Investing in Capability and Commitment – reflections on Chapter 4 of “Professional Capital” by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan

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The authors start this chapter by listing the 5 Cs which are required in order for teachers to be able to teach like a pro. These are capability, commitment, career, culture and conditions of teaching. This chapter will examine the first 2 of these.

The first statement made in this chapter is that, in order to teach like a pro you must deliberately strive to improve your practice. But this is often easier said than done. The authors list some of the issues that can make it very difficult to gather objective evidence on which to base this deliberate improvement. They discuss the selective way in which system leaders often use research findings. If the evidence supports a practice which, perhaps for political reasons they do not support, it is often ignored or suppressed. The example they cite is mixed ability teaching, for which they say

there is extensive evidence in favour

but that this is rarely pursued by politicians as it is

too hard to sell to their public

The authors take a surprising broadside at research, which they say

can be unclear, ambiguous, compromised out of date, indecipherable, contested or just plain wrong

Those who teach like professionals are not driven by data or dependent on evidence but they do need to be inquiring, intelligent, reflective and critical. And then they share what they find out with their students and the wider community so that learning becomes genuinely visible.

Those who teach like professionals also have control over their own work. The National Strategies and their mandated approaches to the teaching of literacy and numeracy are described as having let down teachers, who lacked the independence to create new practices themselves. This is compared with the free control over curriculum and pedagogy exercised by teachers in Finland. However, this strikes me as an over-simplification. The Strategies may have been over-bearing in the early years but certainly adapted and from around 2005 or so onwards were presenting a range of well-researched teaching and learning ideas that teachers were free to add to their repertoire and use as they saw fit. And certainly now, despite heavy DfE direction and Ofsted input into all manner of teaching and assessment issues, there is a powerful group of independent teachers in the UK who have taken control of their own professional situations and regularly share great ideas with colleagues via Twitter and TeachMeets. Perhaps this grasping of professionalism by individual teachers could be seen as Finlandization by stealth?

Indeed , the definition that the authors put forward for professional capital is

communities of teachers using best and next practices together

Isn’t this exactly what the Twitter/TeachMeet revolution is all about? Had Hargreaves and Fullan just not seen the green shoots of this movement at the time (2012) when their book was published?

The authors then go on to define the first 2 of the 5 Cs of Professional Capital: capability and commitment. Both are vital to teacher effectiveness with the most productive years of a teacher’s life being between 8 and 23 years into the job. There are lots of implications here for short-term approaches, such as TeachFirst that attempt to entice people into the classroom before they go off to do their “real” work later. They will never fulfil their teaching potential. Nor will schools in a range of circumstances where only short-term contracts are possible ever get the best out of their staff – they will be training them up for future excellence but not benefitting from their true professional capital.

The authors emphasise the personal dimension in the development of professional capital. Leadership is vital as teachers with high levels of commitment regularly cite clear vision and being treated as an adult as central to the maintenance of this. Perhaps there is a central role here for Transactional Analysis (TA) for school leaders? This is built around helping individuals to develop their ability to relate to others on an adult to adult basis rather than reverting to the parental or child modes. Focus on developing the TA of leaders could thus have major beneficial impact in the form of greatly enhanced commitment and hence professional capital in the teachers they lead. The research of Pat Ashton and Rod Webb is cited on the importance of teachers having a strong sense of self-efficacy if they are to take control of and maximise the learning in their classrooms. TA could be, and is in a number of schools, a powerful tool for building up this sense of self-efficacy in leaders, teachers and learners with a potentially huge impact on outcomes.

The chapter then starts to categorise teachers according to the different phases of their career in order to gain a more holistic and fair judgement of their work than can be gained from a brief learning walk or the like. The aim is then to support each teacher in ways that are appropriate to their particular phase. There is a strong argument that leaders should pay particular attention to the development of their often overlooked middle career teachers. An approach to CPD with this level of thought and personalisation would be truly impressive.

The chapter concludes with thoughts about a commitment/capability matrix, like the one above and how teachers move around on this at different points in their careers. I can see that plotting the position of teachers on such a matrix could be both powerful and revealing but is it appropriate? Would the matrix be an interesting discussion point in performance management meetings, with teachers discussing with their line managers where they would place themselves on it? Any difference between a teacher’s own and leadership’s positioning of individuals on the matrix could be very revealing but also challenging. Is the profession ready for such adult to adult dialogue? Certainly the support and development opportunities available to teachers should improve if their actual position on the matrix could be accurately ascertained? It would certainly help schools to see teachers as having individual, personalised learning needs but owning up to these needs could, in some cases, be a difficult process. But if we want to maximise the number of teachers making the most positive impact on learning this is a difficulty schools will need to work through.

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