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.