Matthew Shirrell

Matthew Shirrell
Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership and Administration
(202) 994-4515

Matthew Shirrell is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Administration in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University. His research explores the relationships between policy, the social and organizational characteristics of schools and school systems, and learning, improvement, and teacher retention.

Much of Dr. Shirrell’s current work uses interviews and social network analysis to understand teachers’ and school leaders’ advice and information seeking about instruction, including the factors that predict both seeking and being sought out for advice; how advice seeking and giving change throughout teachers’ and school leaders’ careers; and the impacts of policy changes on who teachers and school leaders talk to about their work. For 2020-21, he was awarded a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship for his study of National Board-certified teachers’ roles in their colleagues learning and improvement, focusing particularly on how colleagues’ perceptions of the knowledge and expertise of Board certified teachers shapes the leadership of Board-certified teachers in their schools.

Dr. Shirrell’s work has also focused at the organizational level, exploring the roles that partnerships with outside research organizations play in school district learning and improvement. Dr. Shirrell has served as co-principal investigator for a longitudinal comparative case study of two research alliances that partnered with large urban districts. In this work, Dr. Shirrell and his colleagues have explored the ways that research alliances support district learning and improvement, and the roles of organizational design and shifting conceptions of legitimacy in supporting and hindering these organizations’ work to build district learning and improvement.

Dr. Shirrell’s work has also examined the impacts of federal, state, and local policies on school working conditions and the retention of teachers and school leaders. This work has explored a variety of areas, including the effects of No Child Left Behind’s subgroup-specific accountability on teacher turnover, attrition, and teaching assignments; the role of school working conditions in shaping student teachers’ career plans; and new principals’ efforts to build their teachers’ trust and commitment when they take over highly pressured, low-performing schools.

Dr. Shirrell’s work has been funded by the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Chan/Zuckerberg Initiative, the American Educational Research Association, and the Albert Shanker Institute. Dr. Shirrell earned a Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University, a M.S. in Early Childhood Education from Erikson Institute, and a B.A. in English from Grinnell College. Prior to joining the faculty of George Washington University, Dr. Shirrell was a post-doctoral fellow with the Distributed Leadership Study at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University.


Shirrell, M. (2021). On their own? The work-related social interactions and turnover of new teachers. American Journal of Education, 127(3), 399-439.

Thessin, R., Shirrell, M., & Richardson, T. (2020). How do principal supervisors interact with leadership teams in high needs schools? Planning and Changing, 49(3/4).

Shirrell, M., & Spillane, J. P. (2020). Opening the door: Physical infrastructure, school leaders’ work-related social interactions, and sustainable educational improvement. Teaching and Teacher Education, 88.

Bristol, T. J., & Shirrell, M. (2019). Who is here to help me? The work-related social networks of staff of color in two mid-sized districts. American Educational Research Journal, 56(3), 868-898.

Spillane, J. P., Shirrell, M., & Adhikari, S. (2018). Constructing ‘experts’ among peers: Test data, educational infrastructure, and teachers’ interactions about teaching. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 40(4), 586-612.

Shirrell, M. (2018). The effects of subgroup-specific accountability on teacher turnover and attrition. Education Finance and Policy, 13(3), 333-368.

Shirrell, M., Hopkins, M., & Spillane, J. P. (2019). Educational infrastructure, professional learning, and changes in teachers’ instructional practices and beliefs. Professional Development in Education, 45(4), 599-613.

Spillane, J. P., Shirrell, M., & Sweet, T. M. (2017). The elephant in the schoolhouse: The role of propinquity in school staff interactions about teaching. Sociology of Education, 90 (2), 149-171.

Spillane, J. P., & Shirrell, M. (2017). Breaking up isn’t hard to do: Exploring the dissolution of teachers’ and school leaders’ work-related ties. Educational Administration Quarterly, 53 (4), 616-648.

Shirrell, M., & Reininger, M. (2017). School working conditions and changes in student teachers’ planned persistence in teaching. Teacher Education Quarterly, 44(2),49-78.

Spillane, J. P., Shirrell, M., & Hopkins, M. (2016). Designing and deploying a Professional Learning Community (PLC) organizational routine: Bureaucratic and collegial structures in tandem. Les Dossiers des Sciences de l’Education, 35, 97-122.

Shirrell, M. (2016). New principals, accountability, and commitment in low-performing schools.Journal of Educational Administration, 54(5), 558-574.

In the News

Dr. Matthew Shirrell has been selected as a 2020 NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow! With the generous support of the Spencer Foundation, this program encourages outstanding researchers at the postdoctoral level to pursue critical education research projects.

Dr. Matthew Shirrell presented his work on National Board certification and teacher leadership at the national headquarters of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in Arlington, VA.

Dr. Matthew Shirrell's work was highlighted in the Fordham Institute's Flypaper blog post: "How accountability metrics related to student subgroups affect teacher turnover and attrition." The post discussed Dr. Shirrell's study in the article from the summer issue of Education Finance and Policy entitled, "The Effects of Subgroup-Specific Accountability on Teacher Turnover and Attrition."

Dr. Matthew Shirrell, with co-author Dr. James Spillane of Northwestern University, published an article about their research in the journal Education Next entitled The Schoolhouse Network - How School Buildings Affect Teacher Collaboration. Dr. Shirrell was also quoted in an article in EducationWeek entitled In Schools, Classroom Proximity Breeds Teacher Collaboration.

Dr. Matthew Shirrell presented a paper, "Testing and ties: Work-related social interactions in schools and test-based measures of teacher performance," at the 2017 Conference of the University Council for Educational Administration in Denver, CO. At this conference, he also facilitated a session on teacher evaluation and instructional improvement. Dr. Shirrell presented on a panel for advanced graduate students at the Fall Research Conference of the AERA Grants Program entitled "Making the transition from graduate student to postdoctoral and faculty positions." In addition, Dr. Shirrell presented an invited talk at the the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology in the College of Education at the University of Maryland, entitled "The elephant in the schoolhouse: The role of physical proximity in school staff interactions about teaching."