Professional Development and Professional Learning come in many forms for the modern teacher. In recent years, the term teacher capacity has been widely used. However, with the revolution of technology and the development of contemporary pedagogy which can enhance Professional Learning, a new concept called Professional Capital is beginning to emerge.
The concept of Professional Capital has been championed by none other than Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves. Their book, Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching In Every School, explains the concept in great depth.
Fullan and Hargreaves speak of two approaches when developing teaching capital. It can be hard to explain because capital is not something we normally associate with teaching. Investment bankers, on the other hand know a lot about capital growth. A banker knows that if you want to get a return you need to make an initial investment. The question for us is, what do teachers invest to grow their capital?
One way to look at teaching capital growth is to think of it as a business model. Here, business people look for short-term profits. In this model, teachers are asked to trial techniques that produce changes almost instantly in student data . It is a quick results concept the goes against the grain of many things that we do in education. This business model looks for ways quickly transform traditional practices in order to efficiently obtain short-term goals and desired data. This view is short-sighted and will not deliver the sustainable long-term change that we all desire.
The other style is a Professional Capital approach. This is a far more long-term strategy. Over time, professional capital policies and practices build up the expertise of teachers individually and collectively to make a difference in the learning and achievements of all students.
Professional Capital at Work
Carrie Leana of the University of Pittsburgh highlights the relationship between human and social capital. In a study that was centred on schools in New York City she examined three things. She looked at Human Capital, the Qualities of Individuals and Teaching Qualifications/Competencies. The study found that schools with strong social and human capital do better statistically. It seems that being in a school and working with others who are effective teachers rubs off on colleagues and helps engage them. In some sense the Social Capital is almost contagious and the spirit of quality teaching infects the staff.
In their work, Fullan and Hargreaves identify four types of teachers. One area they look at are those teachers in the mid-career range which qualifies as anywhere from 4 to 20 years teaching experience. Studies have shown that these teachers, on average, are quite committed and very capable. They are also teachers who, on average, have clocked up about 10 000 hours of teaching practise. That number 10 000 is quite important. There are a number of researchers who claim that it takes 10 000 hours to become a master of any profession.
This theory has been tested a number of times. It has been cleverly challenged on a website called The Dan Plan. Dan was a 30-year-old photographer who decided to spend 10 000 hours learning to become a golfer. The research in learning says that to become a master of any profession it takes ten thousand hours. Dan took that challenge literally, and is on his way to becoming a professional golfer after starting as a non-golfer. His mission is to literally be able to qualify on the professional golfing circuit after ten thousand hours practise. It seems to be working. He plays in a number of major tournaments and has about 4000 hours left to go in his training.
The link here is that if we wish for our teachers to be ‘masters’ of the teaching profession then the investment that they are required to meet needs to be about 10 000 hours of professional practise.
“Professional capital is about enacting more equal, higher-attaining, more healthy countries in just about every way that counts. This is why successful countries treat their teachers as nation builders and how they come to yield high returns in prosperity, social cohesion , and social justice.”
pg 185 ofProfessional Capital: Transforming Teaching In Every School by Fullan and Hargreaves.
Where to from here?
So the challenge is on. We have the technology to enable professional development in all forms and in a professionally tailored manner to suit an individual teacher’s needs. What we need to do is make Professional Capital our Number ONE investment strategy!!