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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 Social Side of Education Reform

    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.

  • Positive Behavior in the Early Years

    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.

  • A Novel Approach To Understanding Teachers' Work & Work Context

    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 2018 Elections: What Do They Mean for American Education?

    November 27, 2018

    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

    September 20, 2018

    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.
  • Teaching in Context Book Reception at AERA 2018

    April 15, 2018

    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. More information and registration.

  • School Turnarounds: What has Worked and What Has Failed

    April 12, 2017

    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. Watch the conversation video.

  • The Role of School Organization, Social Capital and Collaboration in the Improvement of Teachers and Teaching. From Research Findings to Policy Proposals

    April 6, 2017

    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

    April 8, 2016

    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

    December 7, 2015

    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

    July 13, 2015

    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.

  • Fairness & Effectiveness in School Discipline

    March 14, 2015

    How do we teach discipline and maintain order, while protecting against the effects of persistent, unconscious biases? How do we ensure that schools are warm, welcoming, fair, and effective in the treatment of all students? Watch the video.

  • The Social Side of Teaching — A New Framework For Improving The Profession

    March 13, 2015

    Teaching and learning are not primarily individual accomplishments but rather social endeavors that are best achieved and improved through trusting relationships and teamwork. Yet, most policies focus on improving  the individual capacities of teachers. What is to be gained from approaches that strike a balance between human and social capital? Watch the video.

  • A Diverse Teacher Force

    March 13, 2015

    There is concern that, as the U.S. population and student body is growing more racially and ethically diverse, the teacher workforce does not yet reflect this diversity. In fact, diversity should go beyond having more black and brown teachers in front of students. Diversity is also about equipping all teachers (regardless of race) to work with heterogeneous classrooms and diverse schools. Watch the video.

  • Good Schools IX / Creating Safe and Supportive Schools

    March 25, 2014

    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?

  • Dal Lawrence

    Dal Lawrence, who passed away on May 15, 2019, was president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT) for 30 years, as well as the husband of former TFT president, AFT executive vice president and ASI board member Fran Lawrence. (Read more.) Dal and his family generously suggested tax-deductible contributions in his honor be made to the Shanker Institute or to the Toledo Jazz Orchestra, P.O. Box 353123, Toledo, Ohio 43635. Contribute to the Shanker Institute in Dal's memory HERE.
  • Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Education Reform

    Teaching in Context (Harvard Education Press, 2017) provides new evidence from a range of leading scholars showing that teachers become more effective when they work in organizations that support them in comprehensive and coordinated ways. The volume is edited by ASI senior fellow Esther Quintero and has a foreword by Andy Hargreaves.

  • Eugenia Kemble Research Grants

    In honor of its founding executive director, the Albert Shanker Institute announces the creation of the “Eugenia Kemble Research Grants Program.” Tax-deductible donations to this program are welcome. Please make donations through PayPal or by check to the Albert Shanker Institute (555 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001). More information. Watch the Memorial Service.

  • Publications Order Form

    Use this form to order hard copies of any publication. All copies are free unless otherwise indicated.
  • Elevating Relationships: How Collaboration Shapes Teaching and Learning

  • Policy Implications at the State and Local Levels Slides

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

    April 8, 2016, Washington, DC

  • The Schools Where Teachers Stay, Grow and Succeed

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

    April 8, 2016, Washington, DC

  • Improving Education Through a Focus on Partnerships Slides

    The Social Side of Education: How Social Aspects of Schools and School Systems Shape Teaching and Learning.

    April 8, 2016, Washington, D.C.

  • Systems, Networks and Relationships Slides

    Social Side of Education: How Social Aspects of Schools and School Systems Shape Teaching and Learning

    April 8, 2016, Washington, DC

  • Competing Strands Of Educational Reform Policy: Can Collaborative School Reform and Teacher Evaluation Reform Be Reconciled?

    As school systems devote tremendous resources to examining the effectiveness of individual teachers, how can we encourage schools to make room for collaborative practices? This paper begins to conceptualize one avenue for reconciling these ideas: Rigurously measuring team teaching and making room for the assessment of team work in schools' evaluation processes.

  • The Social Side Of Education Reform: A Research Primer

    This publication pulls together six important research essays from the social side of eduction blog series. Collectively, these essays make a compelling case that increasing the instructional capacity of schools requires looking beyond individual teacher effectiveness. 

  • The Social Side of Teaching Speaker Slides

    These slides summarize research by Susan Moore Johnson, Carrie R. Leana, and John P. Papay suggesting that teacher quality is as much as about the capacities of individuals as it is about the socio-cultural context where teachers and students do their work. 

  • Social Side of Education Resources

    Relationships, trust, collaboration and social capital are key to educational improvement. Learn more about the social side perspective through these resources.

  • How Relationships Matter In Educational Improvement

    This short video explains some shortcomings of mainstream education reform and offers an alternative framework to advance educational progress. Educational improvement is as much about the capacities of individuals as it is about their relationships and the broader social context.

  • Building a New Structure for School Leadership

    In this major research analysis, Richard Elmore explores the problems with the structure and leadership of public education, while explaining the dangers of public funding for private schools. He urges educators to study the schools whose leaders and best practice are succeeding in meeting high standards, including through the use of collaboration and distributed leadership. 

  • The Teaching Gap

    The Institute provided a grant to support the writing of this important book by James Stigler and James Hiebert, which explores the school system's failure to support a culture of professional development for teachers. It compares what's lacking in teacher training in this country with what's working in Japan, where teachers spend time working together to improve their skills.