A group of 35 educators, parents, policy researchers, students, government officials and nonprofit leaders gathered at a recent Education Lab workshop to tackle the question, "How can school discipline work for all?"

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How can school discipline work for all — students, teachers, principals, the greater community? On May 2, a group of 35 educators, parents, policy researchers, students, government officials and nonprofit leaders gathered at an Education Lab workshop to tackle that question.

Among their views: The need to build a coalition of all who are involved, including students, parents and teachers. The value in starting small and turning to community organizations for support in developing new programs or training. The way race and cultural understanding factor into student behavior and discipline.

At the end of the day, the participants each wrote down one takeaway from the workshop and then voted on the statements they agreed with the most. Here are some of the top statements:

  • “Teachers, students, parents and others have a piece of the solution. Some people’s pieces are larger than others.”
  • “Conflict should be viewed as an opportunity to build relationships.”
  • “If race doesn’t enter the conversation, we’re not changing outcomes. … If outcomes don’t change, we all suffer.”
  • “Schools are in desperate need of redefining their structure in a way that continuously cultivates an empathetic community of learners and leaders that are comfortable with engaging in difficult conversations.”
  • “We can’t control everything (e.g., poverty, funding, state testing), but we each have control over something (e.g., our learning, how we interact with students, our priorities).”
  • “Assume good intentions but plan to work through bad implementation.”

Participants included people featured in previous Education Lab stories and others who are working in school discipline in a variety of roles. The event was held at the University of Washington campus in Seattle in partnership with the UW’s master’s in education policy program.

The event was an experiment for Education Lab, a way to bring together people who might not otherwise meet, and see where it might lead.

In one break-out session, the synergy between parents and teachers was evident as participants discussed ways to bring about change in school discipline at a district level. The conversation started off focused on parents and how groups like PTSAs and community organizations could come together to petition a school board for change. But a local teacher was quick to point out that teachers can be allies in an effort to change policy. Many educators, she said, would like to spend more time on social-emotional learning and figuring out ways to avoid out-of-school suspensions but tight schedules often prevent that from happening.

This smaller event was the first of two that Education Lab is organizing on this topic. On May 20, we will hold a community event at South Seattle College that is open to all who have an interest in school discipline. For details and registration, visit seati.ms/disciplineforall.