April 2015 / Issue 3

Focus on Safe School and Cool Tools

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Dear UCLA Lab School Community,

Problems are a part of everyday life, and school can be a place where we help students learn lessons and skills to navigate those problems and even benefit from the process. That’s the basis of our Safe School system.

In this issue we explore developments in our approach, as well as how Safe School is helping teachers and children in our wider community.

Our system is not one-size-fits-all. It is subject to looking at each situation and the individuals involved, and differentiating the support we provide. Our purpose is to guide students to be kind, decent human beings. Our philosophy is one of determining formative consequences that help to shape behavior intrinsically — not through fear, but through developing values such as empathy. Our consequences involve reflective practice that demands integrity on behalf of all involved.

Recently I spoke to an alumna about her time at the lab school. She said: “Integrity was seared into my backbone. It was about taking responsibility, starting with ‘I’”. She credited Safe School with shaping her understanding of differences. She said it helped her navigate through college and her work to obtain a master’s degree in social work.

Our alumna is just one of many examples of how our Safe School system has had a positive impact on our students and their lives. In a world so in need of compassionate and principled leaders, I’m proud to be part of a community doing this vital work.

Best wishes,



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Safe School Approach Based on 7 Critical Components

When I was Director of Student & Family Affairs from 1996-2003, our lab school faculty worked with UCLA Developmental Psychology Professor Dr. Jaana Juvonen to research how we could support social skills development in ways that reflect our values as a school community. We reviewed research from the U.S., Australia, and Finland to gain a deeper understanding of the complex undertaking of guiding children to be kind, decent human beings. The result of our collaboration became the Safe School system that we have today. The following is from a 2000 article by Jaana Juvonen and Adrienne Nishina, UCLA Psychology Department, and Ava de la Sota, demonstration teacher and health specialist 1969-2008, that outlines the system. — Norma Silva

1. A Whole-School Approach

Safe School is not a separate program, but a way of life for the school community. All teachers, staff, students and parents must be committed to creating a safe school culture. Every student and parent signs a contract agreeing to abide by the Safe School Guidelines. Furthermore, the system is designed to be integrated – to be inextricably interwoven – into the culture of the school.

2. A Focus on Prevention: Setting Up Clear Safeguards and Rules

Our Safe School approach is based on a belief in equity and democratic rights. Guidelines present students, staff and parents with clear boundaries in the form of Safe School rules. Of utmost importance are (1) the recognition that physical and psychological peer intimidation are problems at school, and (2) explicit instruction regarding ways in which children can deal with situations when they are – or fear they are – being targeted.

3. An Immediate Response and Follow-Through

The crucial factor in maintaining a climate of safety at the school is that teachers hear, see and intervene. They use Safe School violations as valuable “teachable moments.” A well-defined procedure to respond to Safe School violations is in place. When such violations occur, a school staff member stops the on-going activity and proceeds by eliciting reports from all students involved. Regardless of their role in the incident, students are commended when they engage in responsible behaviors during the reporting (e.g., describing the incident truthfully). Following the reports, a designated staff member determines the appropriate action.

4. Instructional Interventions: Mediation

The first course of action in a peer conflict situation usually is an attempt at mediation. However, when students violate the Safe School rules and cannot peacefully resolve the conflict, intervention becomes necessary. The intervention process is designed not to be punitive, but rather to serve as a learning opportunity. A staff member reviews the incident with the students and makes sure they express and understand each other's motives and feelings. With the guidance of the staff, students generate and practice replacement behaviors that could have been used in the situation and can be used in similar future situations (appropriate behaviors for both the instigator and the target). This process builds students’ repertoire of behavioral options from which to choose when peer conflict occurs. To promote learning, the focus of the conflict resolution is on problem solving.

5. Safe School Expert and Staff Committee

A designated staff member serves as the Safe School expert and the advocate for the program. With the assistance of a Safe School committee that functions similarly to a curriculum committee, the Safe School coordinator is in charge of the operation of the program and constant refinement of the Safe School policies. The advantage of a committee is that it provides perspectives from teacher representatives for the various age groups or grades who can assist in designing and revising developmentally appropriate curricula and procedures.

6. Integration into the Academic Program

Lessons related to responsible and respectful behavior are woven into the academic program of the school. Books and other reading materials are selected in part for the lessons they teach. Discussions and reading assignments are often focused on issues related to the character and behavior of the individuals children encounter in their reading – whether in a book, a poem or a social studies lesson. In all cases, teachers attempt to make the curriculum relevant to children’s own experiences.

7. Continuous Evaluation and Development of the Program

The needs of students and schools naturally change over time. As a result, developing and maintaining an effective program requires continuous evaluation and calibration. Students, in particular, are valuable informants of glitches and gaps in the system that need revision. Children’s comments, for example, have shown us that even though it is important for the entire school to use a common vocabulary to talk about Safe School issues, that vocabulary must be fine-tuned and adapted to the different age groups (4-13 years) and to changes in outside influences — such as television, movies and technology. The Safe School committee collects information, shares observations and makes recommendations for program refinements.


Safe School Classroom Updates

by Laurie Ramirez, Safe School Specialist

Our Safe School approach is based on the view that conflict resolution skills are life skills. If we see conflict as a fact of life and we have a way of resolving it, conflict is something from which we can learn and grow. Strategies for resolving conflict are the focus of our Safe School System and our Cool Tools lessons. A Safe School curriculum committee of teachers and administrators continually assesses and refines the program. Here’s what we've been working on:

Systematize teaching of school values and expectations

The priority of our Safe School Committee over the past two years has been to systematize our teaching of the school’s overarching values ‑ respect, responsibility, empathy, kindness, integrity ‑ and the expectations for solving conflicts in ways that uphold these values. In the Early Childhood and Primary levels this involves the introduction of Cool Tools and the common language of Safe School. These lessons are the first steps in defining what is expected of people as individuals, as friends and as classmates. This is when students begin to understand what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Create developmentally appropriate lessons for older children

The Intermediate level is the pivotal time when students begin to move away from the notion of “tools” and really begin to focus on the value each tool represents. It is when we begin to teach the nuances involved with these strategies such as owning our choices, being responsible for the consequences that may result, and staying true to our values even when friends are not. The Safe School Committee is working to create developmentally appropriate lessons to move students toward these understandings.

Increase support in Upper

In the Upper Level we have increased our Safe School support with the addition of Beth Rendeiro, Upper Safe School Support Teacher, who is helping to develop a yearlong curriculum that the students have aptly titled “Social Science.” Areas of study include digital citizenship, values and decision-making, friendship, media literacy, family life and drug education.

Align conflict response with our teaching philosophy and practice

A final focus of the Safe School committee is to address the challenge of how to respond to conflicts at school in ways that are aligned with our pedagogical approach. We strive to differentiate instruction in math, reading and writing so we can meet students where they are on the learning continuum. The same holds true for social-emotional learning (SEL). Our goal is to move students forward to make more positive and prosocial choices in their lives. In all other curricular areas differentiation is a positive and highly sought after approach to teaching, but somehow when it comes to SEL many people expect a “one size fits all” approach. Instead, we are working to identify and enforce formative consequences, allowing students to learn from their mistakes with the ultimate goal of shaping their future choices and behavior.


Cool Tools Workshops Help New Teachers Develop Skills for Classroom Management and Community Building

by Shernice Lazare, Outreach Coordinator

Ask any first-year teacher about his or her classroo­m and inevitably you’ll hear stories about students “misbehaving” or about a lack of classroom community. Our Cool Tools Workshop for new teachers, supported by a generous donation from the Isabel Foundation, was born from that feedback.

“In our work with UCLA students enrolled in the Teacher Education Program (TEP) we found that a significant need for first-year teachers was polishing their classroom management skills,” said Laurie Ramirez, UCLA Lab School Safe School Specialist.

Toolbox of Strategies is a "Life Saver"

The series of Saturday workshops focused solely on supporting the social emotional development of elementary-aged students. Interwoven into each session were the Cool Tools lessons of the UCLA Lab School Safe School system as well as the Safe School mediation process.

Over the course of the program, new teachers role played, brainstormed, collaborated and had lots of fun, all in the name of building better, safer and more respectful classrooms. The teachers filled their literal, virtual and mental toolboxes with concrete items and strategies to help mediate conflict and develop positive, self-sustaining and intrinsic values in their students.

In a recent reflection, one new teacher said, “This has been a life saver for me. If it wasn’t for Cool Tools and the work that Laurie and Shernice have done to help me reflect on my practice, I don’t think I could have made it through this year!”

Expanding the Reach

The program has been so successful that Laurie Ramirez is now working with the entire K-2 faculty at LAUSD’s 15th Street Elementary School in San Pedro in a similar format. Woven into the sessions are techniques for teaching students collaboration skills, classroom routines and positive communication between teachers and students. It’s all in an effort to build a consistent school culture based on respect, responsibility and empathy.

The mission of the Isabel Foundation is to support activities and programs that embody the spirit of its namesake, Isabel Mott, “who loved grace, youth, art, energy, freshness and the beauty of healing.” We believe that our program embodies all these qualities, and we look forward to continuing to outreach to more teachers, building stronger communities one classroom at a time.

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We welcome your feedback!

Have a question or comment about anything you read in this issue? Send us a message and let us know.

Principal - Norma Silva

Assistant Principal & Outreach Coordinator - Renata Gusmão-Garcia Williams

Safe School Specialist - Laurie Ramirez

Communications Director - Laura Weishaupt