Leadership Insights

What are the Challenges and the Benefits of a Special Education Leadership Program?

By The Room 241 Team October 29, 2012

In 2012, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) recognized Lynn Fuchs and Steve Graham for advanced contributions in the field of special education leadership and research. NCSER provides funds for special education programs that are geared to help increase awareness and support for infants, toddlers and all children with disabilities.

Lynn Fuchs, director of the Kennedy Center Reading Clinic and Professor of Special Education and Human Development at Nicholas Hobbs, is noted for developing new dynamic assessment tools used to help students with learning disabilities overcome obstacles in the areas of reading and math. Her tools examine current procedures used to enhance the understanding of fraction magnitudes in at-risk fourth graders. The process focuses on measuring a student’s learning ability rather than a student’s accumulated knowledge.

Steve Graham, a Currey Ingram Professor of Special Education and Literacy, works to develop self-regulation tools useful for adaptation and intervention. His projects have proven exceptionally valuable in helping deaf students excel in written communications. Under Mr. Graham’s special education leadership, a team of trained investigators are currently working to develop a web-based writing tool that will help educators evaluate the progress of students performing expository and persuasive writing processes.

Dealing with conflict in special education leadership and research

Even as new methods for progress tracking and developmental improvement gain greater footholds in the world of special education, the practical side of communication between parents and leadership remains a complication. Not every school can afford to engage in the latest methods or applications. The challenge that faces leaders in special education spread far beyond helping children with disabilities. In fact, the parent-school relationship may at times become the primary point of focus.

In a recent report covering the factors that contribute to parent-school conflict in areas concerning special education leadership, The Advocacy Institute addressed eight core catalysts that affect parent-school interaction:

  1. Difference in viewpoint – When parents perceive that school officials fail to identify the unique talents and abilities of their child, conflict usually accumulates
  2. Knowledge of specific needs – When specific actions are required but knowledge is withheld or dispensed in limited measures, parent-school conflict escalates
  3. Methods of delivery – Ineffective or unavailable programming options typically increase parent-school conflicts
  4. Rhetorical power – Every power play between officials and parents results in great emotional toll on both sides
  5. Resource constraints – When resources such as materials, money, personnel and time hinder child development, parents react with feelings of suspicion and anger
  6. Open valuation – When parents sense that the process lacks joint partnership, they are angered by feelings of devaluation and conflict escalates
  7. Clear communications – Prompt, accurate and open lines of communication reduce conflict
  8. Trust – Without trust, there is no tolerance for error.

Successful special education leadership demands a careful balance between a school’s capacity to deliver, the parent’s ability to function within that capacity and the choices that best benefit the disabled child. Special education leaders must identify areas of parent-school conflict and then bridge the gaps between the parent’s expectations, the school perspectives and the long-term/short-term gains of the children. Furthermore, every action must take into account matters of safety: for the students, for the parents and for the educators.

Core of a special education leadership program

In February 2000, Dr. Jean Crockett out of Clearwater, Fla., introduced the star model curriculum for special education planning. The paper, titled “Special Education: Is It Just a Matter of Discipline?” detailed the five core principles of special education:

  1. Ethical practice – Designed to ensure student access to education and school accountability during that education
  2. Individual consideration – As a focus on the individuality in learning that is due all students
  3. Equity under law – Discusses special education through the presentation of equitable public policies
  4. Effective programming – Leading to individualized instruction designed to an increase in student performance
  5. Establishing productive partnerships – Works to help leaders grow into effective communicators, negotiators and advocates for successful student and family growth.

These principles look into the role of special education as a process for preparing knowledgeable and skillful leaders to meet the needs of inclusive schools. Training in special education leadership can increase the value of any educational preparation program. Learn the legal requirements and the principles of special education, but also know that you will experience many personal benefits just from the joy of the work.

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