Expanding Transformative Agency: Learning Lab as a Social Change Intervention for Racial Equity in School Discipline
by Dosun Ko, Aydin Bal, Halil Ibrahim Çakir & Hyejung Kim - 2021
Background: In the United States, students of color are more likely to receive disciplinary exclusion compared with their White peers. The racial disproportionality in exclusionary school discipline (e.g., office discipline referrals and suspension) marginalizes students from nondominant communities and further aggravates inequalities in academic, social, and behavioral outcomes. As a socially, historically, and geographically situated inequity issue, addressing racial disparities in disciplinary outcomes requires a transformative experiment in which local stakeholders can engage in situated problem identification and problem-solving efforts in response to their specific needs, goals, and local dynamics.
Purpose of Study: This study examined how Learning Lab, an inclusive, collaborative problem-solving process, created a collaborative problem-solving space wherein school stakeholders exercised their collective, transformative agency to bring about a qualitative transformation in the school discipline system at an urban middle school for the creation of culturally responsive and equity-oriented learning environments for all students.
Setting: The research took place at Rogoff Middle School in Wisconsin, which has historically served students from urban, low-income families. The school community struggled with the overrepresentation of Black students in exclusionary school discipline.
Participants: Learning Lab comprised 14 members. Three parents and 11 school staff—administrators, teachers, social workers, an after-school coordinator, and a parent/paraprofessional working in a special education classroom—participated in the Learning Lab.
Research Design: This study used the Learning Lab intervention, taking place at an urban middle school between November 2012 and May 2014, as an instrumental case to explore how the participatory, design-based intervention transformed a schoolwide behavioral support system. Data collected from 14 meetings include observations, ethnographic field notes, school disciplinary data, and photos. All meetings were video recorded and transcribed, then analyzed using a transformative agency framework.
Findings/Results: With the aim of organizing inclusive problem-solving activities for shared, collaborative future-making learning experiences, the Learning Lab encouraged local stakeholders to exercise their collective, transformative agency in order to produce locally meaningful and emancipatory knowledge aimed at reshaping a dysfunctional, punitive system that historically has yielded racial injustice in school discipline.
Conclusions/Recommendations: As a community-driven, scaled-down design process, Learning Lab can be a powerful leadership tool for school leaders to unite school stakeholders by building authentic school–family–community partnerships and leveraging expertise, experiences, and ingenuity for the development of locally optimized solutions to inequity.
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