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 social side of education brings into focus the idea that teaching and learning are not solo accomplishments but social endeavors - as such, they are best achieved through trusting relationships and teamwork.
- The project a novel approach to understanding teachers' work focuses on developing a measurement tool to capture the contextualized work of teachers in all it's complexity and detail.
- Positive behavior in the early years takes a multifaceted look at the factors that may be driving high rates of suspensions of children of color in the early years.
The Social Side is a lens that brings insight into a critical oversight in educational reform and its policies: Teaching and learning are not solo accomplishments but social endeavors -- they are best achieved, through trusting relationships and teamwork, instead of competition and individual prowess.
This new program investigates what may be driving high rates of suspensions of poor children of color in early childhood classrooms. Our prelimnary work suggests that, aside from the important issue of unconscious bias, some problems arise from children’s lack of experience in using language to mediate behavior and the failure to provide teachers with alternatives to suspension.
The University of Wisconsin and the Albert Shanker Institute are jointly developing the Educator Day Reconstruction Method, which provides a new and flexible way of measuring teachers' work and the broader context where it unfolds. The Educator DRM can be adapted to meet a district's information needs and can be used to complement existing data sources. We view this customization process as something to be accomplished collaboratively, with districts and stakeholders.
Watch a discussion highlighting the importance of a reading infrastructure to create the conditions for effective, science-based reading instruction.
In The Teacher Insurgency, Leo Casey addresses how the unexpected wave of recent teacher strikes has had a dramatic impact on American public education, teacher unions, and the larger labor movement.
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?
Join Public Agenda and the Albert Shanker Institute for a free 1-hour webinar on Thursday, Sept. 20, to explore how teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members and other administrators and leaders can work together to foster collaboration among teachers.
Teaching in Context book reception at the American Education Research Association annual meeting, Sunday April 15, 2018, 6:30-8:00 p.m., New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, 1535 Broadway, Astor Ballroom, New York NY.
The Role of School Organization, Social Capital and Collaboration in the Improvement of Teachers and Teaching. From Research Findings to Policy Proposals
Current education policies haven’t sufficiently leveraged the organizational and interpersonal aspects of schools which can benefit educators and students collectively.
Our panel of researchers and practitioners addressed this question by examining both the current state of research and on-the-ground efforts at school improvement that have worked.
The Social Side of Education: How Social Aspects of Schools & School Systems Shape Teaching & Learning
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.
This two-panel conversation focused on the results 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.
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.
A special issue of the New England Journal of Public Policy (Vol. 34, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2022) featured essays on the topic of the Future of Work which were solicited by the American Federation of Teachers for a conference on the subject it jointly hosted with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Albert Shanker Institute on July 13, 2022. Each week for the next nine weeks the Shanker Blog will feature one of these essays. This is the introduction to the series by NEJPP's founding editor, Padraig O'Malley.
Our guest author today is Dr. Alvin Larson, Director of Research and Evaluation at Meriden Public Schools, a mid-sized urban Connecticut school district that serves about 8,700 students in Meriden, CT. Dr. Larson holds a B.A. in Sociology, M. Ed., and M.S. in Educational Research, and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. The work and social-emotional instruments utilized below were made possible with the support from Meriden’s community, leadership and educational professionals.
Over the past year or two there have been many reports, and predictions, in the media of students losing “years” of academic and social development as a direct or indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these reports are based on first-hand views of school professionals such as understaffed school psychologists, counselors, and teachers who have witnessed large increases in concerning student behaviors and a decrease in academic skills.
I am an Educational Psychologist embedded in an urban school district, where 77 percent of students are eligible for free/reduced price meals, 75 percent are minority, 20 percent are classify for special education, and 17 percent are English Language Learners. These students are exposed to many of the typical urban issues which add to our education challenges. Thanks to the support of the Meriden community, leadership, and educational professionals, I have been able to reliably measure student academic, behavioral and social-emotional development over the past ten years. In this essay, to estimate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ well-being; I am reporting cross-sectional data from three academic years 2019-20 (pre-COVID), as well as 2020-21 and 2021-22 (during/post COVID). While I will share aggregate changes in students’ academic measures as well as data on students’ suspension and teacher level data on perceptions of students’ behaviors across the pre-post COVID years, my primary focus is on students’ social-emotional well-being and how it has changed over the past few years.
We go into Memorial Day—a day reserved for honoring those who died for our democracy while serving our country in the U.S. military—after a month of heart-breaking news and experiences.
Each May, as the school year winds down, districts across the country will soon celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. In previous years, receiving doughnuts, gift cards, and T-shirts was a nice way to end the school year. One could even laugh at the less than stellar tokens of appreciation, like the mini box of raisins with a sticker that exclaimed “thank you for ‘raisin’ student achievement.” But, amid COVID-19 and a host of new challenges that are facing educators, this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week may function as a going away party for many teachers who will soon leave the profession.
That unfortunate reality of rising teacher burnout has serious consequences across the education system and requires greater attention to reverse this alarming trend. To put a number on this problem, a recent report found that 55% of teachers will leave the profession sooner than they had planned, and a staggering 90% are suffering from burnout (Kamenetz, 2022). I am one of these statistics. After years of suffering from burnout, I finally hit my breaking point — a persistent eye twitch induced by stress — and left the profession. After walking out of my classroom, I raced straight ahead to do as much research as possible on teacher burnout because I love the profession, and I know we must improve it for educators.
Teacher professional development (PD) often gets a bad rap. As a former educator of nearly a decade, I can count on one hand how many successful PD sessions I attended over the years. I can also remember how impactful those select few sessions were to my teaching craft.
According to the 2020 International Literacy Association (ILA) survey for teachers, higher education professionals, literacy consultants, and school administrators, PD was identified as a top priority for improving instruction. Participants also stated that PD needs more focus and attention to support teachers in their ongoing professional growth. Teachers understand the need for PD, but often feel unfulfilled by the experience.
So, I wondered—what do teachers really want from PD? After reviewing several articles and studies from the perspective of primary and secondary teachers, six common trends emerged.
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.
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 2015; Jackson 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.
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?
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).
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.
This short presentation explains some shortcomings of mainstream education reform and offers an alternative framework to advance educational progress.