How to Build Teachers’ Capacity for Success


By Pete Hall

Research indicates that teacher effectiveness is the number one determinant of student success. This is indisputable. In order to meet our goals of increased student achievement across the board, we’ve got to engage in practices that support the ongoing growth and development of our teaching corps. This is commonsensical.

But how do we manage effective professional development in this chaotic culture of high expectations, changing standards, public accountability, disputed contracts, and limited resources? We build our teachers’ capacity for success—so they’re empowered to plan, reflect, and process through the barrage of change in a way that meets their students’ needs.Pete Hall PDI

In the two-day Professional Development Institutes that I am delivering for ASCD, we are gathering principals, instructional coaches, superintendents, and teacher leaders to engage in that very work. The workshop got its name from the book of the same title that I coauthored with Alisa Simeral: Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success (ASCD, 2008). All institute participants will receive a copy of the book.

Capacity is often viewed as a quantity that a container can hold, like a heart’s capacity for blood. I believe capacity is expansive and can be grown, like a heart’s capacity for love. And the capacity we’ll really be discussing is our capacity for self-reflection, planning, intentionality, and critical thought.

In Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success, we unearthed a very real and very consistent connection between a teacher’s reflective tendencies and teaching effectiveness: As teachers develop their self-reflective abilities, they are better equipped to strengthen their instructional skills, plan details, and meet the varied needs of their students. We created a tool, the Continuum of Self-Reflection, that explains how a teacher’s self-reflective skills grow throughout four stages: unaware, conscious, action, and refinement.

Then we provide ongoing, job-embedded support to nurture teachers’ growth along the Continuum, through instructional coaching and timely feedback.

The instructional coaching model, which has been adopted and embraced by school districts across the country, involves intentional relationship building, targeted coaching strategies, and meaningful support—all based on each individual teacher’s current reflective stage. This ensures that the approaches match the teacher’s ability to reflect and analyze the coaching and teaching methods discussed. Instructional coaching models are implemented by instructional coaches, department heads, curriculum specialists, and teacher leaders in the building.

Administrators, meanwhile, embrace the notion of serving as instructional leaders by spending more time in classrooms, informally observing teachers  and providing timely, meaningful feedback. The feedback is phrased and delivered in a way that is best received by the teacher—based on each individual teacher’s current reflective stage. Whether it’s a quick post-it note, a filled-out form, an e-mailed note, or a face-to-face conversation, the feedback ensures that teachers can reflect on and consider their teaching approaches consistently and intentionally.

In our PDI, we will investigate the need to differentiate our supervisory and coaching practices, discuss the Continuum of Self-Reflection in further detail, commit to engaging in frequent walk-throughs with tailored feedback, and practice all the above in a collaborative, engaging setting. Through this work, we grow as instructional leaders and coaches while our teachers become more adept and effective as reflective practitioners, thus building their capacity for success.