Eps 391: Navigating school boards with AJ Crabill

Episode 391

My guest today is AJ Crabill.  

AJ and I have a great conversation this week about school boards and the education system.  AJ explains why adults are hesitant & sometimes resistant to changing the way schools operate and why we need to teach resilience (not just make things easier for our kids).  AJ shares exactly what student-led restorative practices are and the benefits that come with them.  I love hearing all the overlap between AJ’s work and Positive Discipline: the sense of belonging, classroom meetings, a focus on repair, and teaching life skills.  We dig into why student behavior will not and cannot change until adult behavior changes.  I ask AJ exactly what school boards do, how members get elected, and how parents can get involved effectively and usefully with the board.  AJ finishes up by inviting parents to stand up and be the difference maker at their children’s schools.

Guest Description 

Improving student outcomes is the focus of AJ’s work. He serves as Conservator at DeSoto, Texas Independent School District. During his guidance, DeSoto improved from F ratings in academics, finance, and governance to B ratings. He’s also Faculty at Leadership Institute of Nevada and Director of Governance at the Council of the Great City Schools. 

AJ served as Deputy Commissioner at the Texas Education Agency and spearheaded reforms as board chair of Kansas City Public Schools that doubled the percentage of students who are literate and numerate. AJ is a recipient of the Education Commission of the State’s James Bryant Conant Award.

His new book, “Great On Their Behalf: Why School Boards Fail, How Yours Can Become Effective” came out in March.

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Takeaways from the show

  • Student-led restorative practices 
  • Why adults are resistant to changing the way schools operate 
  • The importance of students feeling of belonging 
  • Teaching & parenting in a way that builds resiliency 
  • The overlap between student-led restorative practice & Positive Discipline 
  • Student outcomes don’t change until adult behavior changes 
  • How can parents get involved usefully with the school board & school leadership? 
  • What exactly does the school board do?

What does joyful courage mean to you 

I really appreciate the inquiry.  As I was reflecting on this and getting ready for the show, this idea of joyful courage, a dear friend of mine – we’re constantly trying to help each other sharpen – she was in a place of struggle recently and as we were talking about it, the thing that emerged in the conversation was that these current tribulations are just an opportunity to practice courage.  If there wasn’t challenge and there weren’t scary things on the horizon, then we’d never get to practice courage.  In that context, the presence of things that seem to be terrifying or frustrating can absolutely be embraced with a sense of joy because they really, in another frame, are an opportunity to practice courage that the absence of them wouldn’t have created.  It’s hard to be joyful in a moment of trial and tribulation, but that’s really the encouragement to recognize in the moment, “Wait a minute – it has been a while since I’ve had to don my coat of courage.  It’s been a while since I flexed my courage muscle to grow it and see what I’m capable of and how powerful I’ve become over time.  I don’t enjoy that I’m in this situation, but I definitely enjoy that I get to practice courage in this situation and see if I am the person I see myself as being.”  Often in life, we don’t always get to test whether or not the things we see in our self-perception are real.  “I believe that I’m a man of integrity and I’ll always do the right thing when people aren’t looking.”  Yeah, it’s easy to say that stuff, but that’s because we’re rarely tested.  It’s in that moment of testing that I get to really see if I’ve come to a place in life where I’m really standing in my intention the way that I like to think I am.  So, in that moment of trial and tribulation that she and I were discussing, we came to the conclusion that this is a cause for joy, not for the situation, I’d certainly prefer not to have it, but because it allows for the practice of courage in the face of tribulation. 



AJ’s Book: “Great On Their Behalf: Why School Boards Fail, How Yours Can Become Effective” 

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Reach out to AJ directly at [email protected]

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students, work, behavior, experience, adults, restorative practices, aj, parents, school, people, school board, kids, teachers, belonging, led, children, practice, classroom, student outcomes, schools
Casey O'Roarty, AJ Crabill

Casey O'Roarty 00:04
Hey, welcome to the joyful courage podcast a place for inspiration and transformation as we try and keep it together, while parenting our tweens and teens. This is real work people. And when we can focus on our own growth, and nurturing the connection with our kids, we can move through the turbulence in a way that allows for relationships to remain intact. My name is Casey already, I am your fearless host. I'm a positive discipline trainer, space holder coach and the adolescent lead at Sprout double. I am also the mama to a 20 year old daughter and 17 year old son walking right beside you on this path of raising our kids with positive discipline and conscious parenting. This show is meant to be a resource to you and I work really hard to keep it real, transparent and authentic so that you feel seen and supported. Today is an interview and I have no doubt that what you hear will be useful to you. Please don't forget sharing truly is caring. If you love today's show, please pass the link around snap a screenshot posted on your socials or texted to your friends. Together we can make an even bigger impact on families all around the globe. I'm so glad that you're here. Enjoy the show.

Casey O'Roarty 01:24
All right. Hey listeners. I am excited to introduce you to my guests today. Welcome AJ Crable. AJ is all about improving student outcomes. He serves as conservator at DeSoto Texas Independent School District. During his guidance DeSoto improved from F ratings and academics Finance and Governance to be ratings. He's also faculty at Leadership Institute of Nevada and director of governance at the Council of the Great City Schools. AJ served as deputy commissioner at the Texas Education Agency and spearheaded reforms as board chair of Kansas City Public Schools that doubled the percentage of students who are literate and numerate. AJ is a recipient of the Education Commission of the state's James Bryant Conant award, and his new book, great on their behalf, why school boards fail and how yours can become effective came out in March. I'm so excited to have you on the show today, AJ and talk about the role of parents and student leadership and how we can use our voice to influence student outcomes. Hi,

AJ Crabill 02:41
Casey. Thanks for having me. Yeah,

Casey O'Roarty 02:43
that was a mouthful. But well, you kind of expand on what it is that you do and what has inspired you to write this new book.

AJ Crabill 02:53
Certainly, the short version is I try to work with school systems to help them improve. And sometimes that work is at the building level and helping deploy student led restorative practices. Sometimes it's at the district level, and helping to Support Instructional Practice improvements. And sometimes at the boardroom level and helping the board be more intensely focused on improving student outcomes. But the work is all the same. It's how do we create the conditions for schools to really improve outcomes for children.

Casey O'Roarty 03:30
So many years ago, I was an elementary school teacher, I've been on somehow went to one's PTA meeting and ended up as the president of the PTA.

AJ Crabill 03:43
To all who are listening, you go to too many meetings, you will end up not only Oh, the PTA, but leading the PTA, this is nobody gave you that insight before you went I didn't know I didn't know. And I've worked a lot with school staffs around social emotional learning and curriculum. And I have two kids, right. So my experience in schools and in this public school system is change is moves at like glacial pace. And it's really hard to get groups of grownups to agree to things, you really know that there is that if you really want really any human organisation to be effective,

AJ Crabill 04:27
the more the people in that organisation, the way I think of it as rowing a canoe, the more that people that organisation are all rowing in the same direction and synchronicity, the more likely it is that they get to wherever their collective intended destination is, and the less that everyone's rowing in the same direction, the more likely it is that you just kind of spin out of control or likely just capsize entirely and so, finding a way to how to get all of the adults behaviour rowing in the same direction is is a really, really important part of the question of how do we help school systems improve

Casey O'Roarty 05:06
student outcomes? How did you get into this work,

AJ Crabill 05:09
but drew you same as you, I went to many parent meetings, and you wound up on the parent association and then go to 120 of those meetings, you wind up on the chair of the parent association, and then go to one too many of those meetings that I wanted with the school board, went to a bunch of those meetings while it was the chair of the School Board. So I failed to learn the same lesson you clearly failed to learn.

Casey O'Roarty 05:30
But now you do and as a profession,

AJ Crabill 05:32
didn't expect falling in love with being able to be of service to children in this way. But again, part of what brings me joy is that I get to work directly with students and teachers, in my student led restorative practices work, I get to work directly with principals and principals, supervisors, as we work on how do we create systems of instructional support for teachers and I get to work directly with more than superintendents in by student outcomes focused approach to governance work. And so that's one of the things that makes it interesting is, it is multifaceted. It's not the same thing like that. Honestly, if I was spending all day, every day just hanging out with adults, I probably lose my mind. I really enjoy getting to work directly with our students and teachers and to be of service to them.

Casey O'Roarty 06:19
Yeah, I love that. What are some of the biggest challenges happening? Like what are the biggest problems that you are a part of solving right now and the work that you're doing?

AJ Crabill 06:29
First, I thought it was just my district, because I had noticed, as we were coming back from the pandemic, that we were just experiencing behaviour challenges that seemed out of context, from pre pandemic, and all the things that I learned about the district and its behaviour norms just seemed very different than the reality I was facing, because I joined my current district in September of 2020. So right at the the front of all of this, but it just seems so out of context, from everything that I've heard from folks about what behaviour was like, pre pandemic, but because I work with school systems all across the country, I started to hear the exact same stories and other places. So I don't have the insight to explain it to you. But my experience has been that as I've visited with teachers, in pretty much every corner of the country, I hear folks who are observing the same things out observing, is that it has been a really rough transition for students returning to school. And again, I've got all kinds of theories about that. And I think at the end of all of them, is a opportunity for us to find new ways to bring students into leadership in their schools, whether it's finding ways to bring them into leadership, and the behaviour and the culture and climate, like what I do with restorative practices work, or finding ways to help them bring them into a greater sense of ownership and leadership of their instructional experience, which colleagues and I are deep in thought around as it relates to what would it look like to create for students a stronger sense of ownership over their learning? What would it look like them just on basic things that we have, I think, pretty compelling evidence around setting goals for what they want to know and be able to do, and helping them identify what data that data they can use to track their progress over time? Are they growing in ways that are important to them? On to even more meaningful things? How are we including students in curriculum decisions? How are we including students and course decisions? How are we including students in HR decisions? I can think of one school that I'm particularly proud of that they've been doing student led restorative practices work for so long that the norm of students to lead behaviour, culture and climate building is so strong, that the student leaders have that work wide observing as a part of the hiring process for the school. And if you can't get past that group of students, if they don't leave convinced the you were invested in their vision of student directed learning, then they can just say, No, this person is not right for our building. And that means no, you're not right for our building. That's a powerful way of including students in leadership of their own educational experience. And so it's I hear about the shifts and behaviour across the country as I was certainly experience with a bio district. That's one of the things that comes up for me is how can we use this as an opportunity for students who are expressing a greater greater desire for autonomy? How can we use this as the occasion for which we see what that would look like and see if that helps to have an impact in some of the areas that we're experiencing? Yeah, I

Casey O'Roarty 09:57
just feel like Gen Z is taking a massive And for themselves, right? Like they are not. Yeah. And that's so inspiring. So the work that I do with positive discipline is based in Adlerian theory, which holds that behaviour is motivated by our perceptions of belonging and significance. And listening to you talk about the school where the kids are active leaders around restorative justice, and the culture and climate of the school plays just right into that. I mean, it sounds like it's a space where the kids feel connected to their school environment, and know that their voice matters. And when that is the air that they're breathing in a real significant way, and not just lip service from the adults, it changes everything, it shifts everything, I feel like we had this opportunity with the pandemic, my son is a junior, so he was, you know, end of eighth grade, and then all of ninth grade online and watching everything that, you know, for some kids, I'm gonna say, for my son, all the things that he liked about school, you know, being around kids being in the environment, and all he was taken away, and all he had left was instruction and learning, it really highlighted, you know, that it seemed like we were getting by pre pandemic, we were getting by with this outdated, traditional system of we're going to tell you what classes to take, we're going to tell you how to learn it, we're going to tell you the information versus what I think like I said Gen Z is really standing for and what I'm hearing you speak into in your work is how do we reform the system and give like, you know, I think our kids when they can own, and this is all the way through like Elementary, Middle High School, when they can own a piece of what it is that they're in the building to do. cooperation, communication, leadership, all of that follows. All of that follow. So like, why don't the adults get that?

AJ Crabill 12:04
Yeah. And what you describe very well, it's certainly scary. What you're describing is a significant power dynamic shift a significant behavioural shift, specifically for adults. So certainly, fear, and particularly the fear of loss can be debilitating for anyone. And so

Casey O'Roarty 12:22
And is that a loss of control? Is that the loss? Or is it

AJ Crabill 12:25
certainly that

Casey O'Roarty 12:26
our power, I don't know.

AJ Crabill 12:28
But if you don't spend time, really helping folks see where the benefit from changes, then you shouldn't really expect that people are going to embrace it at all. And so investing the time to really socialise these ideas with folks to give people a chance to wrestle with it, to talk about what works, what doesn't work in their context, and make adjustments, you know, think of like, cutters work around change management, what happens after this, these things just aren't deployed. And so we aren't setting the adults in our schools up for success when we just throw the next thing at them. And then the next thing in the next club, and so this idea that we can just offer these things by Fiat formaldehyde, that's going to work out doesn't work. But that's just as true for the adults it is the students, I mean, we have meaningful evidence and research literature that belonging seems to be a really significant difference maker for students. And a lot of us have experienced this anecdotally, like, there's a reason that the whatever kid is the drum major for the band, they don't tend to drop out, like they probably go to prison, it's like being in band being part of that group. Not only there's some really awesome things to learn in bed, but also just this deep sense of belonging, like we are one band, one sound, we're marching in unison, like that seems to be a powerful opportunity for students to find a sense of belonging, there's a reason that we don't tend to see, you know, the captains of our various academic and athletic teams or your participants, like when students have this deep sense of belonging, that's something about that. Most of us have realised, just anecdotally, even before there was any type of evidence of academic, it's something about the belonging that comes from that really helped spur a sense of resilience and students so that when the inevitable challenges and difficulties of the education process come along, that they have the stamina to fight through it. It won't be clear about that, because some people think, Oh, well, the problem is that we should just figure out how to make education really easy. I actually don't by that, I don't think that's the answer. Just like I don't think parents the job of parenting is to make life easy for your children. But that's not the answer. Instead, the answers how are we give people the tools necessary to be resilient in the face of the inevitability of life? And one of the ways you know what, I'm talking with my students and they're asking, Why do you think this restorative practices work that you're teaching is so important. One of the reasons I'll say is because if you think there are knuckleheads at your school, when you get out of school, they'll still be here. It's not like they all magically go to some other place, they still live in our safe communities, like it's so the people that you had trouble getting along with in school, they're probably going to be at your job, probably going to be a good neighbourhood, they're going to be to church. And so the answer isn't, how can we put children in a bubble? So they never experienced adversity? How can we put them in a bubble so that they never have to deal with somebody who they are frustrated by? Rather, it's how do we pare it in a way that really gives them the tools they need to be effective? And I think schools have the similar challenges. What tools? Are we providing students with an academic setting, that allows them to be resilient, even in the face of inevitable challenges that that education brings? And that as we do that there, we prepare them to be adults who are better able to embrace those challenges and ultimately become the next round of parents? And so the cycle continues?

Casey O'Roarty 16:10
Yeah, I mean, the school building is this organic lab, where kids get to actively practice life skills around

AJ Crabill 16:21
interpersonal. Yeah, skills. That is exactly what it is. Yeah. And

Casey O'Roarty 16:25
it's so interesting. And they're not good at it. Like that's, I think, adults, parents and teachers both like it's, you know, oh, there's so much conflict. It's like, no, yeah, of course there is school.

AJ Crabill 16:35
Yeah. Yeah. Like, that's like saying, I don't understand why these third graders don't know calculus, like this is really disappointing. But of course they don't they came here to learn that.

Casey O'Roarty 16:46
Yeah. So restorative practices, I want to just make sure listeners understand what you're talking about when you're referencing that. What does that look like in schools?

AJ Crabill 16:55
Yeah. So the work that I do with schools is around this continuum of practices that are on how do we create a space of connection? How do we support students in developing the tools necessary to be together in society? And the core of a lot of the tools that I teach is this empathy, this ability to just really be with people, even sometimes when they're frustrated, even when they're annoying? Like, is someone who's had employees? And I think anybody out there who's ever had employees, would it be great, if the people that you worked with had the ability to get along, as opposed to every single behaviour, drama that happened at your job becomes your responsibility, like, wouldn't that be great? Well, in the same way that that would be awesome for supervisors at work, it's awesome for parents at home. And it's awesome for students in their classes. And so training around these skills is really important. And so that's what I'm trying to accomplish. The way I do it is in this spectrum of practices that I teach that one end of the spectrum is behaviour, that is really calm. And so in the space of calm, people can figure out how to get along, even if we disagree, like we can sort it out, because everybody's kind of calmed all the way up to the other spectrum, where people are angry to the point of violence, and even the smallest thing is going to set me off. And so that's kind of the spectrum from completely calm, and let's figure out our problems together to completely triggered to the point of violence, where I don't want to solve problems, I just want to defeat you. So that's the spectrum of behaviour that I'm looking at, at the lower end of that spectrum. The practice that I train students, and we call them community circles, we're really the point of this is just to get to know each other just to be a community, as the name kind of implies, just to check in with each other. Often these are used in classrooms, maybe a teacher Monday morning, first things like, hey, let's do a quick check in everybody go around the circle, you know, one word, how are you feeling right now? I'm tired, I'm frustrated. I'm happy. I'm excited. I'm curious. I'm, I'm gonna whatever is true for me. That's why and then the teacher or whoever's facilitating the circle can check in on people. Hey, I heard you say that. You're exhausted. It's 8am. On a Monday morning, you're already exhausted. What's that about? You want to say more about that? And just check. Hey, I heard you say you're super excited. It's 8am. On Monday morning, like what are you using? We're excited about, and give them a chance to share a little about that. And so that's what community circles look like. It's just an opportunity to as a regular part of school, how do we create a dialogue around where people are at and checking in with people and just try to take care of each other again, just to create a space of connection to be learn what it's like to be in community just to check up on folks. That's at the lowest level of the spectrum, you know, so we're folks are feeling calm, and we're taking advantage of that. Just a practice building community. Midway through that spectrum, you start to experience conflict, conflict is inevitable. I don't have any problems. I think cloud was just a natural part of the experience of being human. is the University of this way. And depending on how strongly held our different perspectives are the experience of activity conflict.

AJ Crabill 20:15
To me, conflict is just an experiment of being given. So when conflict emerges in a way that seems to have eclipsed the students skills to manage themselves, the next stage of their remediation circles where a group of students instead of students leading the community circle, now students are leaving mediations over where they're so intention is how do we help these two individuals who are clearly disconnected? How do we help them reconnect? Not? How do we help them solve their problem, that's not our job? How do we help them restore a sense of connection with each other, with the belief that in the context of connection, they'll solve their own problems, like our job isn't to solve their problems, in fact, that's part of the monitor that I play with my students, we don't solve problems, what we do is we create a space for reconnection with understanding the space of connection people sorted out themselves. And then the final of the practices at this upper tier where we really start to move even beyond conflict and into the creation of harm and into the creation of violence, that at this point, norms and rules of the school have actually been violated. And so in that context, instead of students leading a community circle, when it's called, or a mediations are holding this conflict, now, they would lead a restorative circle, because the community has been harmed, and restoration is not required. But whoever was the author of that harm, it's on them to lead the work of restoring what it is they harmed, whatever harm they created, they have a responsibility. And as long as the student is willing to take responsibility for the harm they've created, and work with their colleagues in the circle to identify Okay, so what are you going to do to repair the harm? And what can I do to support you as you repair the harm, then, that's the process we want students going through. And it can be a pretty arduous process, because repairing the harm is a lot harder than it sounds, sometimes you really have to think through what harm did I actions create? And what would it look like to repair that? So that's at the highest level? That's what a restorative circle looks like. And so the whole continuum of these and the three different practices that intersect with different points of the continuum or what I collectively refer to as restorative practices, sorry, there's a little bit longer, we probably say,

Casey O'Roarty 22:30
no, no, no, that was great. And it's totally so in line with I don't work in schools anymore. But when I did work in schools, it was teaching positive discipline in the classroom, which is the same language. It's so similar to what you're talking about. And it's messy, right, especially as you move up in the tiers Tori, no doubt. Yeah. And I think that's where I mean, in the classroom or in the kitchen, right? That's when the grownups get really uncomfortable is when it's messy, and why

AJ Crabill 23:05
I'm more an advocate of student led restorative practices than adult led restorative practices, because it was a teacher, when you know, little AJ and little Casey come into conflict with each other what's on my heart to do is to really sit down with them, and to help lead that conversation and help them develop their own skills and connect with each other and solve their own challenges. That's what's on my heart to do as a teacher. But as much as I want to do that, with little Ajay, a little Casey, and 10 minutes, I've got 35 More students who are coming in, I don't have the 45 minutes is going to take to really process y'all. So what I do instead of, hey, look got to do shake your shake hands and get over to move on. Say you're sorry, say you're sorry, I was not part of my restorative practices, you may have noticed that that was in the mix. That's intentional, because that's not often what it's going to take to repair the harm that it's going to take something more than just the words, or as I say, my students action data is here, action is going to take us someplace new. So that's the challenge is that the adults want to do this work, the teachers that I interact with all across the country, it is on their heart the same way it's on mine to sit down and do the work, they just don't have the time. This is why I'm such a inherent of student lead restorative practices, because we can train students to do this work. And then they can deploy the time they can spend, you know, the 45 minutes or hour or whatever it takes to have that conversation, really unpack what needs to be unpacked, we help people through the process and then let them get back to their respective classes as quickly as possible. And in every school I've been in, we're outnumbered there are more students than there are us and so why not put them to work and the side benefit is the students who learn the skill set to lead the circles were the community building mediation or restorative the skills that they learn in order to be able to lead those conversations and to create that space for connection and restoration. Like that is a skill set that they will find fruitful for them for the rest of their days.

Casey O'Roarty 25:00
Hmm, yeah, that's super powerful. So now like lifting up and out of that, right? So research shows, anecdotally, we're seeing like this belonging piece, the student led piece is really powerful in influencing a student's experience in school, how they're showing up to their own learning. When we move towards leadership in the building leadership in the district, what you know, and I'm thinking about your tagline, I saw it when you came on, and I feel like I have it in this. There it is, student outcomes don't change until adult behaviours change. So talk a little bit about that, and how that fits into this picture, as well. And you just shared a little bit on the micro level, right of the teacher being willing to hand over to their students, this leadership position,

AJ Crabill 25:51
it's hard to know what students are going to do, especially if I'm a classroom for a number of years. And I know what it looks like, for me to try to walk students through this, I have an innate sense of just how complicated and challenging that work can be the idea that that can easily and reliably be executed by students can, can strain credibility, what I've observed those people just need to see it, like often people just need to see it in action. And once you see students effectively leading the circles, like you can't unsee that like once you observe what it's like for them, to really create the space for their classmates, to engage in a really powerful way and to restore the sense of connection through that to be willing to make the sacrifices that are needed in any human relationship to solve problems. There's some amount of egos sacrifice a lot of the pain well, it's not going to be 100% my way, but because we have a restored sense of connection that I'm open, and I'm willing to work with you like that. I think teachers have a sense that that is a really challenging thing to accomplish. And it's a reasonable suspicion that students might not be able to pull that off. But my experience has shown me time and time that they in fact, can pull it off. No one wants to try it when they've received the appropriate training, and they have a chance to practice that training. Students absolutely can do this and have the benefit that accrues to not only to the students, but also to the adults who now have a more student empowered culture and climate in the building. But to your original question, this idea of stood outcomes don't change at all at all behaviour change. For me that really lives as a deep seated commitment between me and the students I serve, that no matter what circumstances appear to be, whatever the thing is that I'm encountering, that when students are not experiencing the improvement in their outcomes that I want for them, that I will always be willing to interrogate my own behaviour to try to identify what is it in my choices? What is it and how I've shown up? What is it who I've been being in the moment that has made it more challenging for students to stay in their own greatness, that's what that statement means to me is that I will constantly be willing to reevaluate my choices, my adult behaviours, and figure out what I need to do next, to further align those behaviours with improvement in student outcomes. And that is without predefined limitations. So it's not like I'll do this once. And then if it doesn't work, well, a little AJ just didn't work. Well, no, whatever. The first thing I tried didn't work. The second thing I tried didn't work. And that means I'm going to interrogate my behaviours. And I'm going to try a third thing I'm going to interrogate when that doesn't work, and find a fourth thing, and I'm going to interrogate when that doesn't work and find a fifth thing, but I'm always going to be willing to reevaluate my own choices, my adult behaviours to figure out what can I do to cause a greater alignment between how I'm showing up at the moment, my behaviour in the moment? And what's possible for students that I'm sorry?

Casey O'Roarty 28:57
Oh, man, I mean, imagine living in a world where all the adults were doing that for all of their relationships. I mean,

AJ Crabill 29:06
there's a reason that is I helped bring student led restorative practices into new schools. I'm working with four high schools right now, in a two year pilot. We're just finishing up here, one of our pilot, the first nine months of this pilot, I exclusively spent training adults in the schools. So you may be wondering, I thought you said this was student led restorative practices. Have you spent nine months and didn't train a single student? That's right, I did. Not a single solitary student was trained for the first nine months of implementation, that all of that time was spent. Really working with adults and just helping surface helping them work through and share about some of the heartache they've experienced, like they've been through the wringer of this pandemic, along with the students, creating a space for them to talk about what that experience has been like for them in a way that for a lot of the things that I'm working with Nobody stopped to ask them. Nobody engaged in as a hey, what was this been like for you? And? And what would you like to share and kind of what's been on your heart or what's been your struggle and what's been your pay? And just acknowledging that and honouring that. And then in the space of that, also saying, okay, got it. And in addition to the all of that being true, our students are also experiencing things, and we have an obligation to double down what we're going to make possible for them, you know, as a team of adults, it is certainly true that we have struggled, we also have to announce that our students are struggling. And we have to be the folks who are going to step forward and create a space for transformation on behalf of the students that we serve, you know, but just having that conversation in creating a safe space for the adults in our buildings truly wrestle with not only their own experience with the situation, but then inside of that freeing them up to begin to speculate on what is it that I have to offer? What can I bring to this larger equation that maybe I haven't brought yet. And so that's, that's the first nine months of the first 12 months has been that we've just recently started training students, and they are already killing the gag. I mean, they are already leading circles, they're already doing amazing things. I just had a group of students earlier this week, they presented some of their practices and some of their findings experiences before their school board. And they literally brought, you know, board members to tears with just how powerful the nature of the work is that they're doing. And they invited the school boards into this, this is this beautiful moment of community building between a group of students a group of elected officials. And so that's the beginning of this work is that it does start with adults being willing to embrace changes in our own behaviour that create what's possible for our students. And there's, well,

Casey O'Roarty 31:43
I know that I said, I don't work with teachers anymore. But I actually did just work with a staff in Montana last month that I had worked with years ago, and they invited us back. And it was so interesting, AJ, because there was a lot of struggles, there's a lot of trauma in the school, and super rural, it's on one of the Native American tribes in Montana land. And there was so much hurt, you know, going to the school and observing and giving feedback to teachers around developing a sense of belonging and significance in the classroom, and realising, oh, wow, you know what this is lacking in the staff room. And so my teaching partner, and I completely scrapped our plan, we were going to do a whole afternoon on we call them classroom meetings, really similar to the community circles. And rather than focusing on that, we did an hour and a half with the staff and growing and supporting them, and really just facilitating the opportunity for them to speak into their experience and connect and be seen and be felt. Absolutely. And that felt so powerful to do at the end of that week with them. Because if what we want is belonging in the classroom, it has to exist in the staff room, it has to exist. Absolutely, yeah. And so I think it makes perfect sense that you would start with really supporting the teachers around this work of connection, and community and feeling is seen and felt and attuned to, so that they could know the power of that and be the facilitators of holding space for that as you continue with the restorative justice. So as a parent listening right now, I mean, you know, thinking about I don't even know what they do at my kids school. I don't think they have restorative practices, which kind of makes me embarrassed that I don't know that. But as a parent listening, what are some entry points for parents to get more involved either in requesting this, exploring this, you know, come sometimes it feels like school board's like, it's almost easier to not have the even though it's like, Come let us know what you think. But really, we don't want to know what you think because we got it handled back here. So what are some good openings? How can parents get more involved in a way that's useful and effective? Yeah. On the school board, or the leadership level?

AJ Crabill 34:17
So certainly, I often encourage parents start as close to your child as possible. So start with your teacher start with the principal. Okay. And what that often looks like is just asking the question you just asked, I wonder I'm curious about not in a punitive or harsh way, not in a judgement casting way but just the way you did a moment like I'm curious about are they doing restorative practices about slowly creating opportunities like this, you know, for my daughter, you know, my son, started as close to child as possible. That's where your locus of powers as greatest and if that's not the case, then feel free to reach out to somebody like you somebody like me who can help support a teacher bring this work into their classroom or help support principal bringing this work. They're building. But in addition to that way of entry into this is all sort of visit with your school board members, or school board members or people just like you and me just folks who lived down the street. And the only real difference is they made the mistake of raising their hand and saying they would represent all of our visit values of the school board, and they would attend all the meetings on our behalf, there are representatives. So instead of me having to attend all the school board meetings, we should

Casey O'Roarty 35:24
bring them a casserole, when we go visit with you, if you

AJ Crabill 35:27
haven't shown some love to your local school board member lightly. Please do so. hardworking members of community who absolutely are in love with what's possible for children, and are doing their right best to try to figure out how do we make things great for children, I don't want to mix things up. Just that is who people are. That is not synonymous with that is what people are doing. Like a lot of people deeply care about children, but what they're doing isn't actually working. But you want to distinguish those, like just because what you see in a classroom or a building or in a boardroom may absolutely not be working doesn't in any way take from the fact that the adults probably really want it to work and just aren't there yet. And so to say that board members are these people who have a deep seated belief in what's possible for children, and what children the community great, is not synonymous with saying board members or being effective, right.

AJ Crabill 36:29
Largely, because my experience is that most boards are in fact not being affected. So that's a entirely different story. That's actually what the book is all about, is, what is it it's having school boards not be effective, but set the board aside for a second, I'm just talking about the board member, I'm just talking about the human who's sitting in the seat, not the seat itself. And the human who's sitting in the seat cares deeply about my children and your children and all of our children. And that's why they raised their hand to volunteer, in most places volunteer, sometimes they get a stipend or something. And in some states actually get a reasonable wage. But in most places, we're essentially volunteers when I serve in my school board, what I did was in a volunteer, and I'd sit down with your local school board member. And I'd have that same curiosity again, not in a demeaning way, well, why don't you all have no, right? Not an accusatory way. But just, you know, in a spirit of curiosity, I wonder, do we have challenges in our buildings in the area of student behaviour? And if the answer happens to be yes, I wonder, I heard this random guy this podcast and he said something about student led restorative practices, we do restorative practices would do a student led variant of them, secondarily, and that would just have that conversation with the boy and take them out to coffee, buy them a cup of coffee, again, they're probably volunteers, buy them a pastry and a cup of coffee and say, Hey, first, thank you for your service. Second, I have this curiosity to talk about.

Casey O'Roarty 37:53
Yeah, well, and what I'm hearing there too, which I think is useful, whether we're talking about parents and kids, teachers and students, or a parent, having a useful conversation with an administrator, or a school board member, which is looking for opportunities to develop relationship and connect human to human, and to create a space that everybody can hear without the defensiveness or the barriers, or the armour that can show up when somebody feels like somebody else is coming in hot, which, as parents, yeah, we come in hot sometimes. Oh, yeah. Tell me more about your book. Like, I mean, listen, there are so much crazy as shit happening right now with scores like no doubt. I mean, I live in the Pacific Northwest. I live in like, liberal bubble of the universe, for sure. And when I hear things like school boards are banning books and closing libraries, and like this political garbage is showing up. It is terrifying to me. And so what is the power of a school board? I mean, I think I know. And we all vote, although, I mean, it's not like I really know who I'm voting for. How do we kind of I don't know what my question is really? Like? How do we make sure crazy people don't end up on the school board.

AJ Crabill 39:25
So part of your inquiry actually reflects an innate understanding of the role of the school board that I often have to start with, which is that the school board exists to represent the vision and values of the community. And so when I hear you saying, how do we make sure we don't get some crazy, what you're really saying is, how do we make sure that we find people on school board who are going to effectively represent our vision for what students should know and be able to do and are non negotiable values that should be honoured in the execution of day to day school stuff. So this is the work of the Board to represent the In the eyes of the community, this is important because as you looked it up, it sounds like you live in super liberal land. I do. But I work with parents every day who live in your community. But I also work with parents every day who live in super conservative land. They're saying the exact same things you're saying, I know, you're gonna say that. He said, I wonder how do I find people who are going to honour my vision for what students should know and be able to do in my values for how we should go about operating a school system. And so I'm hearing this persistent disconnect in communities all across the country, where parents are struggling to say things like, I'm just trying to get education, I was not trying to be in the middle of all of this other thing that seems to be going on right now. Part of my coaching and what part of the original book is to bring to life, his first recognition, the school system has a very narrow reason for existence. And what I'm about to say is in itself controversial, I recognise that not everyone shares my vision and values as it relates to school boarding. But I would argue that school systems have a very narrow mandate. And that mandate is to cause improvement to what students know and are able to do. That is it that is the only mandate that school systems have is to cause improvements in what was known or able to do. This is why school systems exist. And so if you do everything else, but at the end of the day, little AJ can't read and do math. At the end of the day, little AJ can demonstrate empathy, and critical thinking and problem solving and collaboration. At the end of the day, what little AJ knows and unable to do is not sufficient for him to go out and live a choice filled life where he can really engage with the reality of his existence on his own terms. If we have not made manifest that possibility, and little Aj is life, our school system has failed. Bottom line, if we do everything else, right, we fed them lunch, we had them sit in rows, we painted the building the right colours, and we had a balanced budget. And we banned the right books and unbanned, the wrong books, we wore masks where we didn't wear masks, we did all the things. But if at the end of the day, we're little AJ does, isn't able to demonstrate that he knows and is able to do the things necessary to allow him to have a chance in life. We failed, plain and simple, and we need to name it as failure we shouldn't, you know, tiptoe around it, we need to name it for what it is, is failure that we have failed, legit. And when we get clarity about that, that there is a reason for which school systems exist. And inside of that reason for existence, there is winning and there is losing on behalf of children. And when we find ourselves losing, that doesn't make us bad people. But it does mean that we are failing children and it is our fault. And we have an obligation to interrogate our own adult behaviour. To figure out what changes do I need to be Mike that are more in alignment with little AJ women. Like That is why school systems exist. And that is the only reason that school systems exist. That my experience has been is I've crossed the country, I've been in the reddest of the red, the blue is the blue, if you really want to see it go down the purpose of the purple like that's actually where it really heats up, you got something in blue land or they got something red land. That's not where the drama is kicking off, go to purple land, where there's this convergence, and people are getting so caught up on issues, that they're not noticing the shared values underneath those issues that could really unite them around a common cause for the children. That's where this work is really most powerful inspiring is bringing people together, what do we in fact have in common and when communities interrogate their collective vision for what they want students to know and be able to do and when communities interrogate the collective values around what are the non negotiables that have to be honoured on the path to accomplishing the vision, what I often experience is a lot of other noise becomes revealed for what it is noise that is not helping us win on behalf of children noise that is not helping us be great on behalf of the students that we serve. That's the challenge I lift up folks is first and foremost recognised. school systems have a very narrow mandate. And that is to cause improvement to what students known are able to do. That is why school systems exist. And in every moment where whatever we're doing, regardless of our attention, I'm just focused on our impact. I'm not doubting the intention of people anywhere. What I see is adults all across the country with remarkable intention. What I'm focusing in on is is that intention, causing impact that we intend, and in every moment where we aren't seeing the impact that we intend in the lives of our children. We've got to stop and be willing to ask ourselves what in my choices What am I doing behaviour is actually making it harder for our students to be successful. And what can I change in my adult behaviour to be better in alignment? with what's necessary to cause improvements all my students no one are able to do. That is the work that the book is calling school board members all across the country into.

Casey O'Roarty 45:12
But that doesn't sound controversial to me at all. That sounds straight up. I mean, and what a great anchor.

AJ Crabill 45:19
It's interesting you say that because next week, I will be doing a book event in a town. And what I've been told by the organisers is there's a chance that there may be some protesting taking place from a far right wing group that is very frustrated with me focusing school systems and on student outcomes. And next month, I'm actually doing another book event, and a very different part of the country, where I've been told by the organisers that I should expect to be protested by a far left wing group that is very frustrated that I'm encouraging school boards to be focused on student outcomes. And so you say that, but I guess if I look at it a different way. Casey, I think my work is helping bring all of America together again in there.

Casey O'Roarty 46:07
Thank you shared frustration

AJ Crabill 46:08
with my ideas about focusing on student outcomes, how dare you like we can bring the far left and the far right together? For that, AJ has got problems that he wants people to focus on student outcomes. So yeah, I find it weird. But yeah, that is absolutely my life. Having put this book out into the world,

Casey O'Roarty 46:27
yeah, I mean, thank you, thank you for doing it anyway. I hear the rumblings there's that whole conversation around like, oh, values are taught at home. And there's no place in the, you know, like social emotional learning is somehow like this woke thing that is brainwashing children. And I'm listening to you talk about restorative justice, like restorative justice is the practice of social and emotional learning. Like, it boggles my mind. And all of it promotes student outcome when kids feel like they have their skin in the game. And they're connected. And they're a part of the community and they have a voice. They have interpersonal relationships, schools to navigate all the things, student outcomes increase. So I guess you are pretty controversial.

AJ Crabill 47:17
Thank you. I try to be Yeah. What I do experience is that the vast majority of folks are hearing something that's triggering them on the far left, and what I'm saying aren't hearing something that's triggering them on the far right of what I'm saying. The vast majority of folks I talked to, I suspect are somewhere hanging out with me, intentionally, in the middle of all this and saying, Okay, got it, I realised there's an interpretation of what you just said, that could be really caustic to people far, far left and far, far, right. But what I really hear you saying is right here dead centre, how do we educate children? Yeah. And so I just want to be focused on that part. I want to dig into that. How do we educate children that not only do I hope, but I suspect, almost all of us can come together around this, just to clarify, yeah, this idea of focusing school systems and on improving outcomes for students, is absolutely some part of the way that I'm conveying the message is absolutely triggering for people, some of whom are the far far left someone from one far, far

Casey O'Roarty 48:17
right. Well, that's how you know, that's how you know you're doing good work.

AJ Crabill 48:21
Maybe that is, in fact, the indicate, I have managed to piss off everyone, somewhat sporadically, somewhat equally, just outliers,

Casey O'Roarty 48:27
right? Just outliers. Ah, well, I'm glad that you're out there, man. I'm really glad that you're out there, and that you've written this book, and that you are doing this work at the systemic level, because man, there's plenty of room for improvement. And I hope that people that are listening are feeling more inspired to look for opportunities to open a door and have some conversations with people that their kids schools, I know that I'm feeling inspired. And so in all of this, is there anything else that you want to make sure that listeners are left with today? Before we wrap things up, AJ?

AJ Crabill 49:05
Yeah, you know, these ideas that we've been talking about are things that anyone can be a champion for anyone can get the ball moving. I just always want particularly parents to experience their own power to really jumpstart to really be the genesis of transformation in their community and their child's school that they don't have to wait for the right. Teachers are the right principles, right superintendents arrive board members alike, just by virtue of being the parent who steps forward and says, You know what, this is what my kid needs I better the kids need this as well. How can I be involved? Like that's what I would invite every parent to stand in their own authority to be that difference maker for their school and to the extent that you have folks for whom that's the journey that they feel called in their spirit. Feel free to reach out if you got questions, if I can provide resources by getting up I'm happy to provide links to all of my different resources. I'm not what these people like tries to charge people, like I want the information out there in the world. And so if I can be a resource, if I can be an ally for parents as they're standing in their own power, standing on behalf of the greatness of their children, in all the children, their community, just know that one, you don't need permission, your imprimatur already exist. All there is waiting for us to do is stand in that and choose to act. And if you choose that path, I want to be your ally. Feel free to reach out and I'll gladly provide whatever resources I can.

Casey O'Roarty 50:34
Yeah, let people know where they can find you and follow your work. How can they reach out?

AJ Crabill 50:38
Yeah, you can email me, AJ and AJ crapo.com. That's just AJ, AJ, CR AB aol.com. Or just visit the website, AJ kraebel.com. And you can see some of the work that I've got going on there. And I've got links to a lot of the resources that I've talked about. So people can click and really ever talk to me again, you can just go straight there and get access to the information needs skip by, you know, the controversial guides. It's great.

Casey O'Roarty 51:03
Perfect, and we'll make sure all those links are in the show notes. I love to ask all of my guests, AJ Yes. My final question is What does joyful courage mean to you?

AJ Crabill 51:14
Yeah. I really appreciate the inquiry. As I was reflecting on this getting ready for the show, this idea of joyful courage. A dear, dear friend of mine, who were constantly trying to help each other sharpen, iron sharpens iron, she was in a place of struggle recently. And as we're talking about it, the thing that emerged in the conversation is that these current tribulations are just an opportunity to practice courage that if there wasn't challenge, and if there weren't scary things over the horizon, then we'd never get to practice courage. And so in that context, the presence of things that seem to be terrifying or frustrating, can absolutely be embraced with a sense of joy. Because they really, in another frame, are an opportunity to practice courage and opportunity to the absence of them wouldn't have created. And so it's hard to kind of be joyful in the moment of trial and tribulation. But that's really the encouragement is to recognise them in the moment, like, oh, wait a minute, wait a minute. It has been a while since I've had to kind of Dawn my coat of courage. It's been a while since I've really been able to flex my courage muscle, and to really grow it and see what I'm capable of see how powerful I've become over time. I don't enjoy that I'm in the situation, I definitely enjoy that I get to practice Kurzman situation, and see if I am the person that I see myself as being we don't always get to test whether or not the things that we see in our self perception are real odd. I believe that I'm a man of integrity, and I will always do the right thing, even when people aren't looking. Yeah, it's easy to say that stuff. But that's because we're rarely tested. But it's in that moment of testing that then I get to really see have I come to a place in life where I'm really standing in my intention, and the way that I like to think I am. And so that moment of trial and tribulation is she and I were discussing it, we came to this conclusion, oh, this is a cause for joy, not for the situation. I certainly prefer not to have it. But because it allows for the practice of courage in the face of tribulation. So that's the thing that came up for me as I was preparing.

Casey O'Roarty 53:31
Ah, thank you. Thank you so much for that. I love that. And thank you for spending time with me. This was great. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Yeah, yeah, good times. And good luck on your book tour with those protesters. Indeed, indeed,

Casey O'Roarty 53:46
I hope that they are able to tune their ears a little bit and open to you know, the beauty of what you're bringing to the conversation around

AJ Crabill 53:55
when to joyfully practice courage. I don't know what you play, but that's what I play.

Casey O'Roarty 53:59
Perfect. All right. Great. Thank you so much, AJ, thank you

Casey O'Roarty 54:10
thank you so much for listening in today. Thank you to my spreadable partners, as well as Chris Mann and the team at pod shaper for all the support with getting the show out there and making it sound good. Check out our offers for parents with kids of all ages and sign up for our newsletter to stay connected at beasts braudel.com. Tune back in later this week for our Thursday show and I'll be back with another interview next Monday. Peace

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