Welcoming All: Closing Racial Gaps in School Connectedness

Ashley E.T. Sherman, Sacred Heart University

A dissertation in the Isabelle Farrington College of Education and Human Development presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education.

Date of graduation for Ashley E.T. Sherman is May 2024.


This mixed-methods improvement science dissertation in practice (ISDiP) explores the problem of racial gaps in school connectedness at a small suburban elementary school, where Black students report the lowest rates of connection. School connectedness is a crucial predictor of academic and social-emotional success. An exploration of scholarly and professional practice identified restorative practices coaching as a high-yield strategy to close this gap. Restorative practices is a framework of proactive and responsive practices aimed at building community and repairing harm when it occurs. Six fourth- and fifth-grade teachers participated in bi-weekly coaching sessions and classroom observations of circles, a fundamental element of restorative practices. Qualitative results found that teachers felt the coaching increased their implementation of restorative practices. Students reported statistically significant increases in school connectedness, with Black students reporting the largest increase. There was a positive correlation between teachers’ implementation of restorative practices and their perception of student connectedness. Students reported that restorative circles support their feelings of connectedness. This research is promising for using restorative practices coaching in the setting. Recommendations for future research include expanding the intervention to other grade levels and including coaching to support implementation with multi-lingual and neurodiverse learners. This ISDiP can support other schools in implementing restorative practices to close racial gaps in student connectedness.