must become a system quality and a system commitment if it is to develop school systems further.


There is more. Professional capital also has a third essential element. We will unpack this later, but think of professional capital as the product of human capital, and social capital, and decisional capital. Making decisions in complex situations is what professionalism is all about. The pros do this all the time. They come to have competence, judgment, insight, inspiration, and the capacity for improvisation as they strive for exceptional performance. They do this when no one is looking, and they do it through and with their colleagues and the team. They exercise their judgments and decisions with collective responsibility, openness to feedback, and willing transparency. They are not afraid to make mistakes as long as they learn from them. They have pride in their work. They are respected by peers and by the public for knowing what they are doing. They strive to outdo themselves and each other in a spirit of making greater individual and collective contributions.


When the vast majority of teachers come to exemplify the power of professional capital, they become smart and talented, committed and collegial, thoughtful and wise. Their moral purpose is expressed in their relentless, expert-driven pursuit of serving their students and their communities, and in learning, always learning, how to do that better.

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