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“The Child is Not Broken”: Leadership and Restorative Justice at an Urban Charter High School

by Sarah Bruhn - 2020

Background/Context: There has been growing attention to the disproportionate and harmful effects of school exclusion, including suspension and expulsion, on boys of color. Restorative justice may be one possibility for addressing these disparities. Yet the research on restorative justice in schools is nascent, and in particular, little is known about the role of school leaders in enacting restorative practices as a means to creating more equitable schools.

Focus of Study: By highlighting the work of school leaders, this study contributes to our collective understanding of how restorative justice can function as a meaningful alternative to school exclusion. The study explores how two leaders exercise leadership, build legitimacy, and develop relationships with teachers and students. It examines how these leaders make sense of their efforts to transform the school from a place reliant on traditional punitive mechanisms as a form of control to a restorative school culture.

Setting: The study took place at a charter school with campuses in two neighboring cities in the Northeast United States.

Research Design: This study uses portraiture, a methodology that emphasizes participants’ phenomenological perspectives and illuminates the complexity of goodness and success, making it well-aligned with the topic of this research (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997). I gathered data through in-depth interviews with and observation of the two leaders at the center of the study, as well as interviews and observations of students and teachers.

Conclusions: Ultimately, the leaders exhibited restraint, persistence, and respect, qualities that served as the basis for meaningful relationships with students and teachers. In turn, these relationships were an important component of how the school sought to reduce suspension rates and narrow racial gaps in exclusionary punishments.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 8, 2020, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23354, Date Accessed: 1/15/2021 9:42:09 AM

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About the Author
  • Sarah Bruhn
    Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
    E-mail Author
    SARAH BRUHN is a PhD candidate in Education at Harvard University in the Culture, Institutions, and Society concentration. Broadly, her research examines the intersections between families, inequality, belonging, and schools. Her current research explores how immigrant mothers develop senses of belonging in their communities, the ways in which schools facilitate experiences of both inclusion and marginalization, and how current politics related to immigration become salient to these relationships between women and their children’s schools.
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