Capacity Building: Linking PD and Practice

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Connected Educator Month

By Pete Hall

ASCD is leading the Educator Professional Development and Learning theme for Connected Educator Month 2014, and this week’s subtheme focuses on planning and designing professional learning. This post by ASCD Professional Learning Services Faculty member Pete Hall describes important considerations for planning professional development to build educator capacity. Click here to register for Hall’s free webinar, coming this Wednesday at 3 p.m. eastern time. Use promo code CEM14 to receive 20 percent off his book Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success: A Collaborative Approach for Coaches and School Leaders.Capacity building post

Recently, we’ve heard the term capacity building used more and more frequently. But what does this term really mean, and how does it manifest itself in education circles? My desktop dictionary defines capacity as “the amount that can be contained.” This conjures up an image of the human heart and how much capacity it has for blood.

However, at ASCD, we believe in the expansiveness of capacity. We believe capacity can grow, strengthen, and increase, like the heart’s capacity for love.

It’s an alluring concept, to say the least, to believe we are capable of building our teachers’ and leaders’ capacity to bring about change, to experience success, and to drive student learning. And it’s true. We can do just that, and engaging in true capacity-building work can have monumental effects on our student, teacher, team, school, and district outcomes.

ASCD has embraced a two-part model of capacity building in its publications and various professional development platforms (online, on-site, and in conferences). On one hand, we must build collective capacity, strengthening the ranks and building a cohesive team. This is done through the careful construction and nurturing of a professional learning community.

On the other hand—and this is the work on which I have focused my attention—we must also build individual capacity. In order to ensure a high-quality, robust learning experience for every single child that enters our school doors, we must support the reflective growth and tendencies of every single adult that works within the school.

Reflective growth is different from, but very closely connected to, technical expertise. Whereas traditional professional development efforts focus on particular teaching skills and strategies, ASCD’s capacity-building model addresses the thinking behind the actions. “It’s not the doing that matters,” said John Dewey. “It’s the thinking about the doing.”

In our new book, Building Your Capacity for Success: A Reflective Guide for Teachers (scheduled for release by ASCD in spring 2015), my coauthor Alisa Simeral and I highlight the five components of highly reflective educators:

  1. They are aware of their instructional reality.
  2. They are intentional in all their actions.
  3. They assess the effectiveness of their actions.
  4. They adjust accordingly.
  5. They reflect constantly.

Reflective abilities are closely correlated with classroom success. In our book Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success: A Collaborative Approach for Coaches and School Leaders, we outlined a specific set of coaching and feedback strategies designed to support teachers’ reflective growth. Matching the needs of the teacher—as identified through our innovative Continuum of Self-Reflection—this job-embedded approach supports the thinking and self-reflection processes that lead to true capacity building . . . and classroom success.

As more and more school districts embrace this model, its influence can be felt from the school board to the classroom door. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to work closely with principals, instructional coaches, teacher leaders, district-level officials, and others across the country to implement ASCD’s capacity-building model. This November, I’ll be embarking on a 10-city series of two-day institutes during which I’ll offer in-depth guidance to prepare participants to lead capacity-building efforts back in their own buildings and schools.

Professional development is not just a training any more. It’s capacity building.

Learn more about Hall’s Educator Effectiveness Institute, Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success: A Collaborative Approach for Coaches and School Leaders.

More from Connected Educator Month. 
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Pete Hall is a veteran teacher, principal, educational leadership consultant, and author of several books, including Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success: A Collaborative Approach for Coaches and School Leaders. He is also a member of the ASCD Professional Learning Services Faculty. Follow him on Twitter at @educationhall.