This week's guest is Gabriela López, She has been a teacher’s assistant, an arts instructor, a bilingual classroom teacher, a prison educator, a student teacher supervisor and a core member of Teachers 4 Social Justice, in addition to having the very relevant life experience of being first-generation and first in her family to go to college.
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David: Gabriela, welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you?
Gabriela: I am an educator.
David: Who are you?
Gabriela: I am a daughter. I am a sister.
I'm an, I'm a Tia .
David: Who are you?
Gabriela: I am a friend.
David: who are you?
Gabriela: I am someone that does work centered around joy and caring and, and really just hope to set up structures that help people meet that.
David: Who are you?
Gabriela: I'm a baseball fan.
David: Who are you?
Gabriela: I love road trips. I'm a person who does road trips .
David: Beautiful. And finally, for now, who are you?
Gabriela: I, I'm a dreamer,
David: oh, so much that we can get into. But I'm so glad to have you here on this restorative justice life. We turned this around, connected and got on to recording pretty quick a little bit ago on Instagram and Twitter. You posted. A thing saying like, why we should abolish behavior charts, right. And people can go look that up.
We'll link it in the show notes. But like, as you were breaking things down, your experience with behavior charts and the things that you moved to being more restorative, I was like, oh, this is probably somebody who has a lot to say about this and would be a valuable contributor to, you know, our community here.
And then I clicked on your profile and realized that you had done work with this at the school board level at San Francisco. And so, you know, even more of a region to have you on. So thank you so much for being here. We're gonna get into the nuances of, you know, doing this work in the classroom, trying to do this work on a more systemic level.
But before we get into all of that, it's good to check in. So to the fullest extent that you want to answer the question right now, how are you?
Gabriela: I am doing a lot better. I reacted strongly cuz this is a very unique time in my life. I'm grieving, I am I'm a student now working on my PhD and we're on a quarter system, so I'm past the middle of it, which means it's kind of a rough time.
But I, I'm, I'm going to be okay and I, I know that I'm happy. So just trying to work through that, recognizing the, these things are always, they flow in that way and I've learned how to take care of myself during these times.
David: Yeah. Without going farther than you want to, like what has taking care of yourself looked like?
In the middle of grief, in the middle of being a student in the middle of. everyday life. Lifeing.
Gabriela: Yeah. I really have been connecting with the people around me. I've noticed a lot of the people that kind of pour into me have been women. So I've just spent some time, some very intentional time with the women in my life who have seen my own growth and have just kind of been there to support me through various times.
So being very intentional about that. And I've also been going home. I'm in San Francisco, but I'm from la. And being with my niece and my nephew always brings me so much joy. So those are kind of different ways that I've been healing and, and continuing to hope.
David: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, for weekly listeners of the podcast, last Thursday's episode, we were talking with Carolyn Christine and Kellyann Mendoza about, you know, our reactions as Asian people and the way that we have dealt with collective trauma and the grief that comes from that.
And of course, we know that like while we communally experience grief when traumatic events like that happen, right when traumatic events like the shooting in at Michigan State University happened yesterday, as of the time of our recording right now, there are also things that are going on in our individual lives that require us to take those pauses, take those times to grieve, take time to connect.
And so like I'm really appreciative that you've shared that and that you. , you're doing those things for yourself so you can do the important work that it is that you do. We often start this podcast asking the folks you know, you've been doing restorative work for a long time. Probably be even, even before you knew the words.
That's right. So in your own words, how did this get started for you?
Gabriela: I'm glad you mentioned that cuz it was it, it was going to be something that I said. understanding I was embodying this work mm-hmm. before I could articulate what it was. And that started well before I became a classroom teacher.
So my background is beginning education as a teacher's assistant and working at a nonprofit in LA actually called Inner City Arts. And the work that I learned by work, by being there was around creativity and, and bringing that imagination and creativity in the classroom. It was very art centered.
It was very very much focused on art and healing. And mostly helping students be their full, authentic. In a learning space. So as I'm learning this before I'm becoming a teacher, I am connecting it with my own experiences in public schools. I went to all L A U S D schools. I went to schools on the west side and I grew up in South Central.
So there was already this disconnect between where I lived and where I went to school and what that was all about. Mm-hmm. . And, and I was seeing a lot of these behaviors from the adults in my life who were demanding respect without building, without even building a connection. It was just sort of a part of the structure of the classroom.
And, and I saw how damaging that was specifically with black and brown students who were in the classroom. I'd always get in trouble. For a variety of reasons that in my, like little eight year old brain didn't make sense. And sometimes I would see educators, adult teachers, sort of push students to get to this point of frustration and then the student is in trouble for being frustrated.
So it was a lot of recognizing the inability for us as young people to show emotion in this, this structure that we see that we have created as a classroom and in this space as a future teacher, seeing how that is embraced and that is acknowledged. And as adults, we also have the ability to kind of like share and show that emotion and to resolve conflicts in a healthy way.
Without pushing students out. So it, it's all really tied. I tied together in, in my work, even my work on the school board, even my work now as a future researcher of just thinking how how it's all connected in many ways to policing and prisons. And that's sort of what I was bringing to the floor with my post about how these arbitrary consequences can really enable behaviors that become worse over time when we see schools are kind of the space that begins at Traject trajectory, potentially towards prison.
And it's all based on consequences that whatever the adult is imagining or believes will then impact the child. And it, it just kind of drove me to ensure that in my space we won't embody that.
David: Yeah. And so knowing that, when you heard the word restorative justice for the first time, what cl what was, when was that and what clicked?
Gabriela: Here's one thing I'll say. I was, so at this point, it was a couple years after I had been working with the organization and had been a teacher's assistant. I worked in an L A U S D school as well. I heard about the, it's a Bay area group called Teachers for Social Justice. Mm-hmm. and had always had the intention of connecting with the group, whether it was through their conference or in some way.
I moved to San Francisco, I reached out and then shortly after, become a core member of the group. So they're, they're now a group that is very much family to me. But this idea, it, it really was around social justice where it kind of sparked and that began, my first year in my Master's in education program at ucla.
David: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. So like when you encountered those words, what was it about it that was like, oh yeah. Like this is like what I've been saying, this is what I've been experiencing. Yeah. What was the connection that like, oh yeah, this is it.
Gabriela: What I, what I think I was exposed to was more the, where it's like what transformative justice or, or social justice is rooted in mm-hmm.
And a lot of those ideas aren't I think our, they're a part of our world, but they're not. Explained or explicit in various ways. So I learned a little more about just the history and like the people and the names that carried this work in abolition. And that was sort of when I saw that in a text, it felt very connected to what I would do in a classroom of mainly, it, it's very simple for me, but mainly bringing humanity into a learning environment.
Like how are we letting students people be and, and learn through that being and that exploration without controlling their every move and without this fear of a quote unquote chaotic classroom. As I'm tying this into what I'm. before becoming a teacher, which is classroom management. And so it, it all is was a very interesting contradiction and, and just experience of seeing what I have been trying to do or what I've been talking about on paper.
David: Yeah. You know, the, the post that you put up and, you know, what I'm hearing you say right now is like being in a relationship with young people who are students in your classroom, right? Is not about classroom management or behavior management, like it's being in Right. Relationship. Right. It's about building connection.
Mm-hmm. . For those who are listening to this podcast for the first time, or haven't heard me say it yet, when I think about restorative justice, right, it is. value system rooted in indigenous values of interconnection. Right? And so, of course when there's harm, we're gonna wanna repair because other people are a part of us, right?
Reflections of us. Mm-hmm. . We are family ancestrally. We're valuable members of our community. And it's so much easier to do that repair when you already have a relationship rooted in equity and trust to begin with, right? Mm-hmm. . And so like, what are the things that you're doing to proactively build and then strengthen those relationships?
You know, you picked that up intuitively through the things that you saw that you, like, you didn't wanna do. Or were there other people who were models of this for you growing up? Or as you were learning doing this work in the classroom or with young people in general?
Gabriela: There, there was, there was someone specific who I'm still in touch with and I think.
A lot as I'm growing through this, this process. But they're, they were the teacher that I was a teacher assistant for mm-hmm. at the school in it's in, in Venice, California. But the, the way it, it happened was another reason why it was just as important for me to explore this work and the way we treat young people.
So when I be, when I got into the role of the teacher's assistant it was later in the year. Here's, here's a little backstory. I used to work at a bank. Now I was very unhappy there. Very unhappy. And I applied to this school and I didn't get the position. This was over the summer, so, you know, kind of like heartbroken that it fell through.
A couple months later, the person who. Who had the position, couldn't do it anymore. So they called me and I happily accepted. I left the bank the next day, and now I'm in this classroom. But the way they structured it is, is very interesting. Cause number one and at this time in L A U S D ta, their teachers assistants had very little support backing priority, right?
You can see it in pay. You can see it in, in just like the treatment of the position. And because I was this newer, I was the newest ta, I got the, the quote unquote worst classroom mm-hmm. . And that was the space where I, I met this teacher who was the opposite of that. They were a very caring. Open kindergarten teacher who led the space with Modelly every day, how we respond to each other, how we respond to harm or to hurt LED community circles.
There was music, there was art. There was dance. It was a beautiful space. But in this classroom, in the schools structure, it was a chaotic environment. It was loud. There was laughter, there was the students were talking. And, and that is, again, it's, it's against this idea of what I view as, as natural, joyful learning.
But what teachers are accustomed to of like quiet classrooms, no one moves unless they're, they raise their hand and they ask for permission. No one talks unless they, it's their, to, it's their turn to talk. And it's not human. So I always thought that was interesting. This sort of like, well, I'm in this space because I get the, the least amount of priority.
But I also felt very fortunate that that is where I, where I was able to see it in practice and that that led, it led me from there then on. That's just kind of the teacher that I wanted to aspire to be.
David: Yeah. What was it like going from that TA position and then eventually, like having your own classrooms?
What were the things that you did to set up your classrooms in similar fashions?
Gabriela: So I, I insisted on not having any behavior charts cuz I also worked in. another classroom the year after that did have that. And, and I would see the harm that I spoke about. So in, in the setting of my classroom, it was all about my classroom library, making sure that there was a, a lot of, there was a plethora of resources and diverse texts and things that my fifth graders could connect to, and it was a room for art throughout the space.
And also just this understanding that when we connect and. Grow to know more about each other. It will be around community building and community circles and activities and icebreakers and, and ways to have fun before we then kind of get into. And even the academic stuff. It was all, it's fun.
That's what we, that's what I wanted in my classroom. So setting that up. And then one thing that I did in every single year of my teaching was home visits with my students. So at the beginning of the year, part of that was kind of introducing myself to all of my students families. Letting them know who I am.
Everyone had direct connection with me through, through phone or email. And then I would ask if, if doing a home visit is something that they're open to so I can learn a little more about they, them, their families. Mm-hmm. and their neighborhoods.
David: Yeah. You know, when people think about being a teacher or the role of a teacher, both.
for educators who are listening right now, and all of us who have gone through some form of education growing up, right? We can think about the teachers who we felt most connected to or were like our favorite teachers mm-hmm. , and they're often the ones who did take the time to build that relationship, right?
That is not necessarily within the job description, of the contract that you signed. Right. But as I have more and more conversations with people who are doing restorative work specifically in schools, it is this acknowledgement that, you know, we are not teaching fifth grade. We are not teaching math, we're not teaching science like we're teaching humans.
Mm-hmm. , right. How to be humans. And like the way to teach is like through building that relationship. And that's not often the way that schools are structured or like people are often even incentivized to be, you know, you saw different models of those kinds of behaviors growing up. Was, how was that supported, discouraged viewed by your peers, by your admin as you were moving through your teaching career in the classroom?
Gabriela: So I had two very distinct teaching experiences. One in LA at a charter school that I did not wanna work in, but I it was my second year in my program and I had to be placed in a classroom. L A U S D was going through their pink slip time. If, if we know what that is, it's kind of like that letter of resignation that we're, that they give all around.
And then they begin to prioritize hiring for the teachers who have been in the system. So newer teachers were not getting jobs in the school district. Mm-hmm. . So that was, that was one. And then my second was in SF U S D in a public school with a very caring, loving community. My first one, it. I mean, this is a first year teacher navigating a charter school space that was housed in a Catholic church
And so part of my experience every Monday morning was turning the class around to be the classroom space that I created, and Friday afternoon, turning it back because it was in use over the weekend. And these sort of additional layers of labor that is not sustainable for, for an edu for a teacher, especially a newer one.
I shared a wall with the office next door because it was one of those, like breakaway mm-hmm. accordion style. Yeah. So my admin was right next door and they were always very I'll say maybe frustrated with the conversations and, and the energy and the, the noise that my fifth graders. would, would embody while we were learning.
And this was 28 fifth graders with a new teacher who wants to explore and move and create. So it was a lot of sort of that, you know, this challenge of trying to have this really controlled, sustained quiet classroom with the reality of not only a young person, but a a young person entering a new phase very, very quickly entering into a new phase in their life that is, that can, that is shifting the person they will become for the rest of their lives.
Which I also took very seriously. So that was, that was really hard to navigate. And I, you know, I have a lot of a lot of stories and, and thoughts on that first year. , but I still am happy that I got to experience that. That's where I did my first, that's where I did my thesis project and it was around the home visits.
So I always have a really lovely memory of that time. Then this other space was in an S F U S D school that had actually lost. Half of the teachers at the school site the year prior. Mm-hmm. . So the, this was very common during that time. It was the 17, 18 school year. No, sorry, I'm sorry. 16, 17 school year.
And there were, there was just a lot of teacher turnover. And over time the school district got a lot better before the pandemic hit, but that year was sort of the lowest. And the school signed up for it, for this it was sort of a program where they could get funding to imagine a project they wanna bring into their school site.
And the project they chose to work on was these mentor teacher, new teacher, partner. So for all of the new teachers who were coming into the school site, we were paired with a veteran teacher who knew the school already and who, who could kind of walk us through that and wouldn't leave us behind as we're planning, as we're building, as we're meeting newer members.
And that just immediately showed me the, the caring that they have for this school and why it's so valuable and so important. And I can tell you some of those teachers who entered with me are still there. I would be there if I didn't have to leave the job because I got elected to the school board.
So it's, it was a blend. But even, even in this next school site, I was very big on field trips. And in San Francisco there's so many offerings of free fried trips around the Bay Area in San Francisco. So my goal was always to go at least once a month somewhere. Mm-hmm. and, and towards the end there was one moment when my principal was.
It's just kind of like, you can't, you can't be going on field trips anymore, . So that, that was one moment where I thought, you know, I really would love to explore outside of the classroom because there's also learning that can happen everywhere else. But they're very big on minutes in seats and things like that, that I didn't
David: care about.
Well, I mean, I think before we got to that field trip piece, the thing that I was gravitating to is that, you know, the emphasis on relationships between adults in the building, like has a big impact on how. it, how easy it is for you to practice your values, right? Your values of relationship, your values of connection with young people, right?
When that is emphasized within the context of adult to adult relationships, it's easier for students as you're like, oh, this is what's being modeled. If Ms. soAnd says Doing it I think it's okay for me to do it too, right? Oftentimes when I'm talking to school leaders or folks who are like, Hey, can you bring in restorative justice programs to teach our kids?
This one's like, I could. But like, what are the conditions in which, like, I'm teaching them these frameworks, right? If it's not modeled to them by the people that they see every day, they're just gonna be like, okay, cool. I had this experience with this really cool guy who's like, awesome teacher and looked at all these things who taught us some really cool frameworks, but like, that's not what my day-to-day experience coming into this school is like.
And so the invitation is often for school leaders to, you know, make it a priority to not only give. teachers all school staff, all adults in the building, the knowledge and the frameworks to be able to practice. You know, building, strengthening, repairing relationships under the framework of restorative justice or another framework that works for you.
But making the time for them to learn and then like practice actually doing it, right. We don't get infinite hours in a day, right? You know, when when we're tracking like minutes in seats, right? Or content hours being covered, right? Like, some of those things get lost and like, you know, people still need their breaks.
People still need their prep times. People still need, you know, you know, your principal assigned you know, meetings and when we're thinking about like implementing quote unquote implementing this kind of work, right? It's also a really important question to ask, like, As we're adding these things on to people's lows, like what are we removing?
So they have the ability to like, that's right. Really dive into these practices. I mean, it's a matter of priorities, which, you know, I want like, which we'll come back to because I think thinking about your time in the school board and what I've known from afar, right? Like you came into the school board at a time where there were a lot of competing priorities because of the pandemic.
We're gonna come back to that in a second. But, you know, when you started thinking about like, oh, this is the way that this is playing out in the classroom. I can have impact more systemically on a bigger scale somewhere else. What were the conversations leading up to you deciding that like you were going to run for school board and what were the changes that you were hoping to make within the context of San Francisco Unified School District?
Gabriela: So when I first started, it was again connected to the group that I was a, a core member of, which is Teachers for Social Justice. Mm-hmm. . And they had experience working with educators who wanted to run for school boards. Cuz you'll, you'll, you'll see in San Francisco specifically and likely many other districts the amount of people who are classroom teachers who understand that school district on an, on a ground level was very minimal.
So when I first started thinking about it, it was through classroom teacher in an elementary school and a union organizer. I was a union rep at my school site. Mm-hmm. . So there were these both that are both pieces that are very important and that I saw at the school board level. But when then.
We decided to run. This was in 2018, and there was a rise in candidates because Trump was just elected and Trump was elected in 2016. And there were a number of people who had decided to put themselves in these spaces. Kind of what, what I'll call everyday people, everyday workers who wanted to bring like real understandings into decision making spaces.
And that looked like running for office. So there you'd probably see this, there was just a number of first time, lots of things. I mean, in San Francisco that was through the school board via 30 candidates. So there were a number of people who are really interested in this, in this role. There were three seats that were open, but none of those individuals were teachers.
So that kind of. Pushed the decision to finally run. And surprisingly we won because teachers don't win on the school board. And we didn't even have the support of my own teachers union that I was a member of, that I was a representative of, because unions play politics and unions are stay, stay with the people who have potential power, who have raised enough money, who have connections to other politicians in the city that could make a decision for the school district.
So like that's, that's their venue. Mm-hmm. . But I still believe that that's far removed from on the ground work for classroom teachers. So when I entered, it was, You know, working through and, and rebuilding bilingual education and helping teachers who teach in both languages, having enough resources to do that work.
And it was building the pathways cuz it wasn't just Spanish. We have over 70 languages in San, in San Francisco Unified. So building pathways for other languages like Vietnamese and Filipino. then it was this, like, on the basic level, just knowing, you mentioned this earlier time for, for planning, time, for organizing, time, for getting resources that we need.
What could that look like at the decision making level? And if it means taking time away from, in my opinion, from standardized testing or like the numerous assessments that we're, that we're asking teachers to stop teaching in order to implement, then that's a decision I believe we should be making at the school board level.
We should be making at a decision making level. Because we know, I, I know that that would be more valuable given my experience as a teacher, given what standardized testing offers me as an educator in order to further support my cha. Students, which is not very much. And, and there was a, another dream that I had around ensuring that every classroom had a paraprofessional support.
So it was two adults in any given space. And this is in addition to varying resources where and a resource specialist is working with a group of students or a paraprofessional is working with a specific student like that. That is part of what we offer as a school district and the law, but also recognizing that teachers need more adult support and that should be available throughout their day.
I remember growing up, we all, we all had teachers assistants, so it was kind of trying to work towards that. Those, those were little goals that I dreamed of. When I, when I began this work.
David: Right, right. And, you know, you were elected, you know, however surprising that might have been in a moment. I think you were the youngest school board member at the time, or like, might still be Right.
And this is just removing Yeah. The, the press clippings that, you know, has circulated the internet when you do the Google search for your name, . But you know, when we come to this idea of like, when you're in those positions of quote unquote power or like traditional power, political power in the way that we think about it, right?
You have competing priorities, both like internally as yourself, like things that you wanna see manifest, but like, you're not in lockstep with all of the other members of your school board. When you think about, you know, the time that you were in office, how did you go about navigating this? Like, or like, Prioritizing initiatives given the constraints of attitudes and beliefs of your both constituents, but also your colleagues
Gabriela: Yeah that's a good question. And it was something that I alluded to earlier around once we're in these positions, like we really need to make sure that other people around you are of similar values or once we take it to the next step, like is it going to be carried out and followed through with do the people who are implementing it, who are classroom teachers on the ground even know what we're doing?
Tho those kinds of questions started to become more real as I entered this space. But I, I used to say pre pandemic. I had a year and a half before the pandemic hit and I got to see a little bit of what school board commissioner looked like. And I was fortunate to be on a seven member body that had very similar values, very similar goals.
We voted unanimously on a number of things, and each individual had a different perspective, a different background, a different title, community. I remember feeling very, very proud of the team that that had been created by people in San Francisco who wanted to see that diversity and who wanted to see that reflection of the people we were serving.
So I, I already didn't have that, the, the number one conflict that many bodies have, which is do you have enough votes? That didn't really be, that wasn't really an issue. When I first started it became a bigger problem when then the pandemic did hit, and then there were a number of. ideas and, and people pushing back.
People who hadn't been involved in, in school board discussions who are now really irritated that schools weren't open. And that kind of, that pressure started to shift where I saw my colleagues stand on numerous issues. So I'll only bring up one specific. one specific vote that became like the, the na, I mean there were numerous things that became national controversies, but this one was one that I actually, when I ran, I really wanted to accomplish as well.
And it was changing the admissions process to a public high school from merit based to just open public, open access to a public school which follows California ED Code. And that shift really got a number of people with power, with resources, with money, angry enough to get involved and put the pressure on the seven members of the board.
So. after you know this, this vote happened because we couldn't implement standardized testing the year of Covid. And that meant that the way a student is admitted to the high school is no longer valid. Cause they didn't have those test scores. It was test scores and essays as if you're entering college.
And so we voted on it. All of us unanimously supported this decision to make it open. And that's when the threats started. That's when the harassment started. That's when this anger around opening it up or, or dumbing down the curriculum, which I heard a lot began. And when I started to see that shift in in my colleagues, because the pressure was, it was too much.
Some people feared for their own Their own jobs, their own livelihood to be at stake depending on the connection they had to the mayor or a connection they had to the city cuz they were a city employee, which I think is a conflict of interest, but those things didn't come up. So I, I experienced both sides.
It's very like open, caring connected body of people, but then the pressure hits and it's just sort of like, well now we're really shifted. And on opposite ends,
David: for context, school board is not a full-time job, correct?
Gabriela: It's, it is a full-time job, but it's not paid as if it's a full-time job. So we all had full-time jobs. and the way they structured it in San Francisco is so long as you attend meetings, then you are fulfilling your role. But as someone who's on, who's really trying to do something with this role Gotcha.
And support people, it becomes full-time.
David: Gotcha. Gotcha. so when you're thinking about, you know, value alignment in, in a specific set of circumstances and then like values not aligning, what were the conversations that you were having with your fellow board members about like, why we want to move in different directions?
Right. Because when I think about restorative justice, right, it's not just about, That repair of harm process. Right? It is about like the building and strengthening relationships, right? Having explicit conversations about values. How was that present within those conversations with your team members, your colleagues, when their values and things that you wanted to do weren't aligned?
Gabriela: So one very clear example for me is the understanding that we need to have discussions around race and racism in schools. And it has to happen at the board level. And I, I, and, and a colleague of mine that we're very similar in our values would continuously bring this up as educators who have seen it in, in motion mm-hmm.
and, and see how that is impacting this decision. We, we can vote on right now. Whenever we would, we would push back on things or, or hear from the public in a way of like, we don't wanna talk about race or racism. It, it would really bring up this idea that no one wants to confront even having that discussion.
No one wants to confront the fact that they might have racist beliefs or racist understandings, and that is rooted in the structure we all grew up in because that, that's how this country is built and that's how the, the world functions. And it's not anything that we can escape. It is certainly something we can acknowledge and if there are specific examples of a decision we can make at the moment that can maybe push back on that or begin to bring that, like begin to surface that and help students, specifically students of color, then we have the responsibility to do that.
But the, the, the shift was always around well, No one wanted to talk about race and racism. And there, there's this sense that we're, we're focusing too much on black and brown and indigenous students. What about all the students? Right. Like that, that is what I kept hearing and all lives matter. Shocking.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And, and it would be that, that same thing. You know, I would have one, one thing is I have these very strong facial expressions that I, I was just like, I'm not gonna hide it. That's, that's who I am. But I would also write notes and things that I felt people were actually saying, and that would come up a lot.
Like you're just all lives mattering this, this discussion. And if I were to bring that up, it just, Created that tension even more.
David: Yeah. so like with your colleagues and your team members, is there a way that you would think about approaching those conversations differently now?
I, not the content of the conversations, but the way that those conversations were generated so they would not be as defensive.
Gabriela: I, I think I wanna step back a little because the reason why they became so, defensive were the constituents.
Okay. And it was the people that, that I know people with privilege, people with time people who, who didn't wanna have those discussions in our, in our schools or at our school board level pushed back on it. And that impacted the way some of my colleagues reacted because they saw those people as voters.
And that is, that is essentially why I have, I, I have a genuine issue with the way this is structured, because often politicians will behave in a way to keep their position versus a way to actually make a change in their communities. Mm-hmm. . So if that means stepping away from a controversial vote, they're not gonna vote for it because they wanna save this for a future vote.
And it's just like, no, you, you're saving your seat for yourself. You're not saving your seat for the work. So I, I had this, I actually had this pushback. by constituents who didn't agree with a lot of what I was saying, but I was representing a community of folks who I saw as cons, constituents, but often couldn't vote because they were non-citizen, but they were parents of our families and they were mm-hmm.
parents of sorry, they were parents of students that I was serving and they requested these things or they wanted to see these changes or they, they would, could connect with me because I spoke their language and I was able to represent it. But as far as, you know, like who had the power it, it's often other folks and so, mm-hmm.
I think that impacted the way my colleagues responded. .
David: Yeah, definitely. And I don't want to like frame this as like, you could have done something better to prevent this or that, you know, there weren't outside money interests that like had incentives and that, like, that had an impact on your colleague.
That definitely played a role at the end of the day though, right? Your colleagues are the ones that had to vote, right? It's not like these yeah, it's not like these funders and constituents that like put those things down. And so like, I'm curious if like, if there's a way that you would have approached, like those conversations leading up to votes like that really calling back to values.
Or, or maybe there's not, but like I was just curious about if there's a different framework that you would've mm-hmm. , like liked to experiment with.
Gabriela: I certainly tried and that would be through like, and, and you can't talk to everybody when it's. , it comes to certain decisions or certain votes. It's, that's the law.
So we are also very careful about it. So I would think through, you know, who is someone that I need to con connect with one-on-one that I see as perhaps on the fence or doesn't really recognize where I'm coming from. And I would have that conversation and it would be sometimes tense. Sometimes it would it would lead to like full understanding, but no changes would be made.
Mm-hmm. . But it was really through more that dialogue. Often I would include people that I was connected with that could also reach out to them of just kind of like, well hear this perspective from people who would be impacted by what we're doing and this is why I'm standing by what I'm standing by and I'd like for you to connect with that.
Right. And vice versa, it would be the same for me. And I would talk to folks who had a different understanding. So. I, that, that was certainly an a, an approach to think of other ways I would've navigated it is tricky. Outside of genuinely talking to folks, cuz I would, and I would always offer my, my time and, and my, my in the space for us to talk.
But, but some people, I mean, depending on the decision too, some people were just not, not convinced that our stance was either appropriate or going to make a, make the change that we say it will. And some of it absolutely did, but no one turns to those facts. They kind of just stand by what they wanna stand by.
David: Yeah, I'm thinking about this not necessarily just in the framework of like making capital P political decisions, but in the lowercase p political, like how do we want to be together? decisions, right? Where people have different values and different spaces and the like, a slimy way of saying is like the art of persuasion, right?
But like getting people to do things that they didn't think that they wanted or thought were like with out outside of their interest is like the work of amplify RJ in so many ways, right? Mm-hmm. , I'm thinking about like when we're thinking about inviting people into. ways of being that are rooted in relationship instead of being transactional.
Right. We've outsourced our conflict resolution to the state, right? And community care to social services. It's a paraphrase from something that Miriam Kaba said, right? Mm-hmm. , what does it take to get people to buy into participating in those conversations being involved in their communities, building those relationships.
It's hard enough to do that on a group of, with a group of like seven people. Like, and when we're thinking like neighborhood by neighborhood, state by state, et cetera, et cetera, right? It gets a little bit more complicated even on a school level, right? When you are a school leader or an individual teacher in a school who's like, Hey, we need to implement restorative justice practices.
But you feel like people either are resistant or don't know, like what are the conversations that you have to have? And I think so much of it is, and this. part of this is like my sales marketing brain happenings, like is the messenger of that message. Someone like I know, like, and trust , right? Mm-hmm.
There are lots of different things that are swirling in my mind, and so I was just thinking about how you had thought about, you know, persuasion when you had, when you represented that type of power. But thank you for those reflections. I know like that was a lot of word vomit, so like, I don't know if you had any response to anything that I just shared,
if not, it's okay. I can move on, but I know I just said a lot of things that might've sparked something for you.
Gabriela: Well, okay, this, I think that what what sparked in me was whatever I, I grew, I've now grown accustomed to understanding that anything I say and do, whatever I put out could potentially be turned into something, right? Yes. So, I, I developed this, this very, this understanding that whatever, whatever it is that I say, whatever it is that I write or shoot out, I firmly believe in.
And if I get pushback on this idea I ha I can still, I can still stand by it and know that it is firmly rooted in my values. , even if I'm getting pushback. So I, I think about of, I think what, what it was is this idea of persuasion. Because if it was something that I just, like, I firmly stood by and I know that there are people who would be grateful because of this work that we're pushing and what we're saying I would, I would stand by those people.
I wouldn't, I wouldn't be able to change my mind because it felt it was right and it aligned with my values. So I feared this sort of, this way that we navigate around, you know, well, you do this now, I'll, I'll change your mind now. And then maybe like later I owe someone something for this vote, you know?
Yeah. Which, you know, happens. So I, I think that's why, honestly, that's part of the reason why it was hard to be successful in this role because I, I feel I was too human or too hopeful or too believing in. in change without recognizing that the people who are in these positions chose to be in a position of power and will do what they need to, to remain in power.
David: Yeah, I, I can see that and like, That's why I have no run for public office. Right. And that's why like, I'm skeptical, like, like, and I shared before we got on recording, like skeptical of like talking to you like as a politician, right? Like you, you stepped into that role and like people say what they need to say in order to advance or for their, their agenda, I believe like over the course of, you know, our time together, like you've been authentic, it real to your values.
But like, I just didn't know you before we got on the call like that. So like the, that was like the hesitation on my end. But I'm thinking like broadly about, you know, the way that I want to be in the world. Right. I've been, and this is a slight tangent, so forgive that. No. Dear listeners. But I, I've been reading this book called The Persuaders by someone named AAN Garas.
And when we're talking about like our. , not democratic Republican, but like issue by issue beliefs. Like people don't fall very neatly into one side or the other. Of many of the issues that we're facing there, there's a chunk of people that are like very hard line left or right on either of those issues.
And they're not new moving, but most people are somewhere in between Right now, like when we're talking about capital P politics, money is often tied up in like those polar extremes, right? But oftentimes the people in between who can, there, there are lots of people in between who can be persuaded and just thinking about the ways that.
we can invite folks into seeing another perspective, right? Because I think as a politician, like it is justifiable that like you're super careful about the things that you put out and like those are things that, like you, 10 toes down stand on. Mm-hmm. . But there are also things in your life as a human that you've changed your opinions on, your values on through your life experiences.
And like what are the ways that we can create those moments? Or maybe, maybe it does not work within the framework of like the school board or, you know, if we want to think like larger scale Congress, the Senate, right? But in, in our everyday lives when we're thinking about like that relationship building being a person who's not going to be judgmental of someone for holding opposing views, like meeting them where they're at and inviting them into hearing another perspective is something that I think is missing from a lot of political discourse.
Mm-hmm. , at least that gets seen. Publicly. Right. I don't know what it looked like behind the scenes for you.
Gabriela: That's true. It was, it was minimal and I'm, I'm sitting with it because I do do that in my life. Yeah. I do make room for for growth in an area that I never imagined I could be. I, that is what I try to do as a, as a person.
And now I'm just thinking, you know, how often did I do that in my role, ? And why can't this be something we bring into these spaces because it's likely too human or, or too difficult to kind of step back into something we've already firmly grounded ourselves in. But yeah, that, that is sitting with me because I, I do definitely try to remain open-minded as a person.
David: Yeah. I mean the thesis of this podcast being this restorative justice life is not about like, oh, what is the program that we can implement? Right. But it's like, what is this way of being that we can be day-to-day in the world? And Right. There are different spaces where it's a lot harder to live those values, especially when those spaces are not conducive.
And, you know, we've talked about the framework of schools, but you know, public office, the way that our systems are built, like aren't often conditions that are like easily that make these values and ways of being like easily adaptable argument for burning everything down. But like, we don't get to do that.
Yeah. Right. We, we have the systems that we have. And so I'm curious, like, as you're thinking about your overall experience, and we don't have to go into like all the details of what happened, like what are the things that you learned from like bringing the values that you had, but like working within the systems that you had and like now not being in those positions anymore?
Gabriela: This came up recently, so I was having a conversation with a former colleague. But one of the things that came up was my almost insistence on relationship building across the board. And as president of the board, I, I thought it was my role to ensure that that connection throughout ensuring that people who I was representing as president felt like they were, they had that representation.
But in this space, the, the way it was being brought to me was more like it, this is not the space for that, that this is not the space where that type of ability to hold everyone and make sure that we're all working together and participating with one another for the sake of our communities. It wasn't.
encouraged or invited which is why it was hard for me to kind of navigate as a person that I am the relationship builder and caring individual in a space that doesn't really allow that and doesn't really care for it. So there, there was that, and in that stilt that remains hard for me, which is why I just, I wasn't successful because that's not who I am.
I'm not, I'm not going to deny listening to someone who has a different belief than I do as their representative because it goes against what I said in, in many instances when there were votes that I didn't agree with, but the board voted for it, then I stood by it because that was my role as president.
So it, it's, it's interesting but ultimately the way I was, I was operating was, it is not fit for. Long-term politics. And it led me this very important perspective of how things run and how they affect the people who are doing that work, which is where I came from. And that is never gonna go away.
That is never going to be taken from me either. And it's, it's information that I am now sharing with other folks who are navigating that space and who wanna learn more and who wanna build on what we had done or learn from the mistakes that we made so that it doesn't happen in the future. Like that, that is my role now.
And I, I'm just so grateful that I was able to, to have the ability to be in that space at all and, and build on it today.
David: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And I think I shared with you, I think before we started recording, right, the nature of you not being in that position that you're in, like is like objective political failure, right? You shared mm-hmm. , like you're not successful, right? But like standing in your values l taking the lessons that you've learned along the way and, you know, carrying that on for next generations and thinking about ways that this could be done differently.
Like, that's invaluable learning. And so, you know, thank you for being willing to share with us listening now and you know, all the people who are in your life as. You know, colleagues and, and community members. I know you're continuing to do work towards justice now through the lane of research. What's going on for you now?
You shared that you shared that you were in school, but like, what are you getting into ? Yeah,
Gabriela: and that is really exciting for me because I started applying for PhD programs for thinking about it in the middle of, in the summer of 2021. And this is when it was the likely the hardest time to serve, but also the hardest time in my life now that I'm reflecting.
And I was also very separated from what brought me there, which was school and teaching. So I, I was a classroom teacher when I was elected. I had to resign from my position. And again, it's just this like contributing this disconnect between the, the decision makers and the people on the ground. . So I needed, I needed to fall in love with learning again.
And that meant going back to school. I hadn't been in over five years at the time. But I am a learner. I love school. I've, I've always loved school, which is why my heart is here cause I want other people to have that experience. So it's meant taking some time to also build on my work and apply to PhD programs.
At the time I was dreaming, you know, if, if my life led somewhere else, could I be in a program elsewhere. And I ended up only applying to Bay Area schools, but I did dream a little to see if maybe I could be in another state or something. So I, I applied to schools in the Bay Area. I got accepted two days before the results of the.
So it was just a very unique time to have this, like really amazing news to be accepted at Stanford, and then the Tuesday after it , you know, be removed from this position that I cared so much about. So it was preparing for the journey that I'm in now was coming, stepping back from the journey that I had just been removed from and trying to tie all of that together.
When I first applied, it really was around, and it still, it still really is around teacher education programs. And thinking through whose responsibility it is to select the people who end up in our classrooms and in a teacher education space. , if we're seeing harmful behaviors from future teachers, like whose responsibility is it to mm-hmm.
prevent that from entering the classroom. And I wanna have a very serious discussion about that. Yeah. Cause it, it, it's, it hits hard for a, for a number of reasons. I think the main one right now is, well, whose idea is it of harm? I, I might have a very different understanding of what you do, of what harm looks like.
We can talk about the very extreme issues of violence happening in classrooms with adults and students or we can talk about microaggressions that are also very impactful and harmful in my opinion. . And, and so that's, that's sort of this beginning work that I'm doing to be very, very honest about this profession and the people that we allow to be in these spaces.
And school districts have the same responsibility when they're hiring folks. So I, I really wanna think through what that looks like to ensure that we remember a classroom space should be joyful, it should be loving. And, you know, that, that's, that's it. Anything else? I, I feel like we should not accept it.
And I, I refuse to live in a world where I can't dream of something like that.
David: Yeah. Like this is sparking a lot of things for me that like typically don't come up on this podcast, but because like Capital P politics are like outside of like, expertise and area of emphasis. But like when we're thinking about, I, I think a lot about the 3.3 million people who are educators in this country, right?
Mm-hmm. , mm-hmm. a hundred thousand new educators coming through every year. Until like before the pandemic, there was like a pretty standard credentialing process, right? And like now with people leaving the field at record numbers, right? The people being asked to step in and fill in, like Right.
Who's making those decisions about like, who's qualifying those people? Not only to like be able to teach math, science, English, reading, et cetera, but like to teach our humans, right? Yeah. And one of the things that like I am passionate about is, right, nobody in their teacher education program is getting like, Really solid foundations in like restorative justice and like how we move away from like classroom management frameworks, right?
Yeah. That's just not happening. And so like if we could add that to teacher education programs, like that would be great, but like , even like if it's added onto there, but like who's determining like, yes, you pass, right? Like, who, how are we quote unquote gatekeeping the people that we're allowing into these buildings where like, there is, when there is still like such a drastic need for childcare.
Like, at the end of the day, like so much of the reason that school exists, why it does, is like childcare for people. Right? And like, you know, speaking to like your recall, right? Like when people being so upset, like school's not reopening in like on the timeframe that you, they wanted, right. For like health and safety reasons.
Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. , right? Mm-hmm. like, and the quote unquote learning loss that was happening, like, So many people were just like, not that they didn't have childcare, the means that they had childcare before. And like, I'm not saying that that's a wrong take to have, but like, let's call it what it is. And not believe, well, this is now
Gabriela: like, it's making me think, okay, so in with this pandemic, we had an opportunity to truly shift education and no, we didn't do it because of these fears of navigating systems that, that res that had people respond in this very understandable and very real way.
In this instance, childcare. What the, the issue is that because we don't, we don't have, we need a full systems change and that would require, Entirely shifting the workforce, it would require even shifting our teaching day. It, it requires so many systems working interchangeably to, to have this outcome that's, that firmly supports students and families.
And people weren't willing to do that. They won't ever do that because if you change the way the workforce works, that impacts capitalism. That pushes back on every other, the every other aspect that people in power don't want to change. So when I think about this question of, well, who do we have in the workforce who will look after our kids, I would rather have no person than a harmful person.
I would rather make sure that students had other opportunities to, to be a child and learn than bring in someone who could potentially enact violence in the classroom. And I, I. , I am very, I feel it's very problematic to kind of like, in this instance, pin us against these two things. Like, well, we don't have anybody, so we need to fill these roles.
And the people that were using, like I think one state was, weren't they incorporating people who were in the military or spouses of people who were in the military. And that was enough to make you qualified to be an educator. And it's like, these are, these are not solutions Yeah. That have
David: Yeah. In, in the nature, in, in the, in the spirit of like, Good-willed.
Good, well-intentioned like debate like I think like when you say like, I'd rather have no one than like somebody causing harm. Like everyone is capable of harm because like there's not gonna be no one, right? There's gonna be somebody. Right. And what that might look like is instead of 30 kids in your class, you're gonna have 60
Right? And like when you're the person who has 60 kids in your class, , you just have like limited capacity as a human to care for like five year olds , right? Absolutely. Absolutely. And they're gonna, you're gonna do things that are like out of quote unquote best practice practice that are going to cause harm just for sake of like quote unquote safety in order, which like are justifiable.
And so like when we think about things like, on such a big scale, like there are no easy solutions to these things. Like I, I've I've had conversations with, with people who know Miguel Cardona, right? That are current like secretary of Education, right? And like he might be, from what I've intuited, he might be like more values aligned with like you and I.
Then he lets on publicly. But like he's balancing like a national education system, which like in a lot of ways isn't national. There are lots of state by state things that are happening. But to upend like our. Economy, , as you're suggesting, like, isn't something that like. he could get away with suggesting and keep his job
Gabriela: That, but, but that, again, that's contributing to the idea that like, yeah, we only want people to work to, to do, to continue this system for us. Mm-hmm. , like, what is that world? What could that world look like if like I, I think a number of people are doing the guaranteed income programs, right?
Mm-hmm. like what, what could that, how could that shift the economy but also support families who maybe like could work less and be with their children more? You know, like what I was saying about not having someone in the space is really more about imagin. Where those 30 students could be. Does it have to be a classroom eight to three?
In an environment that like, doesn't let them explore and be out? Could it be in a na like in in nature, in another space and maybe, yeah, there are more students there, but they're outside. There's like a little more freedom and movement. I would, I would hate for that to then just couple up into, well now you're into this other classroom.
Cause Yeah, like in, if an educator is now having to work with so many other bodies, it can lead to other frustrations and, and that reality that's real. But what I'm, what I'm really pointing to is how are we imagining what these, what school could look like that doesn't try to find solutions in a structure that has already not worked for many people?
And when are we gonna get the space to do that Dreaming? Yeah. I, I saw the pandemic as an opportunity to do that. and we couldn't do it.
David: So I've heard you say, and like, I think this might be a easier way to like close this part before we get into our speed rounds, like I've heard you say like re-imagining learning spaces outside the classroom.
What is your vision for education in the future?
Gabriela: I, I really want to encourage building on what we've seen as successful models through research. And that's why I think this, this work that I'm doing now is really interesting because it's lending me that ability. I think about even just small things like start times to our days and how later start times impacts learning in a positive way versus kind of like getting them into a classroom space so that we can go to work.
Like there's that. example. I think students need to be outside much more and in nature and exploring and, and getting to know their areas. So that looks like, like the field trips that I would go on or neighborhood walks and connecting the learning that one can do even in a neighborhood walk with the learning that can happen in the classroom.
That's, that's reading, that's writing, that's sharing information publicly. That's like empowering students to gain these skills to share a message. That's what reading and writing is right, and kind of just. trying to make that connection to our lives. I know the outcome is in academics and in the results of testing, but it's also in a broader, it should be built on what you'll gain broadly as a person who will then contribute to your community after you have gained these skills.
That's what I think the point of of learning is, even though we know it's rooted in the beginnings of it, it was more like this workforce coordination factory style like yeah.
David: for sure. And until that day comes blessings and good energy and everything to your research and like, shout out to all the people who are holding our crumbling system together, , every single day.
On that happy note. The questions that everybody answers when they come on this podcast we've talked around it, but in your own words, define restorative justice.
Gabriela: Restorative justice is a space where healing can happen thoughtfully. Where we have healthy ways to resolve conflict and where people can model for each other what that looks like.
Ulti ultimately to be happy and joyful. Mm-hmm. ,
David: thank you. As you've been doing this work, what's been an oh shit moment and what did you learn from it? .
Gabriela: Oh shit moment.
David: And this work, however you wanna explain it,
Gabriela: man, I know that it's there. I had an, I had an oh shit moment, my first year of teaching when I became a little overwhelmed and wanted students to sort of work towards this. This environment that we were saying we wanted to embody.
So I developed in a panic this sort of like point system and or it was a, a reward at the end of the week type of thing that, that I see in, in many classrooms. And that's also something that I wanna build on the posts that I made as far as like how we incentivize students to, to do their work or, or learn through the points that they gain or give them consequence and take away points if they're not acting the way we want them to.
So that was the moment where I, where I was definitely like, oh shit, this is not something I wanna do. This is not something I wanna continue doing. It's also very burdensome at the end of the week. They're like trading their points for prizes and no, I, I did not like that. So that was definitely a moment.
For me to just kind of see this doesn't, this doesn't work for my heart.
David: Yeah. What would you have done differently in that moment of overwhelm then?
Gabriela: You know, what I, what I tend to do in these times is I stop teaching and I sit down with my students and we sit in a circle and we have conversations about what's happening in the classroom.
I think when I'm thinking about the time I felt overwhelmed, it was likely, you know, I had to get something done and I, I couldn't get my students to, to listen or to do the work or to kind of come back down or quiet down probably. And what I learned throughout my years is that conversation, hearing from, from the, the person who is modeling for you, these behaviors, that they're overwhelmed, that they need help.
Is what I began to do to kind of shift away from these, these panics. Cuz it, it wasn't, it doesn't instill anything for them except, you know working towards like a, a quick yes to then get a prize and then kind of like stay in that cycle. And so sometimes I would just, I, I had a lesson and I had my times and I had everything ready and I couldn't continue because it was too, because I didn't want to, I don't wanna use this system, but it was too hard to kind of get through it.
And so we'd have a conversation and I would ask for help. I think that was the biggest thing is like hearing from the adult that they, they don't feel respected or they need help or they're overwhelmed. And, and showing that human humanity. Gotcha.
David: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. That modeling right is just so important.
It goes back to what I was saying, like, you can come in and teach these kids these things, but if like they're not seeing it on the every day those things aren't necessarily gonna take. Thank you for, thank you for sharing that. This one's difficult in another way. You get to sit in circle with four people, dead or alive.
Who are they? And what is the one question you ask that circle
Gabriela: So the, the four people that I would choose is the Tina Love Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Miriam Kava, and Harriet Tubman. And the question is, will we ever achieve true abolition in schools while navigating. These current systems.
David: Now, because you haven't listened to the podcast, you don't know that I get to turn that question back to you.
So , will we now achieve abolition, giving all these systems and structures that we're dealing with?
Gabriela: No, I think right now I'm still, I still have this understanding that in order to get there, we have to burn down what's in place and embody these ideas in a new different space. It might even mean outside of school structures, physical school structures and just dreaming what that looks like.
David: Yeah. And you know, as, and I want to call in the words of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, right? Where she talks about abolition is about presence, not about absence, right? Yes. We wanna like, , burn down, tear down, all those things. But we have to build something in its place. And Miriam Kaba says things using very d similar different words though, right?
It's about how are we building these systems and structures and Right. More of Miriam Kaba word. It's gonna take like a million little experiments, right? Because the ways that some people are doing it are very specific to their context and are not transferrable as like, best practices to be like, scaled up and like implemented nationwide, right?
Yeah. But yeah, it, it's gonna take a little a million little experiments of people doing these. Projects of abolition building these spaces. And so that's what we're inviting you and so many others who are listening to this to do today. These last two are rather quick who's one person I should have on this podcast and you have to help me get them on
Gabriela: I you should definitely talk with Alison Collins, my colleague, who has gone through a very similar experiences on the board, but has a different unique perspective and is doing work that pushes back and contributes to that change even, even now. So that would be one for sure.
David: Cool. Well, I know some of the ways to get in touch and I would appreciate an email introduction.
And then finally as we draw our time together to a close, how can people support you and your work in the ways that you wanna be supported?
I would say,
David: just so before you answer. Yeah, yeah. A lot of times this is people plugging their orgs or their work. That's not the situation that you're in right now. The other way that people often take it is just like a challenge to the audience to like, go be this way in the world. So you can, you can take it however you want, like you can plug your socials and all that.
And those will be linked. But if you want to think about like invitation to people to be a certain way, that's the other thing that you do.
Gabriela: Okay. So what I, what I would hope is bringing it back to what brought us together and the conversation around behavior management and just managing bodies and managing emotions.
Really helping folks recognize when and if they're doing that and how they can kind of push back and just begin acknowledge and have conversations about. , those types of behaviors of your own.
David: Beautiful, right? It's a challenge to every day embody these ways. But that's what's it's gonna take to build the world that we wanna live in.
Thank you so much Gabriela for your time, wisdom stories today. I learned and I'm sure those who are listening still have as well. We'll be back on Tuesday in the feed next week, breaking down a restorative reflection to episode six of the last of us with Kala Mendoza. And then next Thursday we'll be back with somebody else living this restorative justice life.
And until then, take care.