Thursday, October 23, 2014

Social Capital

Today, I had the opportunity to listen to Andy Hargreaves speak about the whole concept of professional capital. Professional capital is the function of three different types of capital - human, social, and decisional. While all of these are important and play a distinct, important role in the success of a school or other organization, I couldn't help contemplate the role of social capital in my current context.

Social capital is defined as, in my own paraphrase: who we are together and how we work, communicate, interact with one another for the benefit of ourselves, others, and the organization. For any business or organization where success is dependent up on interdependence, social capital should remain a constant focus and area of nurturing.

Social capital is highly dependent upon nurturing trust at all levels of the organization. Trust doesn't happen overnight and needs to be cultivated. While trust needs time to develop, it has to be developed with intentionality. Hargreaves put it best when he said, "Trust doesn’t come from micromanagement or leaving people alone. It comes from engaging with people about their work." This engagement has to be intentional, thoughtfully planned, and monitored by all involved.

Each of us experience roadblocks to enhancing social capital within our teams.  In my current professional life, the size of the organization is a challenge.  The elementary school where I proudly serve as principal has nearly 140 staff members serving over 1,000 students.  In an international setting, we experience a lot of staff attrition.  Any time a new staff member joins, the whole dynamic of the team changes.  By team, I really mean teams – grade level teams, curricular teams, and the entire elementary school team.  Of course, time is a challenge.  How do you create opportunities to build trust at grade levels, between grade levels, horizontally and vertically?  How do you work to establish a culture of trust that, regardless of staff movement, permeates the building so that anyone who enters feels that trust is high, honored, revered, respected, and cultivated?  How do you help newcomers realize that trust is not just earned, but it’s given and supported?  How do you help everyone within the organization understand that levels of trust are constantly changing and that the only way to get trust moving in the right direction is to be vulnerable about practice and to communicate openly and professionally? 

Social capital is what we as leaders need to focus the majority of our time on.  How much time in your daily schedule is dedicated to raising the social capital of your organization?

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