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Wednesday / December 19

Walking the Talk: Investing in Social Capital

At the Quaglia Institute, as we worked to shed light on the need for increased Student Voice, the issue of Teacher Voice and Teacher Aspirations inevitably would emerge. In some schools it would erupt! What we learned is that whatever a school’s mission or explicitly student-centered curricula or approach, adult issues lurked just below the surface. Given time and a sense of trust, the adult teams we worked with would frequently bring forward their challenges as a professional staff. To address those concerns the Teacher Voice and Aspirations International Center was established under the umbrella of the Quaglia Institute. Led by Dr. Lisa Lande, the TVAIC team takes on some of the tougher not-entirely-student-related issues in schools (though it all bends back toward the students).

Schools, by design, are places where the core of the human capital (the strength and investment in teachers as individuals) is an ability to work brilliantly with other people’s children. But I believe many of the aforementioned adult issues stem from the fact that this brilliance has, as a corresponding shadow side, a less dazzling capacity to work with one another as peers. This capacity is only partly due to the inherent personality quirk of the classic teacher who is great with kids, but may not be so great with other grown-ups (consider teacher-parent tensions, teacher-administrator tensions, teacher-teacher tensions). However, the main cause of the lack of capacity for working peer-to-peer is systemic, not personnel. And chief among those systemic issues is communication.

In the most recent QISVA School Voice Report, less than half (47%) of school staff agree that communication is effective in their building. A similar 48% believe they have a voice in decision-making at school. While Catholic Memorial has yet to take a School Voice survey, the professional staff is mindful that communication as a staff is a concern. As a more or less traditional school, CM has efficient and effective systems for pushing information out and down the chain of command. Information about school events, upcoming meetings, coverage assignments, and a host of other administrative responsibilities flow freely and effectively via email, newsletters, PA announcements, and even creatively and often humorously through the student run CMTV. But I have conducted enough teacher focus groups in other schools to suspect that not being in the know is not what is causing many people to voice a concern over communication.

If I may put it this way, the issue is more horizontal. Sure, there is some concern that administration could benefit from more input from classroom teachers—when have classroom teachers not thought that! But the basis of that input cannot be this individual squeaky wheel or that personal dull axe. Rather, the basis of Teacher Voice, at CM and all schools, must be robust conversations as professionals. This is what Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan—in their outstanding book, Professional Capital—write about as social capital. Professional Capital, they maintain, is a function of Human Capital (typically high in schools) + Social Capital (typically underinvested in) + Decisional Capital (typically impaired by a lack of investment in social capital).

What is encouraging is that Catholic Memorial is investing in social capital. Recognizing this as a need, we have devoted a considerable amount of time and energy so far this year in considering how we might engage more effectively in professional conversations about things that matter to us as a staff—assessment, pedagogy, challenging students, peer observation, to name just a few. Those conversations require time and commitment no less than the effort required to be an individually effective classroom teacher. No longer can schools be effective by being a set of independent contractors (all high in human capital) connected by a hallway (low social capital). Rather, CM is working on, and all schools must attend to, improving the capacity to work together. Only through such an investment can we cash in on fulfilling our school’s mission.

School Voice Chronicles

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Michael J. Corso, Ph.D., former high school teacher turned adjunct professor of education and administrator, has been the Chief Academic Officer for the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations (QISA) for 15 years. In that role he provided professional development and training in Aspirations and Student Voice theories and frameworks to thousands of educators and students in hundreds of schools. Out of those experiences he co-authored numerous books and articles on the subject of School Voice, including Student Voice: The Instrument of Change (Corwin 2014) and Aspire High: Imagining Tomorrow’s School Today (Corwin 2016). While he is still connected to QISA as a special consultant, he has decided to return full-time to the high school classroom. While many in education move from practice to theory or policy, Mickey has chosen to move from consulting back to the classroom. This blog is a weekly window into his journey of trying to practice himself what he has preached to others for over two decades as a researcher and PD provider.

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  • Another great post Dr. Corso. Keep it up.

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