Date of Award

May 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


George Theoharis


Inclusion, Leadership, PBIS, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, Response to Intervention, RTI

Subject Categories



Inclusive leaders find that one of their greatest challenges is helping their schools to work with students regarded as acting disorderly, or having emotional or behavioral disorders. In this study, superintendents, special education directors, and principals in five districts in the Northeast who have been previously identified as inclusive leaders were interviewed and observed to document the discourses they promote and are themselves regulated by as they meet this challenge. They employed the tenets of Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) as systems that would help advance that work. In particular, they believed that RTI/PBIS could help them effect a shift from dealing with disorderly behavior as a discipline matter to dealing with it as a therapeutic process. The shift built on disciplinary codes of conduct that established certain behaviors as normal. Thus, the inclusionary efforts focused on restoring students to compliant behavior. In so doing, the leaders oversaw the development of intricate systems of data analysis and control that focused exclusively on diagnosing students, rather than on looking at adults or the system as a whole. These systems privileged psychopathological discourses over other possible ways of understanding the phenomenon of disorder in schools, such as institutional racism, classism, or homophobia. Thus, a discourse that medicalized student difference squeezed out liberatory discourses that may have been available to these leaders. At the present time, when current efforts to break the school-to-prison pipeline focus on replacing excessive discipline with inclusive pedagogy, this study may serve as a caution not simply to replace one stigmatizing system with another.


Open Access

Included in

Education Commons