Pull, Push, and Nudge

“In the end it’s best to pull whenever you can, push whenever you must, and nudge all the time.”  That’s the closing (and the best) line of an article that someone sent my way this week.  The article is called The Power of Professional Capital – adapted from a book written by two Canadian Education Gurus (not their official titles) named Andrew Hargreaves and Micheal Fullan.

The article explores how to lead well in the education world by developing various forms of professional capital with teachers at various career stages.  Human capital involves the specific qualities of the individual educators whereas social capital looks at how educators work together in a supportive and collaborative way.  While the authors acknowledge that both of these forms of capital are important, ultimately social capital is more critical in affecting real change and progress.  “Use the group to change the group,” is how they put it to make the case that teachers are better together than we ever could be on our own.

When they got to the specifics of how to develop social capital in an educational community, they were very careful to point out that there is no single right answer.  They shared examples from all over the world of ways that various schools or districts have created a culture of social capital.  In Finland educators write curriculum together.  In Singapore, teachers freely give away their best ideas to other teachers.  And in Ontario, teachers take “collective responsibility” for all students.  If done well, this will minimize competition between teachers or departments as all teachers join one big team, working together to increase student achievement.

This sense of the power of social capital resonated with my experience as an educator.  At the high school where I teach, I’m the only Web Design teacher, the only Video Production teacher, and the only Broadcasting teacher.  This can sometimes feel isolating and it has made it difficult to work within the traditional model in which teachers collaborate with others who teach the same classes.  While I can work well alone, working on a team is much more energizing to me.  Because of this, I’ve intentionally sought out opportunities to develop social capital.  I’ve taken on roles at my school (Technology Coordinator and Curriculum & Instruction Coordinator) in which I’m working with colleagues from other departments and even other schools as we seek ways to increase student achievement across the board.  I’m part of a regional group of media educators that gets together regularly to share stories and resources.  And I’m constantly looking for ways that projects in my classes can overlap with projects in other departments – in essence, forcing my students and myself to collaborate with others outside of my own classroom.

I started this post with the final line from the article and by this point, you’re likely asking, “What’s all of this have to do with pushing and pulling and nudging?”  Hargreaves and Fullan end their article with a brief section devoted to what to do in order to increase professional capital within an educational community that you lead.  They call their model “Push-Pull-Nudge” and it seems to be a helpful way to think about creating change in any arena.  Here’s how they distinguish these three ways to motivate:

  • Push – “Push is when you assert, pay attention, and intervene for more professional capital.” They point out the riskiness of this technique, as you can certainly push too hard and either face intense resistance or compliance for the sake of compliance.
  • Pull – “Pull is when you draw people into the excitement, into the vision, into the development.”  I see pull as creating something that is so compelling and engaging that people can’t help but what to be a part of it.
  • Nudge – “Nudge is a way to enable people to make choices but to try and guide them a bit at a time into making better ones.” Nudging should happen all of the time.  It’s the small, seemingly inconsequential moves that set educators up for feeling more connected with one another and better able to work together to support students.

So yes, I agree that as we seek to increase professional capital in our schools and districts, “it’s best to pull whenever you can, push whenever you must, and nudge all the time.”

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