School Culture

  • A school is a complex, dynamic system and not just a building with people inside. School improvement efforts require that we understand the contextual factors that support or impede change.

    The school context has been defined in many ways; we see at least two distinct dimensions: 1) inorganic elements such as physical arrangements, resources and policies; and 2) socio-cultural elements, including (a) attitudes and beliefs held by persons inside and outside the organization, (b) informal rules or norms that govern behavior, and (c) the interpersonal level or the relationships of persons inside the school. The interrelatedness and interaction of these elements creates the context in which school improvement efforts are undertaken.

    As Thomas J. Sergiovanni said, "teachers and students are driven less by bureaucratic rules, management protocols, (...) and more by norms, group mores, patterns of beliefs, values, the socialization process and socially constructed reality. In a loosely connected world, it is culture that is key to bringing about the coordination and sense of order needed for effectiveness."

    The Institute's programs focus primarily the socio-cultural dimension of the school organization.

     

     

  • The 2018 Elections: What Do They Mean for American Education?

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    What are the implications of the results of the 2018 election for American education, in Washington D.C,. in state capitols and in the nation’s schools and classrooms? From a variety of perspectives ranging from political actor to scholar, our panelists will address this question. Speakers: Domingo Morel assistant professor, political science, Rutgers University; visiting scholar, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University; Michael Petrilli, president, Thomas B. Fordham Institute; research fellow, Stanford University's Hoover Institution; executive editor, Education Next; distinguished senior fellow, Education Commission of the States; Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers and Albert Shanker Institute. Moderator: Michelle Ringuette, assistant to the president for labor, government & political affairs, American Federation of Teachers. Watch the video.
  • How To Create A More Collaborative Workplace For Teachers

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    Join Public Agenda and the Albert Shanker Institute for a free 1-hour webinar on Thursday, Sept. 20 to explore how educators can work together to foster collaboration among teachers. To register and receive updates leading up to the event, please click here.
  • The Role of School Organization, Social Capital and Collaboration in the Improvement of Teachers and Teaching. From Research Findings to Policy Proposals

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    Current education policies haven’t sufficiently leveraged the organizational and interpersonal aspects of schools which can benefit educators and students collectively. Instead, the focus has been primarily on technical and individual-level approaches. However, a focus on individuals seems insufficient and limited; a simultaneous and equally strong focus on strengthening the organizations where teachers work appears sorely needed.

  • The Social Side of Education: How Social Aspects of Schools & School Systems Shape Teaching & Learning

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    The notion that teaching and learning are social endeavors may seem obvious. Yet, the implications of that statement for research, policy and practice are less so. This conference foregrounds recent evidence showing that social aspects of schools and school systems deeply influence school improvement. The conference will also encourage in-depth debate on the practical implications of this evidence. Watch the videos here.

  • Quality Teaching: Individual and Social Approaches

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    This two-panel conversation focused on theresults of the annual “PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools,” and their implications for policy and practice, taking on the question of how government, schools of education, school districts and schools can promote, nurture and support quality teaching. Watch the video.

  • Working Together Matters for Improvement

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    Improvement is as much about the capacities of educators and school leaders (human capital) as it is about the capacities and resources that are created between them (social capital) at all levels of the school organization and broader school system. This panel is part of AFT's TEACH Conference. Watch the video.

  • Good Schools IX / Creating Safe and Supportive Schools

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    How do we ensure that all schools are warm, welcoming, fair, and effective in the treatment of all students? How do we maintain safety and order, while protecting against the effects of the persistent, unconscious biases that plaugue our society?

  • How To Support Teachers' Well-Being During COVID-19? Prioritize Relationships With Students.

    Our guest authors today are Kristabel Stark, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland, and Nathan Jones, associate professor of special education and education policy at Boston University. 

    As schools around the country get ready to reopen this month, we’ve heard a lot of talk about masks, ventilation systems, tablets, and internet access. But in the midst of these logistical conversations, it’s been easy to overlook the thing that matters most for a successful return to school: teachers.  For teachers, factors associated with COVID-19 have challenged core dimensions of their work. As school gets underway this year, and building and district administrators strategize how to go about rebuilding again in the midst of a pandemic, our research suggests that one action is critical: prioritizing relationship building between teachers and students. We find that, of all of teachers’ daily activities, it is their work with students that is most strongly associated with positive emotions. And, this relationship actually intensified in the early months of the pandemic.

    We did not set out to write a COVID paper. In the fall of 2019, we set out to conduct a longitudinal study of teachers’ daily work experiences, including how they budgeted their time across activities and how their emotions varied within and across schooldays. In the study, nearly 250 teachers in two urban school districts completed time diary surveys in which they recorded how long they spent on various activities, who they spent their time with, and how they felt during these activities and interactions.  We wanted to understand how teachers’ emotions were associated with specific professional activities, and how those emotions changed over the course of a school year. But of course, we didn’t foresee that, midway through data collection, a global pandemic would emerge, temporarily transforming the nature of teachers’ work lives and professional experiences.

  • Why School Climate Matters For Teachers And Students

    Our guest authors today are Mathew A. Kraft, associate professor of education and economics at Brown University, and Grace T. Falken, a research program associate at Brown’s Annenberg Institute. This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of The State Education Standard, the journal of the National Association of State Boards of Education.

    Over the past decade, education reformers have focused much of their attention on raising teacher quality. This makes sense, given the well-evidenced, large impacts teachers have on student outcomes and the wide variation in teacher effectiveness, even within the same school (Goldhaber 2015Jackson et al. 2014). Yet this focus on individual teachers has caused policymakers to lose sight of the importance of the organizational contexts in which teachers work and students learn. 

    The quality of a school’s teaching staff is greater than the sum of its parts. School environments can enable teachers to perform to their fullest potential or undercut their efforts to do so. 

    When we think of work environments, we often envision physical features: school facilities, instructional resources, and the surrounding neighborhood. State and district policies that shape curriculum standards, class size, and compensation also come to mind. These things matter, but so do school climate factors that are less easily observed or measured. Teachers’ day-to-day experiences are influenced most directly by the culture and interpersonal environment of their schools.

  • Social Identity Development In The Age Of Accountability

    According to a recent NPR article, the “majority of parents” do not talk to their children about social identity, which refers to group membership based on characteristics such as religion, gender, national origin, race, family makeup, and socio-economic status. The article presents results from a report, co-published by The Sesame Workshop and NORC at the University of Chicago, called the Identity Matters Study. The study includes survey responses from 6,000 parents about their children’s sense of identity at home and in the classroom, as well as results from a second survey of 1,046 educators’ perspectives on identity development in school. 

    Many readers were quick to respond that NPR’s headline was misleading, pointing out that the wording should have been, “White parents rarely, if ever, discuss ethnicity, gender, class or other identity categories with their kids…” This objection has merit. The report does show parent responses by race for just five survey questions, but the data confirm that White parents are far less likely than Black parents to talk about identity with students, with 6 percent of White parents and 22 percent of Black parents answering that they often talk about race. Nevertheless, the study concludes that, overall, 60 percent of parents rarely or never talk about race, ethnicity, or social class with their children. In the second survey, which queried educators, the study found that one third of teachers had a student affected by a negative comment targeting their social identity, but that most teachers feel unprepared or uncomfortable when it comes to navigating conversations on the matter. 

    It is clear that we need more comprehensive survey data, including more questions broken down by race and other demographic indicators, in order to have a better understanding of how children are developing a sense of social identity at home. In the meantime, what we can gather from this article is that many students, particularly White students, do not develop an awareness of their own complex social identity until they get to school, and that this awareness often comes via negative comments.

    How can schools do better?

  • We Need To Reassess School Discipline

    It has been widely documented that, in American schools, students of color are disproportionately punished for nonviolent behaviors, and are targeted for exclusionary discipline within schools more often than their white peers. Exclusionary discipline is defined as students being removed from their learning environment, whether by in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, or expulsion. 

    In a national study, Sullivan et al. (2013) found that “Black students were more than twice as likely as White students to be suspended, whereas Hispanic and Native American students were 10 and 20 percent more likely to be suspended.” Out of all the racial minority groups, Asians had the lowest suspension rates across the board. Across all the racial groups, “males were twice as likely as female students to be suspended, and Black males had the highest rates of all subgroups.”

    One reason that students of color are at a performance disadvantage to their White counterparts is because, put simply, they are being removed from the classroom much more often. This is true nationally, but it seems to be a particularly pronounced issue in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Center for Public Integrity released a 2015 study demonstrating that schools in Virginia “referred students to law enforcement agencies at a rate nearly three times the national rate” (Ferriss, 2015). According to the U.S. Department of Education, Virginia’s Black student population, which is 23 percent of all students, received 59 percent of short-term arrests and 43 percent of expulsions (Lum, 2018).

  • In Memoriam: Eugenia Kemble

    It is with great sorrow that we report the death of Eugenia Kemble, the founding executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, after a long battle with fallopian tube cancer. “Genie” Kemble helped to conceive of and launch the institute in 1998, with the support of the late Sandy Feldman, then president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Endowed by the AFT and named in honor of the AFT’s iconic former president, the Albert Shanker Institute was established as a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research reports and fostering candid exchanges on policy options related to the issues of public education, labor, and democracy.

    A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the University of Manila, Genie entered the teacher union movement as part of a cohort of young Socialist Party activists who were close to Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and deeply involved in the civil rights struggle. She began her career in 1967 as a reporter for the newspaper of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the AFT’s New York City local, and became a top aide to then UFT president Albert Shanker. She was a first-hand witness to the turbulent era during which Shanker served as UFT president, including the UFT strike for More Effective Schools in 1967, the harrowing Ocean Hill Brownsville strike over teachers’ due process rights in 1968, the remarkable UFT election victory to represent paraprofessionals in 1969, and the masterful bailout of a faltering New York City government through the loan of teacher pension funds in the mid-1970s.

  • Guns Do Kill: They Don’t Belong Near Schools

    “When is enough enough?” – Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers

    “We call BS.” – Emma González, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior

    A new year, a new bloody record: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 now marks the deadliest high school shooting in the history of the United States, surpassing the infamous Columbine High School massacre of April 1999. In another expression of senseless violence, at least 17 people lost their lives when a former student opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida.

    While the people of Broward County struggle to heal, how can the country as a whole heal? With the calendar year less than seven weeks old (a period that included the end of many winter breaks), the Broward County massacre already marked the 17th school shooting of the year. Only in the United States do school shootings happen so frequently. And even here, that rate exceeds the number of school shootings through the 14th day of February in each previous year since 2013, when Everytown for Gun Safety started keeping count, and far exceeds the average of 9.2 school shootings through February 14 between 2013 and 2017. The Gun Violence Archive, which has compiled statistics since 2014 and uses a more restrictive definition of school shootings that excludes incidents that took place after hours, also counts the Broward County massacre as the 17th school shooting this year (and provides a slightly higher average of 9.25 school shootings through February 14 between 2014 and 2017).

    This is a nation at peace domestically. How many gravestones, crosses and urns should there be marking the remains of schoolchildren and educators slain by guns of war?

  • What Do Schools Fostering A Teacher “Growth Mindset” Look Like?

    Our guest authors today are Stefanie Reinhorn, Susan Moore Johnson, and Nicole Simon. Reinhorn is an independent consultant working with school systems on Instructional Rounds and school improvement.  Johnson is the Jerome T Murphy Research Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Simon is a director in the Office of K-16 Initiatives at the City University of New York. The authors are researchers at The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at Harvard Graduate School of Education. This piece is adapted from the authors’ chapter in Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Education Reform edited by Esther Quintero (Harvard Education Press, 2017).

    Carol Dweck’s theories about motivation and development have become mainstream in schools since her book, Mindset, was published in 2006.  It is common to hear administrators, teachers, parents, and even students talk about helping young learners adopt a “growth mindset” --expecting and embracing the idea of developing knowledge and skills over time, rather than assuming individuals are born with fixed abilities.  Yet, school leaders and teachers scarcely talk about how to adopt a growth mindset for themselves—one that assumes that educators, not only the students they teach, can improve with support and practice. Many teachers find it hard to imagine working in a school with a professional culture designed to cultivate their development, rather than one in which their effectiveness is judged and addressed with rewards and sanctions.  However, these schools do exist.

    In our research (see herehere and here*), we selected and studied six high-performing, high-poverty urban schools so that we could understand how these schools were beating the odds. Specifically, we wondered what they did to attract and develop teachers, and how teachers experienced working there. These schools, all located in one Massachusetts city, included: one traditional district school; two district turnaround schools; two state charter schools; and one charter-sponsored restart school. Based on interviews with 142 teachers and administrators, we concluded that all six schools fostered and supported a “growth mindset” for their educators.

  • The Social Side Of Capability: Improving Educational Performance By Attending To Teachers’ And School Leaders’ Interactions About Instruction

    Our guest authors today are Matthew Shirrell, James P. Spillane, Megan Hopkins, and Tracy Sweet. Shirrell is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Administration in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University. Spillane is the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor in Learning and Organizational Change at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. Hopkins is Assistant Professor of Education Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Sweet is an Assistant Professor in the Measurement, Statistics and Evaluation program in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology at the University of Maryland. This piece is adapted from the authors’ chapter in Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Education Reform edited by Esther Quintero (Harvard Education Press, 2017).

    The last two decades have witnessed numerous educational reforms focused on measuring the performance of teachers and school leaders. Although these reforms have produced a number of important insights, efforts to measure teacher and school leader performance have often overlooked the fact that performance is not simply an individual matter, but also a social one. Theory and research dating back to the last century suggest that individuals use their social relationships to access resources that can improve their capability and, in turn, their performance. Scholars refer to such real or potential resources accessed through relationships as “social capital,” and research in schools has demonstrated the importance of this social capital to a variety of key school processes and outcomes, such as instructional improvement and student performance.

    We know that social relationships are the necessary building blocks of this social capital; we also know that social relationships within schools (as in other settings) don’t arise simply by chance. Over the last decade, we have studied the factors that predict social relationships both within and between schools by examining interactions about instruction among school and school system staff. As suggested by social capital theory, such interactions are important because they facilitate access to social resources such as advice and information. Thus, understanding the predictors of these interactions can help us determine what it might take to build social capital in our schools and school systems. In this post, we briefly highlight two major insights from our work; for more details, see our chapter in Teaching in Context.

  • ESSA: An Opportunity For Research-Practice Partnerships To Support Districts And States

    Our guest authors today are Bill Penuel, professor of learning sciences and human development in the School of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Caitlin C. Farrell, director of the National Center of Research in Policy and Practice (NCRPP) at the University of Colorado Boulder. This piece is adapted from the authors’ chapter in Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Education Reform, edited by Esther Quintero (Harvard Education Press, 2017).

    Many parts of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) call on schools, districts, and states to select “evidence-based programs.” Many state plans now being developed include strategies for meeting these provisions of the law. These state plans in development vary widely. Some mainly pass through responsibilities for selecting evidence-based programs to districts. Other states are considering ways to integrate continuous improvement research that would focus on studying the implementation of evidence-based programs.

    Our book chapter in Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Reform presents a number of scenarios where long-term research-practice partnerships (RPPs) have helped districts select, adapt, and design evidence-based programs. RPPs are long-term, mutually beneficial relationships between practitioners and researchers around problems of practice. This promising strategy has been growing in popularity in recent years, and there is now even a network of RPPs to support exchange among them.

  • Organizing For Adaptive Change Management

    Our guest author today is Joshua P. Starr, chief executive officer of PDK International. This piece was originally published in Phi Delta Kappan, and it is adapted from his chapter in Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Education Reform, edited by Esther Quintero (Harvard Education Press, 2017).

    One day, when I was a district superintendent, I visited two high schools we had identified as “needing improvement.” I was there to share our strategy to help them boost student achievement and also give teachers and staff a chance to air their thoughts and concerns. The schools faced similar challenges, and they served similar student populations, but the comments I heard on my visits were totally different.

    At one school, faculty complained that students lacked respect for authority, had been poorly prepared by their middle schools, and were being raised by parents who didn’t value education. In short, they pointed to problems beyond their control. They wanted me to remove the kids who were giving them the most trouble, and they also wanted more money.

    At the other school, teachers and staff told me about their collective struggle to improve instruction, talked about their desire for more professional learning, and described how they were challenging and changing their own beliefs about student abilities. That is, they found specific problems lurking in their own teaching practices and believed they had to learn and grow so they could serve students better.