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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.

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Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership for Diverse Learning Communities




Through the dedicated labor of women religious, the Catholic school system represents the largest private system both nationally and internationally (Arthur, 2005; United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, 2016). Once the backbone of American parochial schools, the presence of religious sister educators within Catholic schools has become an increasingly rare occurrence. Using a theoretical framework based on feminist theory and rooted in the concepts of oppression and identity, this dissertation study examines the personal, religious formation, and professional experiences of two retired religious sister educators who successfully devoted over four decades to the mission of Catholic education as they navigated dramatic changes in demographics, educational policies, and leadership. Utilizing a narrative inquiry design based on the Deweyan view of the role experience and education (Connelly & Clandinin 1990), I gleaned extensive data from subject and triangulation interviews, archive documents, and personal photos. During the thematic analysis process, I discovered several prominent themes. First, I determined that as educational leaders, the subjects employed a combination of social justice leadership and social-emotional learning, or what I termed social-emotional justice. Second, as nuns, the sisters experienced oppression, specifically at the hands of clergy. Finally, the sisters adhered to a strict educational philosophy of child first, teacher second policy whereby their decisions as administrators reflected high value placed upon the rights of students and strong regard for their faculty members. Religious Sister Educators: A Narrative Study v Nonetheless, their use of social-emotional learning practices allowed the subjects to form strong relationships with quite a few of the families of the students they served. Catholic schools in this nation have produced more than half of the U.S. Supreme Court justices, hold a nearly 100% high school graduation rate, and are known for their success in educating students most marginalized in society (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018). The sisters of this study and their predecessors have contributed to these accomplishments through their cognizance of their constituents’ dignity; their emphasis on educating the whole child; their recognition of instances of oppression in their own lives as a means to assuage the afflictions of others and their strict observance of their child first, teacher second maxim. These religious sister educators’ experiences and the lessons that emanate from them can serve not only faith-based institutions but all schools.

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