What is Capacity?

Last week, several members of the CSI team participated in the first of four Cognitive Coaching® training sessions for this school year. One of the foundational concepts (and the ultimate goal of the trainings) is to develop one’s identity and capacity as a mediator of thinking.

We spent some time in this first session discussing each of those bolded words and phrases, but the conversation about capacity has stuck in my mind.

Capacity refers to the maximum amount that something can contain or produce.

When we typically hear the word capacity, it’s usually in a statement such as “I’m at capacity,” or a question like “How do we build capacity?”

We discussed how a statement such as “I’m at capacity” usually suggests there’s nothing additional that can be learned, offered, or produced. Like a container, if someone is ‘at capacity,’ it can hold no more.

We also discussed that building capacity is about how we expand the size of the container so it can hold more. Expanding our technical skills, abilities, processes, and resources through training and practice can also expand our containers.

And while it may feel like the last thing we want to do when we’re ‘at capacity,’ the benefits are real.  

So, why is capacity building in particular on my mind?

As we find ourselves already halfway through September, and a month of the school year down for many of our schools, there are some real challenges we are facing as a sector:

  • The staffing shortage is real.
  • There is more work than ever to be done to address many of the direct and indirect impacts COVID had on learning over the last several years.

How do we address these challenges—and perhaps most importantly—how do we address these challenges in a sustainable way?  

My short answer is: We address these challenges together and with a focus on building capacity.

CSI Capacity Building

Building capacity is an important way we can invest in our staff – both individually and collectively. The CSI Leadership Team has been continuing to think about the ways in which we can build capacity within and across our teams.

Cognitive Coaching

One of those ways is by offering Cognitive Coaching® training to our staff. We have about a third of our staff participating, including a majority of supervisors. This four-day training seeks to develop self-directed people independently and as members of a community.

Cross-Departmental Collaboration

Another capacity building initiative is aligned with one of our organizational goals for this year and is based on staff feedback. That goal is to develop opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration. Not only does this expand perspectives, but it builds capacity within our own team.

One project that will engage staff across teams this year and may be top of mind for many schools is the October Count Audit. We will have staff across teams working to review documentation to confirm funding eligibility of students across the portfolio.

While this will add much needed capacity to our Data Submissions Team in one of its busiest times of the year, it will also give an opportunity for staff in other departments to learn more about the work of the team as well as the direct and indirect impacts of this data collection and subsequent funding determinations on their own areas of work.

School Capacity Building

We have also been thinking about how we can best support schools in building capacity while also honoring each school’s autonomy in approach and model. We’ve been asking questions such as:

  • Where can we leverage economies of scale?
  • Where are the biggest gaps/challenges experienced by most schools where CSI can provide additional support across the portfolio?

Not surprisingly, we have looked to how we leverage our Cohorts, Trainings, and Tools to support capacity building.


Continuous Improvement Collaborative is our year-long fellowship opportunity for CSI school teams to focus on identifying and addressing gaps within their school communities. Participating teams will deepen their knowledge in continuous improvement tools and practices, connect with a peer network of school teams, strengthen their team structures, and receive individualized coaching and mentorship.

New Leader Cohort seeks to connect charter school leaders to support strong and sustainable leadership practices within the CSI portfolio of schools.


While every department at CSI has its own suite of trainings developed to support school contacts, I want to highlight the exciting improvements made to our governance supports to help school boards build their own capacity.


We’ve also been taking a closer look at how we can leverage the skills and vision of CSI’s Authorizing and Accountability Team. This involves taking data from state assessments your students complete and the state reporting data your school teams collect each year to build tools that CSI and schools can use to analyze progress and performance and make data-informed decisions.

Whether it’s a CARS report or Equity Screener or Demographics Dashboard (coming soon!), these tools can allow users to focus on their interests as opposed to spending time compiling and manipulating data.

We are working to build capacity within our own team so staff across departments can use and reference these tools in their conversations with your school teams. And, we are working to offer capacity-building opportunities to your schools in making using of these time-saving tools for your own work—this will be one topic at the November School Leader Gatherings.

I look forward to connecting with schools and hearing additional ways you all are thinking about capacity building.

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