Enhancing Internal Capacity: Leadership for Learning

by Louise Stoll


In this article Louise Stoll argues that a vital clue to understanding why some schools are able to promote and enhance learning is the level of their internal capacity.

Internal capacity, she writes, is the power to engage in and sustain the continuous learning of teachers and the school itself for the purpose of enhancing pupil learning.

She sets out three key influences on internal capacity:

  • Individual teachers within the school (nothing or no-one is more important to school improvement than a teacher).
  • The school’s social and structural learning context (individuals interact with the learning context in which they are located).
  • The external context (whilst a school’s readiness for change is internally driven, external factors including local and broader community issues will have an effect).

A school’s leaders, Stoll notes, have a crucial role to play in enhancing capacity, because they know their schools best. She sets out “four imperatives” for leaders that she considers to be at the core of leadership and learning:

  • Don’t lose sight of your learning vision
  • Engage hearts as well as minds
  • Become learning experts
  • Practise organisational learning

Reflective questions

These reflective questions (from Enhancing Internal Capacity: Leadership for Learning in the Evidence Base section of the NCSL website) might guide your reading of this article:

  • What are the particular implications of the change forces for learning in my school?
  • Which of the influences on internal capacity support change and learning in my school? Which ones currently inhibit change and learning? What needs to be done to turn inhibiting influences into supportive influences?
  • Are there any influences on my school’s internal capacity that don’t appear to be in this model? What are they and how do they influence the school’s internal capacity?
  • How clear is my vision for this school? Is it a learning vision? Is my vision shared by others? How do I know? How can I work to achieve a shared vision?
  • Are our expectations for learning sufficiently challenging?
  • Is there a sense of emotional well-being among the adults in this school? Do people trust me? Do they feel valued? Do they believe that I care? Do I listen to them as individuals?
  • Is this school as a workplace conducive to students’, teachers’, leaders’, and community learning?
  • What do I know about my own learning? What helps me to learn? What prevents me from learning?
  • What examples can I think of that this school is engaged in organisational learning?
  • Is this really a learning school? If yes, what evidence do I have? Would others agree? If no, what do I personally and we, collectively, need to do to make it one?

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