learn / 2015

Council in Schools: Building Council Cultures and Spaces at 6 LA Schools

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by The Ojai Foundation

We are Council in Schools. "Council" is a circle form of dialogue that builds trust, understanding, and awareness, and that fosters engaged, compassionate school communities. We propose to work with teachers, staff, students, and families at six Los Angeles public schools (see below) to implement council and "restorative practices" programs and to collaborate on the design and construction of a dedicated council space at one of those schools.

In what areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South LA
  • Gardner St. Elem. School, LAUSD, Hollywood; Valor High School, Panorama City; Valor Middle School, North Hills; Rise Kohyang Middle School, Koreatown; Stella Middle School, South LA; Bright Star Secondary High School, South LA

How do you plan to use these resources to make change?

  • Implement a pilot or new project
  • Expand a pilot or a program

How will your proposal improve the following “Learn” metrics?

  • District-wide graduation rates
  • HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math
  • Academic Performance Index* scores
  • College matriculation rates
  • Student education pipeline (an integrated network of pre-schools, K-12 institutions, and higher education systems that prepares students for seamless transitions between high school, higher ed
  • Suspension and expulsion rates (Dream Metric)
  • Truancy rates in elementary and middle schools (Dream Metric)
  • Students perceived sense of safety at and on the way to school (Dream Metric)

Describe in greater detail how you will make LA the best place to learn.

Learning is a relational process. Research shows relationship affects every aspect of students’ mental and physical health and academic achievement. Studies document the impact on absenteeism, self-esteem, bullying, aggression, violence, sexual harassment, substance abuse, psychological well-being, rates of suspension and expulsion, motivation to learn, academic achievement, graduation rates…and more. “A Review of School Climate Research,” Thapa, et al. (2013) Review of Educational Research. Many students feel alienated, disengaged, fear, and mistrust at school. Underachievement, drop-out, bullying, violence, and burnout are the byproducts. Perhaps ironically, the explosion of electronic communication, social networking, and virtual connectedness often exacerbates the lack of real connection so many feel. It doesn’t have to be this way. The processes that shape relationships in schools are essential. Council is a structured process of communication that helps participants connect with themselves and others and that provides space for emotional, social, and moral development alongside the mental and physical. It is an instructional strategy to explore themes and topics from the academic curriculum and make the academic relevant to students’ lives. It is an inclusive process that promotes an environment of trust and respect. It is a mindfulness practice that helps students become more aware of themselves and others and more adept at managing emotions and behavior. It is a leadership tool to harvest the collective wisdom of a group and take informed action. It is a community-building tool and the foundation for a “restorative justice” approach to school discipline. Holding a council involves a few basic elements, the main ones being sitting in a circle – where all are equal and everyone can see and be seen; using a talking piece – to focus attention and shift habitual ways of listening and speaking; and practicing the intention to listen and speak “from the heart.” Simple as the process is, it’s power to connect transforms schools and lives. Last year we started council and restorative practices programs with the 6 schools that are part of this proposal. The impact was profound and the schools all committed to making these practices core parts of their school cultures. We want to provide two more years of training and mentoring, at which point the schools will be able to sustain their council and restorative practices programs with minimal support.

Please explain how you will evaluate your work.

We will use a combination of quantitive metrics and qualitative surveys to evaluate our work, including: attendance/truancy rates; suspension and expulsion rates; disciplinary referral rates; bullying complaint rates; rates of disciplinary incidents resolved through “restorative practices”; standardized test scores; grade point average; students’ perceived senses of safety, belonging, and fairness at school; students’ reported level of engagement in school; and staffs’ perceived senses of effectiveness, purpose, and solidarity at school. In addition, we want to collaborate on devising better metrics that more meaningful reflect the short and long-term impact of our work.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Network/relationship support
  • Quality improvement research