Changing the World, A Classroom at a Time

We’ve been head down, all of us, chipping away at the tough stuff in front of us for the last few years.  At Sound Discipline’s board retreat last week, we stepped back and took a look around at the world that is the context for all of our work in schools:

  • The pandemic
  • Division and suspicion of “the other”
  • Climate impacts like wildfires, storms, and floods
  • Racism
  • Gun violence

All of this big stuff is overwhelming and bigger than any one of us. But every day, when students show up in classrooms, the moments matter. Subtle changes make profound differences. Walking alongside educators, we get to see the way a big system — education — is downstream of huge challenges (like these), but upstream of so many others. What we do here in these buildings can lessen the effects of those upstream conditions and change the course of students’ lives in profound, even life saving ways.

When Terminal Park Elementary integrated student-led, twice-daily emotional self-regulation videos into the school day, incidents of physical aggression on the playground decreased by 40% from one month to the next.

When Redwood Elementary School in southern Oregon, focused on educator well-being so adults could model emotional regulation, problem solving, connection, and caring communication — reading scores shot up.

When educators collaborated on strategies that support a student to use her doodle pad as an emotional regulation tool, she stopped bolting out of class and stayed for the learning. That transformation in that single student shifted the learning environment for the entire class and the entire building.

In schools and classrooms, there are many demands on time, many young people, each with their story. No two buildings are facing the exact same challenges, but all of our schools are downstream of larger systems and big issues that we have little direct control over. The overwhelm is real.

But we can find the leverage points and make change in ways that matter and that we have access to. We can, each one of us navigate relationships, feel feelings, ask for help, work together to problem solve, and learn from and work out solutions to our mistakes. Doing that doesn’t just change behavior, but it can (and does), if we work as a community, change systems, and change the culture of the building in lasting ways.

This summer and fall, Sound Discipline facilitated 78 professional development workshops for 40+ schools and organizations. We are partnering with 17 local school partners and 12 schools through our District Partnership Program. These schools establish Data Teams to track and problem solve in response to discipline referral data. They partner with us to build equitable classrooms and building-wide cultures. Despite all we’ve been through and all the challenges we face, the educators we work with feel inspired and excited to be back in the classroom supporting one another as a community to support the dignity, agency, and voice of their students.

This is how, together, we are changing the world.


Andrea John-Smith is the Executive Director of Sound Discipline.