Redesigning Schools: Professional Capacity - Building the Capacity for Improvement

November 07, 2013
Stephen Tierney

Post is reblogged from Stephen Tierney’s personal blog as Leading Learner

We may have a national phobia about mathematics but understanding this formula is the key to leaders releasing the greatness within our schools, PC = f (HC, SC, DC).  Andy Hargreaves led a fascinating second day of the Redesigning Schools Symposia in Manchester focussed on building and releasing Professional Capital.  His full presentation can be found here.  This blog is an attempt to provide a summary of the day, with thanks to Andy and colleagues in the room for their inspiration, and a few thoughts of how we might release the massive potential in our schools.

Professional Capital - Hargreaves & Fullan

_Capital relates to one’s own group or worth, particularly concerning assets that can be leveraged to accomplish desired goals.” _

 (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012)

Current business model looks at teaching as a very simple process that doesn’t require much beyond a degree and passion. It’s not hard and can be picked up quickly. Online courses are equally effective as teachers but more efficient. The process is data driven - spot the gap and sort it.  This view differs massively from the Professional Capital view, established in most successful school systems in the World, that assume good teaching:

  1. is technically sophisticated and difficult
  2. requires high levels of education & long training
  3. is perfected through continuous improvement
  4. involves wise judgement informed by evidence and experience
  5. is a collective accomplishment and responsibility
  6. maximises, mediates and moderates online instruction

Andy Hargreaves explained his formula for transforming teaching, PC = f (HC, SC, DC), as the fusion of human capital, social capital and decisional capital that together combine to produce professional capital.

Human Capital

This consists of the qualifications, knowledge, preparation skills and emotional intelligence of the people employed within schools.  The “solutions” to achieving higher human capital are:

  1. Recruit from the top academic tiers
  2. Select for moral commitment & emotional intelligence
  3. Rigorous preparation in theory & practice
  4. Take pay off the table
  5. Attractive working & collegial environment
  6. Talk up teaching as a profession

The idea is simply to get the best possible people into teaching.  However, that is not enough as the best possible people working in isolation will either become disillusioned at the scale of the challenge or burnout.  The more that is needed brings in the idea of social capital.

Social Capital

This consists of trust, collaboration, collective responsibility, mutual assistance, professional networks and “push, pull & nudge” (leadership approaches).  Social capital exists in the relationships between people.  Its positive impact is explained through the quantity and quality of social relationships and interactions that increases individual’s knowledge and skills through groups sharing their collective human capital with each other.  This neatly explains for me the huge impact that the SSAT System Redesign work had on my own school as I learnt so much from the fantastic leaders involved.  It also gives me great hope that the new Redesigning Schools Network will be able to share and spread the human capital across those schools involved.  It may also help explain why cross phase professional development has such a positive impact – there is simply greater human capital, greater range of knowledge and skills, when teachers from different phases work together.  People improve with high social capital, the “right” people around you help to raise your game.  The story doesn’t end here as there is one more element that needs to be thrown into the mix.  Great people working together and increasing their skills and knowledge is a fantastic but it is how we put all this capital together for the benefit of the students we teach that puts the final piece in the jigsaw – decisional capital is required.

Decisional Capital

This consists of the judgement we show, case experience, practice, challenge & stretch and reflection. It is about how we develop wisdom (good judgement) over time that enables us to become more and more capable within our chosen vocation of teaching.

The solutions to increasing decisional capital are:

  1. 10,000 hours of deliberate practice
  2. Stimulating & challenging new experiences
  3. Mentoring & coaching
  4. Enquiry projects
  5. Alternative & flexible career paths
  6. Targeted career progression
  7. Sabbaticals and study leave.

Having recently read a great blog “Becoming a Better Teacher by Deliberate Practice” by “huntingenglish” that resonated with research presented by Dylan Wiliam about the need for 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, not just any old practice, to master the craft of teaching here are a few thoughts on moving forward:

Student Voice

We’re just about to undertake our biggest ever student voice exercise on teaching and learning using twenty five questions either adapted or based on the MET (2010) study plus a number focussed on areas of interest to us.  We trialled the questions and the software in the Autumn Term.  Once students have entered their responses on-line using google docs the genius of JJE’s deviously clever programme will deliver feedback to each individual teacher.  This will be collated to a departmental level and a whole school level and can be analysed in multiple ways.  The key to improvement will be what we do with this data.  Imagine each teacher takes a strength and works with other teachers who have a strength in the same area, in a focussed manner, to make it a “super strength”, that is they become expert.  Each teacher also chooses an area of weakness identified by the data and then works with an “expert” identified by the data to improve.  The teacher sticks with two simple foci and works on them for six months by which time the next student voice data collection will occur and they can see the impact of their improving practice.  The outcome will hopefully be increased human capital built through the use of social capital.  This can then be converted into the decisional capital of better and better decision making in the classroom about the approaches to take when teaching our students.

Innovation Fellows

Innovation Fellows have evolved from the original idea floated with staff about three to four years ago involving a member of staff who wants to develop a radically new idea at the College.

“The new idea must lead to improved standards of attainment, levels of achievement, student well-being or student personal development.

  • The Innovation Fellow must be committed to acting as a “Venture Educator”.  A Venture Educator:

    • _Believes if it is already happening at St. Mary’s then s/he is too late and will move on to the next idea/innovation. _
    • S/he is continually scanning the educational horizon and reflecting on the new trends and opportunities that may be available.  S/he has the reasoning skills required to weigh up the evidence available concerning new and different trends, evaluate the potential benefits and reached measured judgements about the best way forward.
    • Is willing to take risks as s/he appreciate a number of the ideas/innovations will be losers but when s/he finds a winner students benefit big time.  S/he also understands the need to be responsible and that risk taking does not involve being reckless with young people’s education.
    • Challenges conventional wisdom and is willing to swim against the tide.  S/he is resilient and keeps going to develop new ways of thinking and doing things.
    • Backs his/her own intuition and is highly resourceful in developing the ideas as there is no well trodden path to walk or anyone who can tell you what to do.
  • A Venture Educator’s “win” is world class standards, levels of achievement, student well-being and student personal development.
  • The Innovation Fellow must commit to being part of a College based innovation group that will seek to capture and transfer knowledge at a college, local, regional & national level.
  • Innovation Fellows will be appointed in March/April prior to the academic year in which they are mandated to undertake their work.”

Our innovation fellows are given a reduced timetable of between 0.1-0.2 fte for two years to take forward a piece of action research and work alongside colleagues as a coach in the classroom.  The area for the action research is their choice.  Innovation fellows are determined by the senior leadership team following receipt of an application letter.  If you’re interested in this idea you may want to look at the following guide which I think may be really useful in the action research element of the role

Innovation Companies

This was an idea I “magpied” from somewhere – unfortunately I can’t remember where so can’t acknowledge the source properly.

“Innovation Companies can be set up, using innovation funds, to develop and embed new cutting edge practice within the College.  They must be theme based and operate across departments or year groups.

  • _Each Innovation Company must have a named leader who will be responsible for the company and its outcomes and leading a group of staff between 4-12 people in size.  _
  • _Innovation Companies can be set up by any member of staff who has completed the L2 Leadership Course. _
  • The leader of the Innovation Company must commit to being part of a College based innovation group that will seek to capture and transfer knowledge at a college, local and regional level.
  • The £50 bond per member of staff per annum will be invested in the Innovation Company and will be matched funded by the College.  Each person who contributes a bond must take an active part in the company.
  • Innovation funds can be used to take forward an idea/innovation from a member of staff or group of staff that will lead to improved standards of attainment, levels of achievement, student well-being or student personal development.
  • Requests can be submitted any time between June and October half term and the funds will remain in place for the academic year.
  • Student innovators would be able to act as “shareholders” and invest a sum of funding, via a bond, to sponsor a particular innovation company.
  • Funding released following the Innovation Company’s idea and evaluation criteria being accepted.”

It received exactly zero applications when I first launched it and so I took the hint and didn’t bother again.  However, I think it has real potential and does seem to link to building human, social and decisional capital.  Maybe it was a bit too complicated or my timing, just going into a really complex BSF/PCP build, was not exactly the best.  With the end of the build in sight and a really committed staff at the school maybe it is time to rethink the scheme and relaunch it.  I’m also wondering whether it would be better if a group of staff would be prepared to receive the applications for the Innovation Companies and determine which ones to back.

“Good learning comes from good teaching. More and better learning and greater achievement for everyone requires being able to find and keep more good teachers.”

(Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012)

 Teaching “like a pro” means continuously enquiring into and improving own practice; planning and improving teaching in a high performing team and linking to the wider professional community and its development.

I would understand many school leaders looking at the above and beginning to glaze over then start to disengage as it all seems unrealistic.  We are an incredibly creative and resourceful profession and it is genuinely not beyond us to redesign our approach to professional development to encompass new and different approaches.  The cost of not doing so may be far more frightening than the cost of the redesign.

Thanks to Andy Hargreaves for a fantastic day and to Sue Williamson who is leading the SSAT onto fertile and crucially important ground.  Interested in Redesigning Schools?  Get involved.

Stephen Tierney In September 2013, Stephen became the Executive Headteacher of a Blackpool federation.  He is one of SSAT’s long standing advocates and his contribution to the early System Redesign and Four Deeps research is valued highly.