Do Students Learn More When Their Teachers Work Together?

shanker blogResearch suggests that teachers’ social capital – their relationships, networks and collaboration – may be just as important as their human capital, or individual ability.

Generally, education policy focuses either on in classroom factors or out of school factors. The thinking goes that in order for students to improve, they need better instruction and/or better support at home. And while no one is disputing those two lines of reasoning, Esther Quintero writing for the Shanker Blog makes a compelling case that a final point of the education reform triangle is mistakenly being left out: teachers’ social capital, namely, their ability to nurture relationships among colleagues.

The article helpfully distills the results of numerous studies that prove the efficacy of social capital:

I would argue … that this somewhat broad and diffuse notion that relationships matter is not some warm and fuzzy idea, but rather that it could hold an important key to educational improvement. Social capital is malleable; policies can and do shape teachers’ professional networks and how they function. For example, Gamoran, Gunter and Williams (2005) showed that sustained and coherent professional development can be used to create strong collegial ties (or social capital) among teachers. Similarly, Sun, Frank, Penuel & Kim (2013) showed that strategies that promote informal teacher leadership can be a mechanism to disseminate effective classroom practices through interactions — something that formal leadership networks are not well-equipped to accomplish…. [S]tudents learn more when their teachers are embedded in more supportive and collegial professional networks, and teacher collaboration may have as great an effect on student achievement as teacher human capital.

Quintero’s piece offers insight into teacher collaboration as a crucial element for student success and evidence of its efficacy. It underscores the need to pay careful attention to the collaborative structures, teacher leadership opportunities, and professional learning communities of schools.

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