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Social Side of Education Blog Series Digest

Below is a summary of our growing blog post collection documenting the value of relationships and social capital in educational improvement. Contributors include Alan Daly, Carrie R. Leana, Kara Finnigan, Greg Anrig, Ken Frank, Jim Spillane and others. This series is ongoing; if you have research or professional experience that speaks to this perspective, please get in touch and share it!

For more materials and resources on this topic click here

1. The Importance Of Relationships In Educational Reform

By Kara S. Finnigan and Alan J. Daly | July 7, 2014

Most education policies are characterized by over reliance on technical fixes, prescriptive approaches and scant attention to the context in which reforms are implemented. We intuitively know that strong relationships are the basis of successful organizations; yet, we pay little attention to them as we design and implement complex change. We must refocus our attention to policies that strengthen collaboration and trust at all levels of the system and not just those focusing on technical knowledge.

2. Do Students Learn More When Their Teachers Work Together?

By Esther Quintero | July 17, 2014

Debates about how to improve education often involve two ‘camps’: Those who focus on the impact of “in-school factors” and those who focus on “out-of-school factors.” Social capital — the idea that relationships have value, that social ties provide access to important resources, and that a group’s performance can often exceed that of the sum of its members — is something that rarely makes it into the conversation. This is a problem because research suggests that students learn the most when their teachers are embedded in supportive professional networks. 

3. Social Capital Matters As Much As Human Capital – A Message To Skeptics

By Esther Quintero | August 4, 2014

While most people would agree that relationships are important, critics might also point out that these aspects cannot really be leveraged cost-effectively with policy intervention toward any significant impact. Is the social side of reform a 'soft' idea? Yes and no. While skeptics are partially right that strong relationships can't be created overnight, there are effective ways to encourage them.  

4. No Teacher Is An Island: The Role Of Social Relations In Teacher Evaluation

By Alan J. Daly and Kara S. Finnigan | August 19, 2014

Is there a ‘social side’ to a teacher’s ability to add value to their students’ growth and, if so, what are the implications for current teacher evaluation models? Attending to schools' relational infrastructure suggests supplementing how we think about teacher evaluation and what we mean by adding value (individually and collectively) to student learning. Only by paying explicit attention to how social capital shapes individual teacher knowledge and practice will we be able to bring about large-scale change.

5. Why Teachers And Researchers Should Work Together For Improvement

By Bill Penuel | September 4, 2014

Policymakers are asking a lot of public school teachers these days, such as the shifts in teaching and assessment required to implement new, ambitious standards for student learning. Teachers need more time and supports to make these shifts. What kinds of guidance can educational research provide? Not as much as one would expect. The worlds of research and practice are separated by a large gap; to close it, practitioners and researchers need to work together for educational improvement. 

6. Regular Public And Charter Schools: Is A Different Conversation Possible?

By Esther Quintero | September 18, 2014

In this series we have been highlighting research that emphasizes the value of collaboration and considers extreme competition to be counterproductive. But, are there times when collaboration and competition can complement each other and, in combination, promote systemic improvement? At the system level, could different types of schools serving the same pool of students work in cooperative ways for the greater good of their communities?

7. A New Focus On Social Capital In School Reform Efforts

By Carrie R. Leana and Frits K. Pil | October 14, 2014

Organizational success rarely stems from the latest technology or a few exemplary individuals. Rather, it is derived from: 1) intentional, systematic practices aimed at enhancing trust among employees; 2) information sharing and openness about problems and opportunities for improvement; and 3) a collective sense of purpose. Schools are no exception. The benefits of social capital are unequivocal, and unlike other policies, initiatives that foster it may result in the most gains for students. 

8. All The World’s A Stage: How Churn Undermines Change

By Kara S. Finnigan and Alan J. Daly | October 28, 2014

Complex change requires trusting partnerships, strong leadership, and collaborative relationships. Personnel churn has the opposite effect: It undermines change imposing fiscal, human, and social capital costs in school systems. Accountability has increased stress and personnel movement in challenged districts, creating a vicious cycle: districts undertake reforms while operating under policies that increase leadership departures, inhibiting improvement, thus motivating more policies and so on. Strengthening relationships is one way to break this cycle.

9. Feeling Socially Connected Fuels Intrinsic Motivation and Engagement 

By Esther Quintero | November 20, 2014

Our "social side" series have emphasized that teaching is a cooperative endeavor, and as such deeply influenced by the quality of a school's social environment. But to what extent are dispositions such as motivation, persistence and engagement, mediated by relationships and the social-relational context? I discuss three studies indicating that efforts to improve learning should include and leverage social-relational processes, such as how learners perceive (and relate to) their social contexts. 

10. Is Teaching More Like Baseball or Basketball?

By Esther Quintero | December 8, 2014

The research that we've been discussing in the social side series suggests that it might be smarter to focus on developing excellent teams of educators for all rather than fighting the increasingly competitive war for talent. One reason is that while most of us are neither exceptional nor awful, social capital can move us from good to great. Recent research by Roderick I. Swaab and colleagues adds a second reason: Too many superstars might in fact result in a lower performing team when the task requires coordination and cooperation. 

11. Constitution For Effective School Governance

By Kenneth Frank | December 10, 2014

Economics is the current metaphor of choice in educational reform but this metaphor tends to overlook how teachers and administrators might act collectively to be more effective. What conditions could facilitate this collective work? A new approach to school governance might help to the extent that system-level checks and balances could increase overall trust, coordination, and a sense of purpose and shared vision, all necessary for deep lasting reform but currently missing in many educational contexts. 

12. Resources On The Social Side Of Education Reform

by Esther Quintero | January 12, 2015

A list of resources exploring the idea that social relationships and networks are critical for understanding and improving school performance.

13. Relationships Matter: Putting It All Together

by Esther Quintero | January 28, 2015

Short presentation explaining several shortcomings of mainstream education reform and offering an alternative framework to advance educational progress. The social side perspective maintains that educational improvement is as much about the capacities of individuals as it is about their relationships and other features of their social context. 

14. Turning Conflict Into Trust Improves Schools & Student Learning

by Greg Anrig | March 3, 2015

Effective public schools are built on strong collaborative relationships, including those between teachers and administrators. Despite challenges and setbacks, there are remarkable transformations taking place in a number of places across the United States where labor and management are jointly tackling whole district reform. It is time to attach booster rockets to an approach that can take the nation’s students to a much higher level.

15. Teacher Quality - Still Plenty Of Room For Debate

by Esther Quintero | March 17, 2015

The New York Times' asked five education experts "How To Ensure and Improve Teacher Quality?" While the answers given are important, there is a relative inattention to policies that would harness the power of the interpersonal level, which we know matters a great deal for teacher quality.

16. Broadening The Educational Capability Conversation: Leveraging the Social Dimension

by James Spillane | April 15, 2015

To reap the benefits of social capital, we need a better understanding of how to invest in it. A first step is to design organizations and systems that facilitate social interactions among school and school-system staff. And, to do this, it is essential that we understand the factors associated with the presence (or absence) of social ties. This post reviews those factors and offers recommendations for schools and school system leaders.

17. Is The Social Side Of Education ‘Touchy Feely’?

by Esther Quintero | April 16, 2015

This post reviews the ways in which researchers are quantifying and modeling aspects of the social-organizational context of schools and how these measures are associated with teacher effectiveness, student achievement and school improvement. Capturing the social context of teaching and learning is complex but not impossible. It’s being done in increasingly diverse and complementary ways.

18. Teaching = Thinking + Relationship

by Bryan Mascio |  May 5, 2015

Many of today's educational reforms reinforce a behaviorist view of teaching by fast-tracking the training for teachers, aiming to standardize their actions, using checklists for evaluation, and moving the cognitive work out of the classroom. However, true improvement will only come once we begin to see teaching and learning as highly complex cognitive processes that have vital relationships at their core.

19. Trust: The Foundation Of Student Achievement

by Esther Quintero | May 21, 2015 

Those who advocate for an overly strong focus on testing results in accountability systems often ignore the potential of social-relational and other contextual measures to help schools improve.

20. Developing Workplaces Where Teachers Stay, Improve, And Succeed

by John P. Papay & Matthew Kraft | May 28, 2015

A large body of research confirms that teachers have large effects on students’ learning and that some teachers are more effective than others. What is largely absent is a recognition of how teachers are supported or constrained by the organizational contexts in which they teach. This post shows how and why context matters.

21. Starting Closest To Home: The Importance Of Developing Teachers’ Understanding Of The Social Contexts Of Their Classrooms

by John Lane | June 11, 2015

Teachers and education reform efforts more generally, would benefit from opportunities to learn about and leverage the large body of scholarly knowledge on the social dynamics of classrooms. 

22. Will VAMS Reinforce The Walls Of The Egg-Crate School?

by Susan Moore Johnson | June 25, 2015

Throughout the U.S. there is an increasing trend toward using value-added methods (VAMs) for high-stakes decisions. But when policymakers use VAMs to identify, reward, and dismiss teachers, they may perpetuate the egg-crate model of schooling and undermine efforts to build school wide capacity.

23. The Story Behind The Story: Social Capital And The Vista Unified School District

by Devin Vodicka | August 19, 2015

Superintendent of Vista Unified, Ca., shares how the district started on a path to improvement by focusing on relationships and using data to improve them across the system.

24. What Makes Teacher Collaboration Work?

by David Sherer and Johanna Barmore | December 8, 2015

Harvard's David Sherer and Johanna Barmore review the empirical research on teacher collaboration and argue for increased focus on the conditions that foster effective teamwork.