THE AAIE NEW SCHOOL PROJECT
We develop the capacity in our people to develop and implement high-quality and sustainable solutions in a time of rapid and unmitigated change.
The principle of capacity is multifaceted. What actually defines capacity? Is it the human skills we each possess? Does it include the cultures, values, and norms in which we were raised? Is it something that is built over time? How do we build the capacity to be/become anti-fragile (beyond resilient) as individuals, teams, communities and systems? Capacity is something that is built overtime through a process of internal and external reconstruction.
When we speak about internal capacity, this includes the collective personalities and abilities within each human. This extends to the capacity of mind which deals with the human skill, the courage and ability to step outside of a framework to disrupt the status quo.
The term capacity also refers to external forces outside of an individual. This refers to the culture piece. Within each community, there are competing cultures and external influences that have impacted our capacity and ability to interact amongst others. Capacity involves providing room for competing cultures to move forward collectively.
But how do we develop capacity in a world of continuous change? Developing capacity can be daunting considering the ongoing challenge to keep up with the volume of information in today’s day and age. As we develop and build capacity, it is imperative that we develop the capacity of all members of our community. This will involve recognizing their internal capacities and developing the capacities they need. This will involve systems mapping to develop systems and structures to challenge ourselves to see beyond the internal and external limitations we set.
We must develop what the American Community School Amman calls “a persistent disquiet with the status quo” and recognize that capacity building is a process not a goal in itself. A commitment to capacity building becomes a community disposition that is sustained over time through asking:
- What do we have?
- What do we need?
- How (well) are we using it?
- How else could we use it?
- How are we making decisions about it?
Dana Watts, Director of Learning, Research, and Outreach, International Schools Services
Principle in Action
What does this principle look like in action? The following quotes represent examples for how this principle is manifested in a school.
“Capacity to me means looking at events like COP26. In a class at our school, we read an article about how students were protesting outside COP26 and we felt empowered that world leaders were paying attention and listening to what students were doing. We then decided to host a protest at our school and we have begun to step up and have a louder voice and presence in the policies and procedures at our school.”
“I recognize that my capacity to accomplish my goals and meet my professional requirements is not fixed. I can increase my capacity to help my students learn. I desire to learn and adapt to meet the needs of my students. When confronted with a new task or challenge, I embrace the opportunity to learn something new and grow as an educator”
“One of my main jobs in a 21st Century school is to provide opportunities for my faculty and staff to get better and improve their performance. In order to thrive, we need to gain new skills and perspectives because we are preparing our students for future careers that do not even exist yet. If there is one thing that we can all learn from our collective pandemic experience, it is that we are stronger and more capable than we think we are. We make focused time for Capacity building that is focused on recognizing that we have not arrived nor met our collective potential yet. The motto of our school is Semper Disco which very loosely translates to I always learn. Learning is not just for our students.”
“Learning does not take place in a vacuum. It is inherently a community experience. Learning organizations are much more effective when the entire community is united around a common purpose. Our communities can and do develop our collective capacity through persistent intention and attention on vital skills and aligning our organizational resources with the collectively agreed upon values. Community events and communication regularly communicate the values and aims of the organization.”
When we think about capacity, we need to think about:
- Who are our people?
- What capacities do they have or need?
- What constitutes high-quality?
- What does it mean to “sustain” change?
In reflecting on this principle, there are 3 subcategories that need to be developed: an expansion of who we call "our people", the creation of sustainable solutions, and the ability to navigate unmitigated change. Understanding the needs of "our people" (this includes all of our stakeholders: students, teachers, parents, and our community) is vital to developing capacity. This process will involve the capacity to be/become antifragile (beyond resilient) as individuals, teams, communities, and systems.
How do we make the invisible, visible?
Provocations are intended to be tools to use within a school community to get people thinking creatively and in a generative way about the elements of each of the Principles. As reflective leaders in the change process, we must use fearless inquiry to step out of our comfort zone, examine our current practices, and design approaches for the future. The following questions are designed to prompt conversations within your school community. Your answers to these questions should challenge the status quo. If you are fearful of your answers, it is (may be) an indication that you are exploring this principle at a deep level.
- How do we develop a mindset around change where we are proactive vs. reactive in a world of constant change?
- How might we view constant change as an opportunity for growth? How do we develop capacity in every member of our community while also prioritizing equity?
- Whose capacity are we not developing with equity?
Guidance and Tools for Capacity
For each of our NEW SCHOOL Principles, we provide a Pathway that attempts to tell the story of a school on a journey towards putting that principle into practice. These narratives are only approximations, because every school is different and change is not as linear as this represents. It is messy, imperfect, and iterative. To apply the metaphor of a ‘pathway’, it is often one step forward and several steps in reverse. The spirit of this pathway is simply to provide ‘a portrait of possibility’. It offers a picture of what progress might look like, as it can be easier to imagine something if a possible model is provided.
We offer four stages along this journey, for schools to reflect on their current reality and imagine what might be next:
- Thinking about it...What might it look like when your school is “thinking about” the Capacity Principle? (This can involve a range of applications, stakeholders and ideas, beyond a single point in time or a right answer.)
- Working on it...What might it look like when your school is “working on” the Capacity Principle?
- Living it...What might it look like when your school is “living” this Principle?
- Transforming it...If you get this far along the continuum, what would a transformation of your school’s relationship with the Capacity Principle look like in practice? How would you tell that story?
We started by recognizing and celebrating existing CAPACITY for change and by embracing the realities of ADAPTIVE CHANGE, namely that change requires an openness to discard non-productive practices and make space for the new. A key breakthrough was when we agreed that we were going to focus on our collective capacity to develop new LEARNING processes and practices that are inclusive and student driven. Our own learning increased when we embraced the idea that, to move forward as a genuine learning COMMUNITY, we had to focus on building the capacity of all learning stakeholders to be more actively engaged with the learning process. Changes are emotionally and physically demanding and, as we built capacity, we were careful to counteract overload and prioritise WELL-BEING to ensure that the change process is positive and to avoid burn-out. The focus on building the capacity of all stakeholders to participate fully in the learning process has greatly increased the sense of inclusion and EQUITY throughout our community.