Unlearning Certainty: Deeper Learning, Restorative Practices, and the Quest to Transform Relationships at an Urban Charter School
Sarah Fine

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

As the twenty-first century hurtles forward, a growing number of American schools have set their sights on ambitious instructional goals—goals that go beyond basic literacy and numeracy to involve critical thinking and creative problem-solving. At the same time, in response to data demonstrating that youth of color tend to experience disproportionate rates of detention and suspension, many schools also have begun to replace zero tolerance policies with more equitable approaches to discipline. In this dissertation project, I explore how an urban charter school with emergent commitments to both of these goals is striving to enact them. Specifically, I employ the methodology of portraiture to explore and narratively interpret the work of a group of twenty instructional leaders who are engaged in an effort to transform the teaching, learning, and broader culture of their four-campus school in light of its newly ambitious vision—a vision which marries the goal of (re)organizing classroom instruction around the tenets of constructivism with the goal of (re)organizing school culture around the practices and processes associated with restorative justice. Taking a phenomenological approach, I focus on the experiences and sense-making of these leaders as they strive to apply this twofold vision to their work with each other, with teachers, and with students. The study’s findings shed light on the affordances and dilemmas associated with applying the restorative framework to situations of leadership as well as to instances of instructional practice; more broadly, they add to the knowledge-base about the nature of individual and organizational learning in the context of organizational change.
About Sarah Fine
Sarah M. Fine is a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she collaborates with Associate Professor Jal Mehta on a long-term ethnographic study of non-elite secondary schools that are striving to enact deep learning for all of their students. She also currently serves as a visiting scholar and course instructor at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. Prior to starting her doctoral studies, she worked as a teacher and instructional coach at a charter high school in the District of Columbia, and as a freelance education journalist. Her work has appeared in a diverse array of publications, including The Washington Post, Educational Leadership, and Phi Delta Kappan, as well as academic venues including the Journal of Educational Change and the Harvard Educational Review. Sarah holds an A.B. from Harvard College, an M.A. from the Bread Loaf School of English, and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Pin It on Pinterest