Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Sandra Pensoneau-Conway


Traditionally, schools have turned to zero tolerance policies when dealing with student discipline and punishment. However, it is argued that zero tolerance policies are not only ineffective, but also harmful to students because the policies hinder schools' ability to be democratic spaces. Nonetheless, schools are turning to alternatives to these policies, such as restorative practices, which are thought to resolve conflicts in schools and teach students how to be responsible, democratic citizens. Although advocates of restorative practices claim they teach students democratic values by encouraging student voice and empowerment in schools, it is unclear whether schools implementing the practices consider student voice and empowerment as vital components and outcomes of the practices, or whether students perceive the practices as promoting their voice and empowerment. Moreover, empirical research suggests that restorative practices programs have positive effects on schools, but unfortunately the amount of research is relatively small; thus, there is still a lot to be known about their effects. Therefore, this study is guided by the following questions: (a) how do the teachers, coordinators, and administrators differ on how they interpret and speak about restorative practices? (b) How does this affect the implementation of the practices? (c) Does the practices have the potential to promote student voice and empowerment? This study employs ethnography to answer these questions, and to understand the implementation of a restorative practices program in an urban middle school. Additionally, the researcher aims to illustrate how communicative acts within the school may shape students' identity, which may affect their voice and empowerment, by performing autoethnography. Results from the study indicate that restorative practices have the potential to promote student voice and empowerment; yet, their ability to do so may be affected by administrators', coordinators', and teachers' assumption that students' voice is acknowledged when they simply speak about the conflict, the school's underlying permission to speak protocol, students' reliance on adults to facilitate restorative practices, and adults' unfavorable labeling of students. Furthermore, findings indicate that there are unresolved challenges to implementing restorative practices into schools, which include the time needed to perform the practices in classrooms and train teachers on how to appropriately use the practices. While restorative practices literature highlight these challenges, the findings from this study illustrate that there are other significant issues for restorative practices and communication scholars to consider for future research, which includes a lack of communication between adults in schools, unacknowledged voice and disempowerment among teachers and administrators, an interpretation of resistance as deviance in schools, the need to conceptualize voice and empowerment, and the co-existence of restorative practices and suspension and expulsion in schools. Finally, the researcher notes restorative practices' potential as praxis for critical pedagogy, and encourages the use of autoethnography in future communication research as it can further scholars' understanding of identity as a social construction.