Building Professional Capital

Recently, YouTube in partnership with the Khan Academy put the call out for educational content creators to train and mentor a growing online learning audience. In many parts of America, mandated participation in online courses as part of students’ K-12 schooling is on the rise. Massive online open courses (MOOCs) are emerging in the higher education sector, challenging traditional approaches to tertiary education, which is evidenced by declining enrolments in some tertiary courses. Senator Stephen Conroy last week challenged Australian universities to rethink their business models to incorporate MOOCs or risk becoming irrelevant. This raises alarm bells for me about the quality of instruction and students’ engagement in learning.

If we agree that teachers make the biggest difference to student learning outcomes, we need to ensure online learning models are not harnessed in such a way as to reduce education to a self-serve product.

While the proliferation of online educational content certainly provides an opportunity to influence the delivery and engagement of contemporary learning and teaching, we cannot lose sight of the important role that teachers play in engaging students in deep learning. We know the relationship between the teacher and the student in the presence of content (Elmore, 2009) – the instructional core – is paramount to the learning and teaching process. If technology supplants teachers and students become learners in isolation, this is not only detrimental to the development of critical thinking skills, but also for their capacity for deeper learning and understanding.

Andy Hargreaves and myself at the 2012 ADC lecture.

The focus for education, then, needs to be in building teachers’ capabilities: individually and collectively. We were privileged to have Andy Hargreaves deliver Catholic Education’s annual Ann D Clark lecture recently to over 300 educators. He warned of the increasing prevalence of the ‘business capital’ approach to education i.e. short-term investment (e.g. online delivery models) for quick return, saying the education sector had become a lucrative market for investors.

‘When we begin to move the whole profession of education to serve the short-term interests of business capital, it comes at an immense price and carries dangerous assumptions about the nature of the teacher and whether or not this is even a profession,’ (Hargreaves, 2012)

In their book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) identify three components of ‘professional capital’ – human, social and decisional – which he says, when developed in concert, will build the teaching profession.

  • ‘Human capital’ refers to highly qualified teachers having the content knowledge and an understanding of child psychology, individual pre-service training and preparation, emotional intelligence and capability in relationships
  • ‘Social capital’ refers to trust, collaboration, collective responsibility, peer pressure and support, mutual assistance and networks
  • ‘Decisional capital’ (a term coined by Fullan and Hargreaves) refers to the teacher’s judgement, in case experience and lots of practice, in a teacher’s ability to reflect alone and together on their practice and to adjust their practice to improve students’ learning accordingly.

Building professional capital needs to take place throughout a teacher’s career in various ways at various stages because Hargreaves suggests it takes around eight years or 10,000 hours to develop expertise in the profession of teaching through practice and concerted effort.

Hargreaves says quality teachers need to:

  • understand that teaching is technically difficult
  • know cognitive science
  • understand a range of special education abilities
  • know about differentiated instruction
  • be able to assess in a sophisticated, diagnostic way
  • have massive emotional intelligence
  • have high levels of education and long periods of rigorous training
  • be able to use judgement, wisdom and discernment to know what’s in the spreadsheet of data to connect it to the students and to the knowledge they’re trying to acquire.

Teaching is not an individual task, but is something that is done collectively with other people as a community that takes time, investment, conditions and support. These human capabilities and the collaborative aspect of teaching (social capital) cannot be substituted with an online learning system alone.

I was pleased to read Khan Academy founder, Salman Khan, tackle the concern that the Khan Academy was a way to replace teachers:

‘Human teachers will become far more valuable in the future because [the classroom] will be a more interactive place and they are going to be doing the things computers cannot do, which is form bonds, motivate, mentor, diagnose,’ (Salman Khan, 2012).

I couldn’t agree more. There is, and always will be, a role for teachers.

4 thoughts on “Building Professional Capital

  1. Greg,
    I think you might be equally “upset” to learn that in a recent discussion forum (Linkedin) people, that includes teachers (mainly in the US) were saying that 3 years in the classroom qualified people to start applying for school leadership positions.

    Now I know I’m coming at this from another angle but in light of Hargraves position on how long it takes to gain “expertise” in the classroom I did suggest in the forum that at least 5 years concentrating on instruction (in the broadest sense) might start to give someone a base to lead others in the profession (note that when I say lead I mean instructional leadership).

    I do like Andy’s list as a base for considering some of the things teachers might work on to gain a rounded sense of expertise.

    1. Certainly school leaders need to have a good amount of expertise, but it’s never too early to start identifying teachers who would make good leaders and mentor them to become good instructional leaders – the earlier the better. Good instructional leaders understand the important practices of collaboration and bringing data to bear on the work of learning and teaching. However, not all potential leaders will have the same amount of instructional expertise. Take James Bond in Canada for example who I met earlier this year. He trained as a teacher but then gained several years of experience outside the classroom which strengthened his understanding and application of theory and practice and honed his ability to practise instructional leadership. Although he didn’t have a traditional teaching career path, he understands how to lead the learning in the school.

  2. Greg, I just briefed all of the Dean’s at a uni last week regarding MOOCs and the broader Open paradigm – two points that I raised were in regard to the possible commoditisation of students and the impact that drop out raters of 90%+ would have on institutional brands. Unis are coming to the understanding that all modes (on-campus, blended or fully online) are equally important.

    Sustainability pressures may well see some make Faustian deals, however higher ed students as the customer, end-user and ultimate arbiter of quality (through satisfaction surveys) will drive institutional behaviour to a great extent.

    Schools are at the nexus of each individuals personal growth and learning outcomes and the broader communities aspirations and needs. Teachers do make the difference in student outcomes and quality principal-ship makes the difference in guiding and nurturing the collaboration, reflection and success of each learning community.

    Educational content is a commodity but Hargreave’s 8 quality indicators ensure that teaching cannot be commoditised.

    1. Agreed, Tony. Changing the system in tertiary education to save institutions money without consideration for the impact teachers have on students’ learning is unlikely to pay dividends. Time will tell how this will play out but you are right when you say educators and leaders play a key role – it’s not just about the end-user experience in determining educational quality.

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