Capacity Building through Professional Capital

The term “capital” refers to a resource that enables an organization to accomplish its goals. In school districts, personnel are the most important form of capital. According to recent research (e.g., Fullan, 2016; Fullan & Hargreaves, 2016; Fullan, Rincon-Gallardo, & Hargreaves, 2015; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2013; Hargreaves & O’Connor, 2018), school districts rely on the combination of three types of capital. Taken together, these three forms of capital (collectively called “professional capital”) enable districts to build the capacity needed for improvement.

Building and then making use of professional capital entails group-centered (rather than individual- or leader-centered) change.

  • Human capital refers to personnel resources–the quality and capabilities of teachers, other staff, and administrators. Practices for selection, induction, retention, and evaluation of personnel all impact the human capital on which a district can rely.
  • Social capital concerns the quality and impact of interactions among the people in a district, especially in relation to the district’s on-going mission and improvement efforts. Leana (2011) studied the interaction between human and social capital in relation to elementary achievement in math. She found that the most significant driver for producing good math scores overall was social capital. As Fullan (2016, p. 46) remarked, “Social capital (the group) improves individuals more readily than individuals improve the group.” In districts with sufficient social capital, improvement efforts build on a strong culture of learning in which meaningful, job-embedded professional development is central to the process.
  • Decisional capital is the capacity and expertise for making decisions. OIP’s 5-step process requires (and also builds) high levels of decisional capital. Decisional capital develops in a culture that promotes deep learning rather than relying on superficial, compliance-focused professional development. Notably, deep learning comes from attention to a small set of shared goals, agreed-upon practices, collective problem-solving, and on-going study of the effectiveness of agreed-upon practices.

Districts that invest in rich professional learning increase the professional capital available for their improvement work. They create a “culture of collaborative professionalism–an approach that facilitates the sharing of expertise; builds the confidence and skills of educators (Nolan & Molla, 2017); and contributes to sustainable change in performance and equity (Maloe, Rincon-Gallardo, & Kew, 2018) .

For additional reading related to capacity building through professional capital, see the following resources:

  • Fullan, M. (2016). Amplify change with professional capital. Journal of Staff Development, 37(1), 44-48, 56.
  • Fullan, M., & Hargreaves, A. (2016). Bringing the profession back in: Call to action. Oxford, OH: Learning Forward.
  • Fullan, M., Rincon-Gallardo, S., & Hargreaves, A. (2015). Professional capital as accountability. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(15).
  • Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2013). The power of professional capital. Journal of Staff Development, 34(3), 36-39.
  • Hargreaves, A., & O’Connor, M. (2018). Leading collaborative professionalism. Victoria, Australia: Centre for Strategic Education. Retrieved from
  • Leana, C. (2011). The missing link in school reform. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 9(4), 30-35.
  • Nolan, A, & Molla, T. (2017). Teacher confidence and professional capital. Teaching and Teacher Education, 62, 10-18.
  • Maloe, H.J., Rincon-Gallardo, S., & Kew, K. (Eds.). (2018). Future directions of educational change: Social Justice, professional capital, and systems change. Oxford, UK: Routledge.