How a council works in progressive schools

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How a council works in progressive schools

How does a council work? A council works by having students in any grade level, kindergarten through twelth grade, having a period -- I think it works best when there's continuity, so if you do it at least once a week, I know schools that do it once a day but if you do it at least once a week then you can build a certain continuity where the students sit in a circle with a trained facilitator, and that's important. The facilitator needs to know how to create the appropriate environment. Sometimes to create a little bit of a sense of ceremony which is largely absent in a lot of kids' lives. Sometimes after the kids get comfortable with each other we'll dim the lights, light a candle and we'll dedicate the circle to a particular topic or a particular person, and then talk about sometimes a specific issue. It might be bullying. Is there bullying happening in our school? Why? Someone's dog got run over and that particular person is devastated. Have the rest of us had the experience of a death of a pet. And being in a circle, students kind of reassure each other. They help each other. They begin to see that their issues and other kids issues are similar. They are then, when they leave the circle, which is supposed to be confidential -- and they don't break that because they don't want to lose the privilege of having this circle, but they will then go home and talk to their parents about certain issues that the parent could never initiate but when it comes from the kid, then it's a whole different story. When we first put council into Crossroads, I thought the parents would object to it; not at all. They were thrilled by it. So were the students and ultimately the teachers as well.

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Paul Cummins, PhD

Educator & Author

Dr. Paul Cummins, President and CEO of Coalition for Engaged Education (CEE), received his bachelor of arts from Stanford University, his MAT from Harvard, and his doctorate from the University of Southern California.  In 1971, he co-founded Crossroads School in Santa Monica and built it into one of Los Angeles’s most successful educational institutions and a national model for innovative, independent schools. 

In 1995, Cummins stepped down as Headmaster of Crossroads and formed New Visions Foundation (now Coalition for Engaged Education) to offer opportunities for Engaged Education to all youth. The first venture was New Roads School, a diverse, K-12 independent school in Santa Monica that has a deep commitment to social justice. New Roads devotes 40% of its tuition budget to need-based student financial aid, guaranteeing access to students from a wide socioeconomic array. Cummins has since implemented a number of innovative programs to help children at risk.

Cummins has published four books on education, including Proceed With Passion: Engaging Students in Meaningful Education (2004), and Two Americas, Two Educations: Funding Quality Schools for all Students (2007), both published by Red Hen Press. His most recent book of essays, Why Poetry? Reflections on Poetry, Writing and Culture, was published in 2009 by Xlibris, in addition to two volumes of his poetry and two children's books published in recent years. He is currently finishing Confessions of a Headmaster: My Pursuit of Joy and Justice in Education (forthcoming from Red Hen Press).

Cummins and his wife Mary Ann reside in Santa Monica. They have four daughters and five grandchildren.

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