A Missing Factor in Addressing Disproportionate Discipline: Job-Embedded Professional Development in Restorative Practices for “First Responders”


Author/Creator ORCID






Organizational Leadership

Citation of Original Publication


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States


Disproportionality in student discipline practices is a major concern for United States schools. African American boys are suspended from school more than their Caucasian counterparts. Suspensions equate to missed instructional time which can exacerbate the present achievement gap. Disproportionate discipline of African American boys has been addressed by some schools through the use of restorative practices by teachers to decrease suspensions. Yet, it is the staff who decide to suspend students who must also understand the gravity of their decision on disproportionality. In schools, those who respond to support calls when teachers have determined they need additional disciplinary support for a child, are first responder staff members. First responders are key decision-makers who make critical decisions about student discipline that can include suspension and, in some cases, expulsion. These decision-makers decide the fate of students daily, yet they receive little or no training in handling discipline situations. This study tracked the professional development of first responders in restorative practices. This action-research study, analyzing quantitative and qualitative data sources, explored the impact of a year-long Job-Embedded Professional Development experience (JEPD) in restorative practices for seven first responders with the primary goal of impacting the disproportionate discipline data of African American boys. Discipline data and support call logs from a pre-K–fifth-grade elementary school in a large Mid-Atlantic school system, as well as surveys and reflective journals completed by the first responders, were analyzed. Data showed that first responders’ actions, words, thinking, and knowledge changed following JEPD and that JEPD, using the premise of change theory, positively impacted first responders and that when first responder lacked a restorative environment, barriers impeded the implementation of restorative practices. These results and implications for future practice and research are discussed. This study highlights the importance of educational leaders who make decisions regarding discipline, provides suggestions for knowledge and application, and suggests practices for implementation. Study outcomes include an implementation guide and a model for JEPD using the premise of change theory. Elementary and secondary schools and entire school systems can use the results of this study to determine whether JEPD in the use of restorative practices comprise a strategy that will help address the disproportionality of suspensions/student discipline referrals in their schools.