Decisional Capital? School Improvement? The 2012 Ann D Clark Lecture.

Decisional Capital? School Improvement? The 2012 Ann D Clark Lecture.

My reflections on the Ann D Clark Lecture by Andy Hargreaves, Term 3, 2012.

As a teacher, I’ve been conscious that in my own practice I have followed educational ‘fads’ rather than research-based practice. It’s tricky, as a teacher: we are confronted with so many initiatives and ideas – from leaders, from consultants, from governments and policies that it can be hard identifying what approaches to implement in the classroom. After all, despite what is expected of us, it’s practically impossible to implement all of them. Even things that most teachers have a good working knowledge of – like multiple intellgences and Kagan structures and brain-based learning models are pretty thin, theoretically thinking.

To my mind, to remedy this situation, a teacher needs to engage in the professional dialogue regarding learning. rather than being simply instruments to enact government policy, we must actively seek out opportunities to engage in the creation of knowledge and policy. Of course, that’s easier said than done – especially when you’re as time poor as most teachers I know.

That’s why I value the opportunities to attend events like the Ann D Clark Lecture. This is a lecture organised by Parramatta CEO where a world-renowned educator comes and shares their views on education; it’s a valuable event. This year, Dr Andy Hargreaves was the educator delivering the lecture, and he spoke about his recent work regarding what he has called professional capital. According to Hargreaves and his colleague, Michael Fullan, the notion of capital – as it has started being used by sociologists, for example, as social capital, cultural capital and so on – can also be applied to the notion of teaching; that is, as professional capital.

The secret to improving education systems, according to Hargreaves, is to improve the quality of those working within them. This was reassuring, especially when one considers that so much of the discourse around educational reform is based on getting rid of teachers who are perceived as ‘underperforming’. The key to improving teachers is not to get rid of them. Instead, Hargreaves and Fullan advocate an investment in professional capital – a concept that is made up of three factors: human capital, social capital and also ‘decisional capital’.

Human capital is linked to the kind of quality of people that are brought into education – and the policies that allow such people to enter the profession. In countries like Finland,  for example, teaching is a very difficult profession to get in to, as it is highly desirable. This leads to better qualified individuals. When this is linked to social capital – the professional trust and networks built up between professionals – schools become places of highly capable individuals. However, there is a third category: decisional capital. This is the capacity of teachers to make decisions – based on hours of classroom experience – to get the best from their students. This kind of capital is built up over time, and, according to Hargreaves, is based on a mix of capability and commitment. Hargreaves reckons teachers after about 8 years of training, teaching and professional development.