Schools measurably improve student engagement
Can a school measurably increase high schoolers’ sense of happiness or 2nd graders’ feeling of pride in themselves? These are the types of questions that six pioneering schools in Sonoma County set out to discover this year as part of an effort called the E3 Community of Practice. E3 stands for equity, empathy, and student engagement.
Schools around California are recognizing that engagement in school is critical to a student’s success. But this somewhat abstract concept can be much more difficult to gauge than test scores or graduation rates. The schools participating in the E3 Community of Practice were not deterred by this challenge: they set specific goals for increasing specific factors related to student engagement and success.
The work began with a grant from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to implement restorative practices in Sonoma County schools. Restorative Practices emphasize empathy, equity, and student engagement as a means to improve school culture and student outcomes while minimizing suspensions and expulsions. E3 was designed to deepen this work by allowing school/district teams to focus in on one very specific area where they could make a measurable difference—then use the successes/lessons learned as a way to spread restorative culture throughout their school/district. To ensure buy-in at every level, each team included at least one district administrator, one site administrator, one classroom teacher, and one classified employee who could support the teacher. The effort was led by the Sonoma County Office of Education and facilitated by a nationally recognized leader in system-wide change, Becky Margiotta.
Ms. Margiotta observed, “We learned that there are tangible things you can do as educator, regardless of whether you are a superintendent or an instructional aide, so students experience more empathy, equity, engagement and get what they need.”
Learn more about each school’s story below.
Guerneville School, Guerneville School District
Aim: Increase student pride in a class of second graders by 50 percent.
Measurement: Students put a stone in a “happy” or “sad” bucket at the end of each day, indicating whether they were proud of their actions.
Outcome: The team tried a variety of approaches to increase student pride and achieved an overall increase in student pride over time. They noticed a huge difference when they did activities where students complimented or appreciated one another.
Quote: “One thing I learned through this process is that relationships are so, so important. I’m really happy about our outcomes from our work in the classroom.” – Joelene Morasch, Teacher
Phoenix Academy, Windsor School District
Aim: Increase 10th grade students’ feelings of preparedness for 11th grade by 40 percent.
Measurement: Students regularly reported feelings of preparedness for 11th grade.
Outcome: Community-building circles with themes such as “grit” and “appreciation” led to a considerable increase in student feelings of preparedness. Team learned that student relationships with teachers really matter and will be providing training to other teachers to help spread these successes.
Quote: “It’s just wonderful to see what deep relationships can accomplish.” — Jeff Lefebvre, Teacher
Thomas Page Academy, Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District
Aim: All 5th graders resolve conflicts peacefully and independently
Measurement: Students reported whether they had a conflict and how it was resolved.
Outcome: Team worked with students through mini-lessons on team building, empathy, and acts of kindness. While not all conflicts were resolved independently, the team said they saw 100-percent buy in from students.
Quote: “We saw a deeper ability to have interpersonal interactions. It was a great thing to see in the kids.” — Amy Miller, Teacher
Analy High School: West Sonoma County Union High School District
Aim: Increase high schoolers’ happiness by 10 percent.
Measurement: Students report regularly via a 5-point scale.
Outcome: Team saw demonstrable increase in happiness thanks to efforts including the introduction of mindfulness.
Quote: “We set out to see, ‘Can we raise short term happiness with our students?'” — Jason Carpenter, Teacher
Apple Blossom Elementary, Twin Hills School District
Aim: All fifth graders report an increase in engagement.
Measurement: Student reporting and adult observations.
Outcome: Saw increases in engagement through low-risk, interactive activities with clear guidance and expectations.
Quote: “What Todd (the teacher in the team) is doing with tremendous intent, we see in other parts of our school with mindfulness, resilience, and a growth mindset.” —Jill Rosenquist, Principal
Piner Olivet Charter School, Piner Olivet Union School District
Aim: Increase middle schoolers’ engagement and connectedness by 50 percent.
Measurement: Students regularly reported whether or not they felt engaged.
Outcome: The team asked 7th-graders to identify barriers to their engagement, then sought to eliminate those barriers. They noticed improved engagement when students were given food and when they were given interactive, collaborative activities.
Quote: “The process of having students share their barriers to engagement made them more empathetic.” — Susan Donner, Principal