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Building Capacity: The Key to Success

November 1, 2012

Michael Fullan writes about capacity building being one of the four most important drivers for leading change in an educational institution.  The other three drivers are instructional strategies, collaboration, and systems thinking.  Fullan writes,

what is required is to build new skills, and generate deeper motivation.

Fullan explains that capacity building is about encouraging and supporting teachers in their desire to be excellent at their craft.  The end result of this work is that there is deeper motivation on the part of teachers to continue their growth unencumbered.  I love this quote from Fullan’s article, Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform.

whole system success requires the commitment that comes from intrinsic motivation and improved technical competencies of groups of educators working together purposefully and relentlessly.

I have just finished reading A. Wade Boykin and Pedro Noguera’s book, Creating an Opportunity to Learn, in preparation for Pedro Noguera’s keynote and panel discussion in Atlanta, GA.  This inagural event is being sponsored by a group of organizations that support the work of Odyssey, a summer enrichment program for students in Atlanta.  Odyssey’s mission is:

to prepare children with unmet potential in grades 3-12 from economically disadvantaged communities for high school graduation and to support them on their path to college.

Boykin and Noguera make a compelling case for capacity building being the right driver for school reform.  On page 178, they describe the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City.  Their success is built upon the realization that for poor children to succeed communities need to attend to both the academic and social needs of children.  They go on to lay out a framework for what schools can do to capacity build within their organization.  These are the points they raise on page 178:

  1. Schools must provide their teachers with ongoing, site-based professional development.
  2. Schools must ensure that their facilities are safe, attractive, and equipped with appropriate technology.
  3. Schools must provide a well-rounded curriculum that includes the arts, sports, and extended learning opportunities after school.
  4. School must develop social support systems to respond to the health, nutritional, and emotional needs of disadvantaged students.
  5. Schools must develop strong partnerships with parents and communities they serve.

For them, this is what capacity building would look like in a school setting.  They point out that there are numerous examples of schools doing just this for children in their communities.  We know how to create and nurture successful schools.  This is a replicable model for any community.  So why is this not happening everywhere?

Capacity building must extend deep into the community.  Schools need to work closely with parents and establish enduring partnerships with businesses that serve the community.  Boykin and Noguera site a study by Chenoweth in 2007 in which she finds that exceptional schools view themselves “as part of the community and they envision their role as educators to be one of acting in solidarity with parents to overcome obstacles to learning (page 179 in Creating an Opportunity to Learn).”

Boykin and Noguera believe that we must answer the question, why is this not happening in every school, if we want to bring about improvement in all of our schools.  For them, as supported by Fullan, the answer is in capacity building.

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