The Advantage of Professional Capital


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As part of my role with NHASCD, I was able to have dinner with well known educational speaker and author Andy Hargreaves and his wife last year when he spoke in Concord, NH as part of our professional development series. Andy is a Professor at Boston College, grew up in England, and has written or edited more than 25 books. In the last few years, has become a leading voice of educational change in America.

During our meal, he mentioned that he and Michael Fullan were ready to publish a ground breaking book. Indeed, Professional Capital – Transforming Teaching in Every School is a practical read with much to say about how we can change our educational system in America to match the progress made by Finland, Singapore and Canada.

The basic premise is that there are two broad views of education in our current era. The Business Capital perspective promotes a simplified view of teaching – in a short period of time, educators can be given the knowledge they need for effective teaching. There is no need for advanced degrees or robust training. The program (often based in technology) can lead the way and frequently replaces the teacher entirely. Conversely, Professional Capital states that teaching IS rocket science. It requires advanced degrees, regular professional development, and collaboration between colleagues.

The authors then delineate Professional Capital into three categories: 1.) Human Capital, 2.) Social Capital, and 3.) Decisional Capital.

Human Capital is what a teacher brings to the table. It’s her intelligence, training, passion, and habits of mind. 

Social Capital is the conditions that exist within a school. When a school exhibits a positive school culture with high staff morale, then that school’s social capital is a real strength.

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.

Decisional Capital reflects the wisdom that exists on a staff with veteran teachers. Educators who have been in the business for a number of years make decisions based on experience and can help the younger teachers develop solid decision making.

Perhaps the most salient point the authors make is that a teacher with below average human capital can be hired into a school building with high social capital and suddenly become an average to above average teacher. In fact, social capital is more influential than human capital as a lead strategy. 

There is widespread agreement now that of all the factors inside the school that affect children’s learning and achievement, the most important is the teacher— not standards, assessments, resources, or even the school’s leadership , but the quality of the teacher.

Hargreaves and Fullan have seen high performing schools in Finland, Ontario, SIngapore, and other locations across the world. The key to real academic success has been investment in professional capital.

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.

Educational leaders must resist the temptation to buy the latest program and engage in a business capital approach.  As we head toward a world of Common Core Standards, the upcoming Smarter Balanced assessments, and continuous comparisons to other nations’ educational systems, we must invest in a professional capital approach.

One comment Add yours
  1. A helpful analysis of an excellent book by two of my favorite authors (both of whom are wise & wonderful, and also witty!). I’m looking forward to when they’ll write a follow up, with exemplars from all over the U.S., not just international schools etc. We know that investment in “professional capital” is definitely what truly makes a difference for everyone involved in any school or organization. Thanks for the post!

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