Sensemaking as a framework for understanding how aspiring anti-racist leaders enact their learnings from a principal preparation program to disrupt the racial discipline gap
Lippa, Amy Patterson
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This dissertation emerges from an acknowledgement that robust research has shown that students of color receive a disproportionate number of disciplinary actions in American public schools compared to their white peers – a problem called the racial discipline gap. Few studies have studied school leaders’ sensemaking of the role of race in school disciplinary outcomes. Even fewer have considered how a specific type of leader – one known for aspiring to be anti-racist – makes sense of and frames the discipline gap and enacts the learnings from their principal preparation program to disrupt racial disparities in discipline outcomes. The perspective of the school principal has been found to be among the strongest predictor for rates of out-of-school suspension and expulsion. The findings from this study suggest that the sensemaking and problem-framing of the racial discipline gap by new school leaders is directly shaped by their identity as aspiring anti-racist leaders and the learnings from an anti-racist principal preparation program and their school contexts. The aspiring anti-racist leaders frame the problem at macro and micro levels, and enact both first and some second-order type change initiatives to interrupt factors of race from becoming patterns of race in school discipline. They demonstrate a limited approach to offering professional development to engage teachers in culturally relevant discussions and their formal data collection practices appear to be limited. This creates a blind spot for them in fully understanding the ways race intersects with discipline in their schools.