Date of Award

Fall 11-2-2017

Document Type

Dissertation - University of Massachusetts Global access only

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Dr. Carol Riley, Ed.D., Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Marilou Ryder, Ed.D. , Committee Member

Third Advisor

Dr. Laurie Love, Ed.D., Committee Member


Purpose: The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine, understand, and describe the elements of restorative justice programs (relationships, community building, accountability, empathy) that high school principals and teachers in public school districts located in San Bernardino County, California perceive as most beneficial for changing at-risk student behaviors.

Methodology: The researcher selected a qualitative research design, a phenomenological study, to describe and understand the key elements of restorative justice from the perspectives of principals and teachers. Qualitative inquiry allowed the researcher to capture and understand diverse perspectives, observing and analyzing behaviors in context. Through in-depth interviews, the researcher provided a detailed examination of the elements of restorative justice and restorative discipline practices (relationships, community building, accountability, empathy), from the perspectives of principals and teachers in high school sites.

Findings: Analysis of the data revealed that restorative justice required the commitment of the entire school community to improve the culture and climate of urban high schools. The theme of relationships between students and staff emerged as the foundation for change and interconnected to the themes of community building, accountability, and empathy. Relationships, whether adult to adult or adult to student was the most critical element in changing the at-risk behaviors of students. Circle conferences, a key practice of restorative justice, allowed for school staff, students, and parents to come together in finding solutions to at-risk behaviors.

Conclusions: The researcher concluded that restorative justice has been instrumental in changing the culture and climate of the high schools that participated in this study. Key elements of restorative justice, such as the circle conference, contributed to successful student outcomes and decreased at-risk behaviors. In addition, the researcher concluded that through conversation and dialog during the circle process, students became more self-aware and gained a deeper understanding of how their actions impact the victim, school community, and themselves.

Recommendations: For future research, many schools would benefit from understanding how restorative justice and its practices create a more equitable school experience for all students. Eight areas were recommended for further study.