Building Teacher Capacity

us-department-of-educationBuilding Teacher Capacity

by Art Costa and Bena Kallick, Institute for Habits of Mind

When considering teacher quality, we are concerned not just for what we observe in the moment. We are also concerned about whether the teacher has the more enduring habits that will serve them well as they continue to learn,  grow and respond positively to change.

Attending to the whole teacher, we suggest evidence of the growth and development of these habits can be collected by triangulating data between self-observation, peer observation, and administrator observation.  Many schools have developed surveys, group process observation tools, and journals to offer data regarding the habits.

This data–which can reflect and promote teacher capacity–should be weighed as significantly as that of student performance. It is data about how effectively teachers are continuous learners who can both give and receive feedback to further their own growth as well as the growth of the professional community.

After all, isn’t evaluation about improving and growing–not punishing?

Categories Of Teacher Needs

  1. Cognitive: Teachers must be cognitively and emotionally challenged, continually planning for, engaging in and reflecting on learning experiences
  2. Physical: Teachers must feel safe, secure, healthy, fit, resilient and strong
  3. Emotional: Teachers must be stress free, in a trustful, non-evaluative environment
  4. Social: Teachers must be in collaborative, interdependent, reciprocal, relationships
  5. Spiritual: Teachers must transcend the trivial in curriculum and be dedicated and committed to achieving the larger value of what they do as purposefully leading to a better, more beautiful and harmonious world

Building Teacher Capacity

As educators, we need to understand that while observing the teacher instructing content, we must also observe–and help teachers to self-observe–their dispositions.  It is that very subtle concept of being a teacher. People who are concerned with this question look for evidence of the Habits of Mind. For example, are teachers observed:

1. Remaining open to continuous learning – Having the humility to say,  “I have so much more to learn,” and wanting to find out.

2. Thinking about thinking – Regularly planning, monitoring, and reflecting upon actions and tasks and Being aware of your own thoughts, strategies, feelings and actions, and their effects on others.

3. Problem solving – Clarifying issues, data gathering, and rechecking information, such as:

  • Gathering data through all senses
  • Questioning and posing problems
  • Striving for accuracy

4. Communicating effectively–both orally and in writing by:

  • Listening with understanding and empathy
  • Communicating with clarity and precision
  • Thinking interdependently

5. Creating, imagining and innovating — Generating new and novel solutions and strategies, inventing new ideas and alternatives.

6. Taking responsible risks – Trying new and different ways, even if there is a chance for failure. It is as if you are living on the edge of your incompetence and you need to take a chance on jumping off the edge and try some new learning venture.

7. Persisting – Persevering in a task through its completion. Looking for ways to reach your goal when stuck; not giving up.

As teachers incorporate Habits of Mind into their thinking and behaviors, they say, “I need more practice with…” or “I am so excited by how much I have learned about…” or “I need to go deeper into this material…” They have developed the desire to continuously improve and learn.

Such dispositions must be developed, nurtured, supported and practiced on a regular basis. The environment and culture of the school must honor and encourage these dispositions. Schools with supportive cultures are more likely to foster significant growth among its teachers.

Like the whole child, whole teachers are a composite of human motivations and developmental drives.

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Image attribution flickr user usdepartmentofeducation; Building Teacher Capacity

3 Comments

  • James Anderson wrote:
    Art and Bena make a great underlying point here – Successful people (including teachers) – by definition – have well developed Habits of Mind. Therefor if we are trying to evaluate teacher growth and effectiveness we should be looking for growth in their Habits of Mind to ensure they are engaging in them in increasingly effective, mature ways. I couldn’t agree more!

    However, I would like to add a point of clarity here. In the article Art and Bena write:
    “People who are concerned with this question look for evidence of the Habits of Mind. For example, are teachers observed [engaging in the Habits of Mind]”.
    Well, the answer is “yes”. All teachers, and everyone else for that matter, are observed engaging in the Habits of Mind (some of them much more effectively than others!). The real questions are:

    1. How well are they engaging in the Habits of Mind? and
    2. How much better are they at engaging in them compared to the last observation?

    My own experience with helping teachers use the Habits of Mind as a developmental evaluation tool (both for students and themselves) too often results in answers of “I do that” rather than “how well do I do that, and how could I be better at it?”. Although Art and Bena do place an emphasis on the importance of developing these dispositions elsewhere in the article I feel that this focus on development, improvement, growth and maturing Habits of Mind is so important it deserved emphasis and clarity here.

    We should avoid asking “are Habits of Mind being used?” – this provides no useful information. Instead we should always ask “How well are the Habits of Mind being used?

    Anderson, J., Costa, A., Kallick, B., “Ch 4. Habits of Mind: A Journey of Continuous Growth” in “Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind” (2008), Costa and Kallick (Ed’s), ASCD
    Anderson, J. “Succeeding with Habits of Mind” (2010), HawkerBrownlow Education
    See also http://www.habitsofmind.org

  • This kind of bullet point strategizing is useful but also limited. It’s one thing to know about all the things teachers need and quite another to actually provide them, especially in the United States where teachers are required to be actively teaching more than any other OECD country. /If we’re going to be serious about meeting teachers social-emotional needs as well as cognitive, physical and spiritual, we need to seriously restructure our daily calendars to decrease the amount of time with students and give teachers ample time for professional collaboration. It’s hard to be excited about collaborating when you only have an hour a day to plan.

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