What is Council in Schools?

Council in Schools is a program of The Ojai Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to “foster practices that awaken connection with self, others, and the natural world.” CIS serves this mission by training and supporting educators to use council – the practice of listening and speaking from the heart – to inspire engaged, compassionate school communities.

Council has many applications in schools. As a relational practice, council is a powerful social and emotional learning strategy that promotes an environment of trust and respect in the classroom and school. Council invites students to share stories from their personal lives that establish connections and appreciation of differences among students and between students, teachers, and other adults at the school. As a mindfulness practice, council helps students become more aware of themselves and others. As an instructional approach, council creates a context for exploring standards-based curricula and making it relevant to students. As a leadership strategy, council provides opportunities for educators to mine the collective wisdom of groups and take informed, considered action. As a community-building tool, council also serves as the foundation for CIS’s approach to restorative justice.

CIS works with schools – public, charter, private, and parochial – to implement and sustain council and restorative practices programs tailored to the specific needs of each school. We also offer trainings and workshops and regular council gatherings (Collaboratives) open to all educators.

The practice of council involves the use of a handful of simple elements:

  • sitting in a circle – where all are equal, everyone can see and be seen, and accountability is to the whole
  • shared intentions for how we will be while in council
    • listening and speaking from the heart
    • being spontaneous
    • being mindful not only of oneself but of the circle as a whole
  • using a talking piece to focus attention
  • clear beginnings and endings to mark being in council and practicing the intentions of council
  • witnessing – a process of reflecting what is shared without judgment

The practice of council has its roots in the ways of indigenous peoples the world over who gathered in circles to share stories. The version of council offered by CIS was developed over the last 35 years by Jack Zimmerman and Gigi Coyle, educators and co-authors of the book The Way of Council, Joe Provisor, educator, CIS founder, and author of the forthcoming book Teaching and Learning in Circles: The Way of Council in Schools, and many other teachers, educators, facilitators, and trainers affiliated with The Ojai Foundation, CIS, and various Los Angeles-area schools.

We at CIS are honored and grateful to carry on this timeless way and share it with schools, educators, students, families, and communities.