Is “build capacity” inadvertently insulting to teachers?

I don’t get it when educational leaders say, “I want to build the capacity of my teachers”.

Maybe it is just my bias against trendy educational phrases. I fear they muddy the waters by putting a fancy bow on old practices. Or they are confusing because we don’t really know what they mean. Or, at worst, they are inadvertently insulting.

I don’t want to “build capacity” as a principal. I want to inspire, learn from, build relationships, collaborate, challenge and grow with the amazing teachers I work alongside. 

If anyone needed capacity-building, I think it would be me. I need to increase my capacity to share leadership and listen carefully to the most important people in the building–our students. I need to increase my capacity to eliminate or minimalize obstacles that get in the way of excellent teaching and learning. I need to increase my capacity to stay focused on our goals, our why, and to help us connect everything we do back to our goals.

According to Merriam-Webster, there are many definitions of the word capacity. One is, “the potential or suitability for holding, storing, or accommodating”. I am pretty sure that we are not talking about volume or square inches when we are talking about building teacher capacity. A definition that makes more sense when talking about capacity of educators is, “an individual’s mental or physical ability”. However, do we really want to imply that educators don’t have the the mental or physical ability yet to do the things that are best for student learning? 

What does “build capacity” mean to you? Are there any trendy educational words or phrases that bug you? 

6 thoughts on “Is “build capacity” inadvertently insulting to teachers?”

  1. I don’t use “build capacity” when talking about individuals. I think of it as a way to ensure that if any single person in a school wins the lotto and leaves that the system maintains the capacity to continue with its goals.

    You have me thinking about how this is perceived because it’s definitely a phrase I use frequently. As a leader, I’m very strategic in how I spread pockets of expertise and experience in order to “build capacity” as a unit allowing everyone to have a contribution to our vision. In a recent collaboration with a district, I just told them they need to build their own capacity to maintain their implementation and eventually their continued learning on questioning. It’s not fiscally responsible for them to keep hiring me to do all their training. Next year, I’ll be collaborating with a group of their teachers who will help them create a pyramid of professional learning to spread supports to everyone, not just “The Questioning Lady”.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Allyson,
    Thanks for sharing. I hadn’t really thought of the implications of saying that and you were spot on. It reminded me of the consequences of our vocabulary from “Choice Words” (thanks for letting me borrow it:). We need to use terms that build up and support and not diminish. Keep on inspiring!

    Liked by 1 person

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