Learning and literacy for the future: Building capacity. Part two

Peer reviewed article

This research paper by June Wall and Karen Bonanno considers a capacity building approach, through formal and informal professional learning experiences, to ensure teachers develop competencies and capacity to help improve learning outcomes and prepare students for the rapidly changing world of work.

image of June Wall
Image: June Wall is an independent consultant for elearning and libraries. June has broad experience as a teacher librarian, educational leader and consultant, professional association executive and president at state and national levels. June is passionate about digital learning and pedagogies and future oriented libraries.
image of Karen Bonanno
Image: Karen Bonanno is an online educator and consultant, the founder and director of Eduwebinar. Karen’s focuses are innovative teaching and learning, and resourcing future oriented curriculum design and delivery. Karen has extensive experience as an educational leader nationally and internationally.

Hay and Foley (2009), articulate a capacity building process, involving the principal and teacher librarian, to lead the school community to a 2020 vision for the school library. Examples of what capacity building looks like in practice for a school library are addressed through a ten element framework (Noah and Brickman, 2004). The authors identify the knowledge, skills and expertise of the teacher librarian in building learning and literacy capacity in students.

In ‘Learning and literacy for the future’ (Scan 33.3), new learning skills required by students to be successful in an increasingly global and competitive society were identified. In this article, literature is cited (ITL research project 2011; Jensen et. al. 2014; Johnson et. al. 2013, p. 9) that strongly indicates the lack of relevant and future focused professional learning that helps to build capacity in teachers. The conclusion is that, while the dialogue within the teaching profession has focused on what has been termed 21st century learning skills for students, the discussion now needs to be on building capacity for teachers so they can actively engage students in these new learning skills.

The learning skills identified by Wall and Bonanno are:

  • leadership
  • critical thinking
  • creativity
  • agility
  • digital literacy
  • communication
  • problem solving
  • global citizenship
  • design thinking
  • collaboration
  • interpersonal relationships. (2014, p. 22)

Building capacity in the profession

As new learning skills emerge it is necessary for education systems to respond to make sure teachers have sufficient capacity to develop learning programs that will provide the opportunity for students to develop these new learning skills.

Capacity building or development is the process by which individuals, groups, organisations, institutions and societies increase their abilities to:

  • perform core functions, solve problems, define and achieve objectives
  • understand and deal with their development needs in a broad context and in a sustainable manner (UNESCO 2006, p.1).

In simple terms, capacity building can be described as a sustainable process of equipping teachers with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to enable them to cope with change and achieve the desired educational outcomes.

For the education sector, capacity building can be divided into individual, group, school and system target groups. Each group is strongly interrelated. In this scenario, capacity building can be defined as follows:

  • Individual: Establishing ways to provide relevant, collaborative and future focused professional learning opportunities for individuals to build on existing knowledge, skills and expertise.
  • Group: Establishing ways to build focused groups or groups focused on specific learning areas and/or special interests.
  • School: Supporting institutions in the formation of policy, organisational structures and a learning culture.
  • System: Finding ways to support systemic decision making that is responsive to changes in teaching and learning, and management challenges.

In this context, capacity building emphasises the need to build on what already exists to leverage and strengthen existing capacities, and to develop and grow new knowledge and skills. As teachers are faced with new developments that require them to upskill, it is imperative they have access to the most relevant and up-to-date information. They also need access to opportunities to apply new skills and make changes to their pedagogical practice, and discover ways to capture evidence of success resulting from these changes.

Professional learning as a pathway for capacity building

Professional development and professional learning tend to be terms that are used interchangeably. Knapp (2003) defines professional development as ‘the full range of activities, formal and informal, that engage teachers or administrators in new learning about their professional practice’(p. 112), and professional learning as ‘changes in the thinking, knowledge, skills and approaches to instruction that form practicing teachers’ or administrators’ repertoire’(pp. 112–113).

Professional learning involves

… changes in one’s capacity for practice, (i.e. changes in professionally relevant thinking, knowledge, skills, and habits of mind) and/or changes in practice itself (enacting the new knowledge and skills in one’s daily work).

Mayer & Lloyd, 2011, p. 3

The context for this paper is that professional learning happens through formal and informal learning experiences. It could take the form of attendance at a conference or workshop, or occur during collaboration with a colleague to plan a unit of work or discuss a student’s project. It might happen through a casual conversation or exchange of information about teaching strategies, or through individual professional reading.

The ultimate aim for professional learning is to improve student learning outcomes. For young people to acquire the learning skills they will need to be successful in the future world of work, they require teachers with the competency to effectively teach these skills (NSW Government, 2013; Schleicher, 2012).

Future world of work

Karthik (2014) identifies 16 clues that indicate the future world of work is already here and briefly explores the global work-based trends:

  • working remotely
  • accessing flexitime (work/life balance)
  • using co-working spaces
  • outsourcing tasks
  • hosting virtual meetings to work collaboratively
  • leveraging social media
  • encouraging entrepreneurship
  • embracing job flexibility and mobility.

These types of work environments require a set of skills that go beyond the traditional academic skills. Today’s education requires teachers to be committed to constantly advancing their own professional knowledge, skills, attitudes and practices to develop competencies and capacity to help improve learning outcomes and prepare students for the rapidly changing world of work.

The following YouTube videos explain aspects of the future world of work in greater detail.

YouTube: Andrew McAfee: What will future jobs look like?

Innovative professional learning

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), recently commissioned the Innovation Unit to investigate and document the characteristics of professional learning that is supporting professional growth and improved workplace performance. The report, Global trends in professional learning and performance & development(Innovation Unit, 2014), identifies common features for innovative professional learning across fifty organisations including, but not limited to education. The report describes innovative professional learning as:

  • collaborative
  • individual
  • face-to-face
  • remote
  • required
  • offered
  • self-directed
  • facilitated
  • situated
  • personalised
  • intensive
  • sustained
  • formal
  • informal
  • certificated
  • incentivised (Innovation Unit 2014, p. 14).

The most powerful professional learning came about due to the combination of some of these features. A specific set referred to by Hannon (2014) was personalised, intensive and informal. The learning experience was focused on the individual, in short, sharp bursts with no specific program structure. Some of the most innovative examples were the combination of collaborative, self-directed and informal. These were less structured and regulated, and engaged a community of educators in social media and online environments where they learn and develop their practice together.

Global trends in professional learning and performance and development Valerie Hannon

Developing a culture for capacity building

As capacity building is about developing knowledge, skills and attitudes and the application of these for the individual, it is important that the environment of the individual enables this to happen. The culture of a school and subgroups within schools, for example, faculties or in the case of a teacher librarian, the library, should be empowering to the individual. An empowering culture for teachers is one where individual learning for all is the central tenet and this is openly acknowledged and actively sought by the whole school community. An individual or organisational learning culture is based on four attributes:

  1. Demonstrable ability to create, communicate and enact a clear vision based on the school context.
  2. A shared belief and empowerment that drives a growth mindset and has an atmosphere in which ownership and delegation thrive.
  3. Use of a continuous improvement model where expectations are based on individual coaching and mentoring as a part of the professional learning model.
  4. Understanding and use of outcomes based thinking, inquiry and monitoring of the context and changes as appropriate. Accountability, consistency and shared leadership are core to the delivery of results (Progress International n.d.).

Establishing a framework

An active learning culture in a school will use or base professional growth decisions on the Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework (the framework) (AITSL, 2012). This provides a matrix for the individual, school or section of a school to use as a lifelong and continual improvement process. The following is a top level overview of the framework that should form the core purpose for building a learning culture within the school:

Focus on student outcomes

Teacher improvement is based on student improvement and therefore student outcomes.

Clear understanding of effective teaching

To focus on improving teaching, the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (the standards) outline effective teaching at four career stages.


A truly effective approach to leadership, both in positional and individual leadership, is characterised by a shared commitment to improvement and an acceptance that teachers have a powerful role to play in each other’s development, as well as their own.


Performance and development for all staff must be aligned with school plans and school-wide approaches to professional learning.


It is clear that effective implementation takes into account a variety of starting points for schools and individuals, and that the intent and procedures will be different in different situations.

Performance and development cycle

Integral to a process that is based on the five parameters for the framework are the following three elements of a continual learning or performance and development cycle:

  1. Reflection and goal setting: all teachers have goals that are documented and measureable.
  2. Professional practice and learning: all teachers have access to quality professional learning, evidence used to measure goal attainment must have multiple data sources.
  3. Feedback and review: teachers receive regular formal and informal feedback.

A strong and effective performance and development pathway is valued if the culture of the organisation or school embraces change and transformation and in doing so places trust and integrity as core to the culture of the staff (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2012, p.18). Culture can be categorised (Cooke, 1997) as:

  • constructive
  • passive / defensive
  • aggressive / defensive.

Explore the interactive diagram How culture works and reflect on the culture of the library in your school.

What is a constructive culture?

A constructive culture within a school library environment is one where the teacher librarian:

  • sets quality realistic goals
  • acts in problem solving mode, where applicable
  • enjoys teaching and always works towards excellent learning outcomes for students, staff, programs and their own personal learning
  • is supportive of library staff and teaching staff
  • provides constructive programs and solutions
  • builds an open and caring climate that is inclusive within the library and is exemplified within the library staff.

While the culture of the school library is critical to a future oriented learning and information service, it is the capacity of the teacher librarian to be able to develop future skills, develop new learning programs and be abreast of change within the education environment that will enable a future learning environment within the library.

Capacity building framework for teacher librarians

Capacity building in the context of developing core functions, solving problems and ensuring this is within a sustainable manner involves awareness, skills, knowledge, motivation, commitment and confidence. A capacity building framework for teacher librarians must therefore be based on research and include ongoing professional learning in: awareness, skills and knowledge. From this base, motivation is built to develop commitment which will result in a highly skilled and engaged teacher with confidence to move forward regardless of barriers.

YouTube: 21st Century Learning Design - Research Based Capacity Building for Teachers

AITSL (Examples of evidence, n.d. p. 5) has provided a broad view of the type of professional learning that provides the foundation for effective capacity building and should demonstrate evidence of:

  • planning: documentation or strategic view of the individual's process to achieve professional goals
  • learning: delivery of professional learning workshops or participation in forums
  • in-depth research through:
    • action research projects
    • graduate and post graduate studies
  • reflection/practice through
    • a professional learning journal
    • active participation in professional associations.

Building on the above types of professional learning, the following three elements are presented as core to a capacity building framework for teacher librarians:

  • Professional learning:attendances at seminars, workshops, or information sessions provided by another. These can be internal to the school or from an external agency.
  • Professional reading/research:maintaining current knowledge of pedagogy, learning theories and information through access to physical or online resources.
  • Professional dialogue/practice:either an informal and formal discussion/conversation or activity about knowledge and practice learnt from professional learning and reading with other professionals.

YouTube: What is a learning organization?

Professional learning without a feedback loop or without depth in evidence or theories does not enable effective growth or change that, in turn, builds capacity and develops quality in achieving student learning outcomes. It is in the synergy (see A in Figure 1) between these three elements where teacher librarians can start to develop their capacity for change and ongoing growth.

For professional learning to be used as a capacity building tool, some guiding principles should be accepted as necessary (National Natural Resource Management Capacity Building Framework n.d.).

  • Schools and teachers librarians should value and build upon existing local expertise and knowledge.
  • Professional learning should be collaborative, based on trust and learning by doing.
  • Professional learning should build on the human and social capital of the school and the profession.
figure 1 relationship between types of professional learning
Image: Figure 1: Relationship between types of professional learning

Ultimately, a capacity building framework must be sustainable at all levels for the individual, school and system. The framework also needs to be synchronised with system policies and procedures, in particular performance management and development for the sector (NSW Government, 2006). Sustainability in the capacity building framework below is based in the use of the AITSL Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework as the catalyst, utilising an approach to include self-reflection of the teaching standards, the teacher librarians’ role and performance towards enhancing student learning outcomes. The Capacity Building Framework for Teacher Librarians provides a start for each teacher librarian to consider and take action on building their future as professionals.


Society is in a state of continual change or growth and the education landscape reflects this change. The question for educators is in how learning for a state of continual change can be effectively implemented. To prepare students for a world of the future where they will change jobs more frequently than in the past and need to be lifelong learners requires not only re-thinking the student learning environment and programs but also how teachers learn.

Designing learning experiences in the past has always been based on presumed knowledge required for a number of years. The rate of change and the types of knowledge and skills that the workplace requires means that teacher learning cannot be content based only. Teacher librarians need to build their own capacity for ongoing learning so that they can support student and staff learning in their schools.

The capacity building toolkit presented in this article builds on the future skills identified in the previous article (Wall and Bonanno, 2014) and provides an integrated approach to performance management, professional learning, and the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL). The national associations have developed evidence guides (ASLA, 2014a & 2014b), (ALIA, 2014) for use with the standards, all of which have been considered in the development of this tool.

References and further reading

Australian Government: Department of Agriculture n.d, National natural resource management capacity building framework, Australian Government. Department of Agriculture.

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) n.d., ‘Australian professional standards for teachers’, AITSL, accessed 20 January 2018.

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) 2012, ‘Australian teacher performance and development framework’, AITSL, accessed 20 January 2018.

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) n.d., ‘Examples of evidence’, AITSL, accessed 20 January 2018

Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) Schools 2014, ‘AITSL standards for teacher librarian practice’, ALIA, accessed 20 January 2018.

Australian School Library Association (ASLA) 2014a, Evidence guide for teacher librarians in the highly accomplished career stage, Australian School Library Association, Canberra, ACT.

Australian School Library Association (ASLA) 2014b, Evidence guide for teacher librarians in the proficient career stage, Australian School Library Association, Canberra, ACT.

Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards NSW 2014, Australian professional standards for teachers, accessed 20 January 2018.

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) 2012, ‘Leading culture change: employee engagement and public service transformation: Policy into practice: November 2012’, CIPD, accessed 20 January 2018.

Cooke, R. 1997, ‘How culture works’, Circumplex, accessed 20 January 2018.

Hannon, V. 2014, ‘Global trends in professional learning and performance and development: AITSL, YouTube, accessed 20 January 2018.

Hay, L. & Foley, C. 2009, ‘School libraries building capacity for student learning in 21C’, Scan, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 17-26.

Herold, C. 2010, ‘Cameron Herold: Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs, YouTube, accessed 20 January 2018.

Innovation Unit 2014, ‘Global trends in professional learning and performance development: Some implications and ideas for the Australian education system’, AITSL, accessed 20 January 2018.

ITL Research Project 2011, Innovative teaching and learning research. 2011 findings and implications, accessed 20 January 2018.

Jensen, B., Hunter, J., Sonnemann, J. & Cooper, S. 2014, Making time for great teaching, Grattan Institute, Carlton, Vic., accessed 20 January 2018.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A. & Ludgate, H. 2013, New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition,The New Media Consortium, Austin, Texas.

Jones, S., Hadgraft, R., Harvey, M., Lefoe, G. & Ryland, K. 2014, ‘Evidence-based benchmarking framework for a distributed leadership approach to capacity building in learning and teaching’, University of Wollongong, Research Online, accessed 20 January 2018.

Karthik, M. 2014, ‘16 clues that the future of work is already here’, Work-shifting.

Knapp, M.S. 2003, ‘Professional development as a policy pathway’, Review of Research in Education,pp. 109-158, American Educational Research Association, Washington DC.

Mayer, D. & Lloyd, M. 2011, Professional learning: An introduction to research literature, AITSL, Melbourne Australia, accessed 20 January 2018.

McAfee, A. 2013, ‘Andrew McAfee: What will future jobs look like?’, YouTube,accessed 20 January 2018.

Microsoft 2014, ‘21st century learning design: research based capacity building for teachers’, YouTube, accessed 20 January 2018.

Noah, C. & Brickman, A. 2004, ‘Capacity building for libraries’, Public Libraries, March/April pp. 102-107.

NSW Department of Education and Communities 2006, ‘Performance management and development policy’, Policy Library, NSW Government: Education & Communities, accessed 20 January 2018.

NSW Government Education and Communities 2013, Great teaching, inspired learning, NESA, accessed 20 January 2018.

Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health 2014, ‘What is a learning organization?YouTube, accessed 20 January 2018.

Progress International Ltd. n.d., Developing a true organisation learning culture, accessed 20 January 2018.

Schleicher, A. (ed.) 2012, Preparing teachers and developing school leaders for the 21st century: Lessons from around the world, OECD, accessed 20 January 2018.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2006, ‘Capacity building’, Guidebook for planning education in emergencies and reconstruction, Institute for Educational Planning, Paris.

Wall, J. & Bonanno, K. 2014, ‘Learning and literacy for the future’, Scan, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 20-28.

How to cite this article: Wall, J. & Bonanno, K. 2014, ‘Learning and literacy for the future: Building capacity. Part Two'’, Scan, 33(4)

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