The Social Side of Education Reform

The Social Side of Education is a lens that brings insight into a critical oversight in the public debate on educational reform and its policies: The idea that teaching and learning are not solo accomplishments but social endeavors that are achieved in the context of the school organization, through trusting relationships and teamwork, rather than competition and a focus on individual prowess, and by understanding and treating the school district as a complex, interdependent system, rather than a collection of schools. This approach is anchored by a solid evidentiary base, and offers strategies that can guide policymaking and educational interventions.

Key Ideas 

This perspective...

  • Shifts the focus from the individual attributes of stakeholders (e.g., teachers, principals, students), to the supports and constraints afforded by the larger school organization and the broader social context in which individuals operate.
  • Highlights the importance of interdependencies (formal and informal) at all levels of the system – e.g., among teachers within a school, leaders across a district etc. 
  • Recognizes that crucial resources (e.g., information, advice, support) are exchanged through relationships within and across the overlapping networks of schools and districts. Monitoring and strengthening this infrastructure is crucial for educational improvement.


  • Teaching In Context is an edited volume that will be published by Harvard Education Press in April 2017. The book is edited by Esther Quintero and has a foreword by Andy Hargreaves. 
  • Teaching In Context book reception at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting in New York City. April 16th 2018 at 6:30 p.m. Details and registration


The Institute conceptualized and organized a session delving into this topic at the 2015 Teaching & Learning Conference. Check out the video and materials hereA second, related convening took place at the AFT TEACH conference in July 2015. Check out the video and materials here

The Institute sponsored a one day conference focusing on these themes that took place on April 8, 2016, coinciding the annual AERA meeting, in Washington, D.C. To learn more about the conference and access videos and other materials, click here.  

In April 2017, the Institute is convened a two-day seminar to explore whether and how social and interpersonal aspects of teachers’ workplaces influence their development. This convening was supported by the Specer Foundation.