Dissertation Spotlight: The Peripheral Factors of Inclusive Education and Teacher Self-Efficacy
Today’s emphasis on inclusive education shows great promise for the success of tomorrow’s youth. As Open Society Foundations explains, “Inclusive education means different and diverse students learning side-by-side in the same classroom.” In this model, special needs students spend most of their learning time side-by-side with a diverse mix of students and this results in a richer experience for everyone. Inclusive education is “instrumental in changing discriminatory attitudes.” Moreover, “Separate, special education provides no guarantee of success for children who need special attention; inclusive schools that provide supportive, context-appropriate conditions for learning demonstrate far better outcomes.”
However, this doesn’t automatically mean inclusive education is easy to provide. While it’s an education model to admire, it can make the job of general education teachers more difficult. If we want to support inclusivity across the nation, it’s useful to ask which peripheral factors make it so hard, and which can make it easier. To that end, we turn to “The Peripheral Factors of Inclusive Education and Teacher Self-Efficacy,” a dissertation by Debra Harper, EdD.
Harper, who is a special education consultant in Texas, earned her Doctorate of Education in Transformational Leadership from Concordia University-Portland. She wanted to explore general education high school teachers’ perceptions of how the peripheral factors of inclusive education impact their instruction in their inclusive classrooms. So she conducted a qualitative case study at an early college high school in central Texas involving six general education teachers who teach core academic inclusive classes. She collected data via face-to-face, semi-structured interviews, and an online questionnaire. Let’s see what her research revealed.
Working against inclusive education: Who’s got the time?
As Harper explains, the biggest challenge facing teachers today is a lack of time. In fact, in the online survey Harper conducted, teachers cited this factor almost five times as often as they cited the challenge of training/knowledge.
One participant said, “Having enough time to design instruction that’s different for each individual student and ability needing this can be almost impossible at the moment.” Another added that they did have planning time, but not enough to make a real difference: “It’s very difficult when you have five kids with five different disabilities to talk about each one [during] planning time.” A third said that “Coming up with more ways to explain things differently and better takes time.”
Adjusting the pace to accommodate all students is demanding, as is making up for lost time when those students are pulled from the classroom for additional support. It simply takes more time to differentiate instruction to the point where it can effectively embrace students with special needs.
Administrative support clocks in first
If lack of time is a problem that erodes teachers’ ability to provide effective inclusive education, administrative support is the antidote that allows them to keep going. The majority of teachers in Harper’s study felt that, while inclusivity is a tall order, they get consistent respect and are backed by their principals, district administrators, and support staff.
One said that “The administration here knows what’s going on in our classrooms, and they have positive and constructive feedback,” while another added that “It makes me feel good that we are all focused on the students; I have good support from administration, and that is really helpful.” A third teacher made clear that her confidence in herself and her job received a major boost: “At this school and from the district level, support is given that makes a difference in how I feel about my position and my confidence in my effectiveness in my inclusive class.”
Teachers broke down the support they received into three main areas, two positive and one negative:
- Administrative support, which manifested as good communication and a solid ability to get their needs met by speaking with administrators
- In-class support from co-teachers and special education paraprofessionals, which was strong
- Case management, which was lacking and caused confusion as teachers often didn’t know where to turn
Other factors impacting inclusive education for general education teachers
Harper also examined other factors like communication and training. Communication was said to be effective with the administration and not effective with the case managers. Most stated that their training lacked depth according to the needs of the teacher and the school site. Participants suggested leveled trainings that increase according to a teacher’s knowledge level rather than repeating at regular intervals once continuing education comes up.
As the 21st century exits its infancy and as we attempt to modernize education, special needs students will continue to play a central role in teaching and planning – if for no other reason than they comprise a solid percentage of the population. As of 2009, students with disabilities comprised 12.1% of the population, indicating a widespread need to bring this topic to the forefront of education.
“Based upon these findings,” Harper asserts, “the following recommendations for future study could extend the results of this current research: investigate strategies related to how school administration achieves the positive perceptions of GenEd teachers, and examine solutions to time constraints by implementing a plan developed from teacher insights drawn from this study.”
Down the road, we should examine how time constraints work against teacher efficacy, as well as how we might overcome them with judicious use of peripheral resources. Similarly, as administration earned a gold star in this study, it’s worth diving deeper to find out what they’re doing right — and what case managers can do better.