On Building Capacity

I previously posted thoughts on the importance of relationships after reading Chapter 1 of Fullan’s The Moral Imperative Realized (here).

In Chapter 3, School and District Symbiosis, Fullan emphasizes the importance of not only school leadership but district leadership as well, as the whole district needs to work together on realizing the moral imperative. In this chapter he provides examples of experiences in the Sanger Unified School District, Fort Bend Independent School District, Ottawa Catholic District School Board, and the York Region District School Board. Fullan explains that there are similarities in the experiences in each of these districts, including focus, “on a small number of goals and corresponding powerful strategies that they employ in concert.” It was not books on management or research studies that guided them, but practice, learning from experience, and learning from others.

Fullan goes on to identify “two big forces for change” – “mutual allegiance” and “collaborative competition.” In this concept, educators, and importantly school leaders, work as partners across districts for improvement of all schools and ultimately the system.

Among the points that Fullan draws our attention to in the experiences of each of these districts, my thoughts continue to be drawn to the importance of district leaders, school leaders, and, in particular, capacity building.

District leadership and school leadership working in concert towards common goals is so important, and, in my mind, capacity building is crucial in any change and improvement venture. Presumably, each educator appointed to a leadership position has something in their experience, skillset, or character that successfully saw them selected and appointed – most importantly, the ability to serve as instructional/educational leaders. However, no individual is fully equipped, at the beginning of a new position, to address every issue that comes along with the job without error. Each leader likely has a strong foundation on which to build further skills needed to be successful, and thus the importance of capacity building cannot be ignored.

Fullan states, “success is created by a process that builds capacity and ownership through cumulative learning and commitment.” Therefore, a sink or swim mentality does not ultimately improve a system, nor does a focus on a select group of leaders while ignoring others. Reprimanding is also probably not a good strategy when something goes awry. So, among the questions I would consider are:

    • What are the skills needed in the leaders to effect change/improve the system?
    • What/where are the gaps?
    • How are the gaps identified in each situation?
    • Who identifies the gaps?
    • What are the strategies needed to best improve and build the capacity of each leader?
    • Are leaders allowed to make mistakes, learn from errors, and move forward having learned… or do leaders fear criticism and backlash from above?

I also think about the composition of administrative teams. Each person brings a different skillset and experience to the table. The importance of assembling teams in which the strengths and personalities of all members complement each other cannot be underestimated. There is value in a collaborative and consultative approach in assembling teams. Who better to contribute to assembling great teams, but building leaders themselves?

…and what a great way to begin the process of building capacity.


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