Professional capital has three components according to Professor Michael Fullan-human, social, and decisional.
Fullan claims that the United States is failing to invest in the professional capital of its teachers.
Human capital is about the qualities of individuals. But , Fullan says, you can’t accumulate much human capital by focusing only on the capital of individuals. Human capital must be complemented by social capital—groups working hard in focused and committed ways to bring about substantial improvements. Social capital can raise individual human capital—a good team, school, or system lifts everyone. But, as we often see in sports, higher individual human capital—a few brilliant stars—does not necessarily improve the overall team.The third component—decisional capital—involves making decisions in complex situations on innumerable occasions with different problems and cases. It is what professionalism is all about, especially when well-qualified professionals do this together. Like judges, after many years of practice and analyzing that practice and lots of case examples with others, teachers and other professionals know how to assess situations effectively. The evidence helps, but it’s never incontrovertible. In teaching as in law, it’s the capacity to judge that makes the difference in the end.
When the vast majority of teachers possess the power of professional capital, they become smart and talented, committed and collegial, thoughtful and wise. Their moral purpose is expressed in their relentless, expert-driven pursuit of serving their students and their communities and always learning how to do better. Those few colleagues who persistently fall short of the mark eventually will not be tolerated by peers who see them as letting down their profession and students.
“We need to concentrate on moving the entire profession forward instead of obsessing about the extremes in the field by celebrating the stars and dismissing the duds.”says Fullan
High-performing countries use professional capital in their approach to the teaching profession. They don’t pick on, praise, or punish a few individuals. Instead, they get better and better by using a strategy that develops and retains all of their high-quality teachers and moves them all forward together.
Fullan writes ‘ Based on our experience and research in school change and system change in relation to teachers, we have written action guidelines for teachers, school and district leaders, and state and national leaders, both in governments and unions. Here is a sample of what we propose:
• Social capital is more important than individual human capital because it generates human capital faster, among all teachers and for every child. Leaders have immense power with social capital to strengthen their school communities, develop greater trust, and build more effective professional collaboration—to raise the social capital in the school that develops their students’ human capital in the future.
• We need to concentrate on moving the entire profession forward instead of obsessing about the extremes in the field by celebrating the stars and dismissing the duds.
• Midcareer (from about eight-years-plus) is where teachers are considered to be at their peak in commitment and enthusiasm, but where they tend to be most overlooked. We need to use pay accelerators (steps up in pay), professional learning incentives, and multiple career paths to invest in keeping most of our teachers in classrooms for four to eight years at least and to take better advantage of their growing decisional capital and expertise.
• Good collegiality—social capital—is supportive and also demanding. Peer-driven change should be about pulling people into exciting changes and sometimes also pushing and nudging them beyond what they perceive as their limits, for their own and their students’ benefit.
• There are new and more positive roles for teachers’ unions, as agents of changes that benefit students and their members’ hunger for success with students, not just as opponents of bad reforms.
• Governments need to demonstrate courage and faith in investing in long-term professional capital among all teachers for everyone’s achievement, rather than pursuing short-term business-capital interests that reduce the cost and tenure of teachers, pit them against one another, and replace them with online alternatives in order to get a quick financial return.
Fullan concludes that ‘ Other countries have invested in the professional capital of their teachers, and they and their students are reaping the benefits. The United States, meanwhile, is going down a reverse path. If we don’t change direction, the consequences for our society will be catastrophic.’
Michael Fullan is a professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Andy Hargreaves holds the Thomas More Brennan chair in education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. They are the co-authors of Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School (Teachers College Press, 2012).