What supports can school leaders provide to develop effective and committed special education teachers?
Page 7: Supportive School Communities
Principals are in a unique position to influence many aspects of the school, including collegiality among teachers and the extent to which teachers work together in learning teams. How supportive school leaders and the school environment are of new teachers can make a difference in whether they stay or leave. School leaders, mentors, and teachers need to work together to create a school climate that is supportive of new teachers. They can do this by:
- Being familiar with the goals and activities of teacher induction
- Incorporating new teachers into the school culture
- Making sure school structures are in place to support their primary responsibility—teaching their students
Because the climate of the school is primarily established by the school leader, he or she needs to be familiar with a range of strategies that promote a supportive school community. Such strategies include:
Because they might lack extensive knowledge of special education, some school leaders need to spend more time understanding the work of special educators.
- Welcoming all teachers and helping each one become part of the school community
- Asking for teachers’ input about school-related decisions
- Advocating for all students, including those with disabilities
- Helping all teachers understand the work and responsibilities of special education teachers
- Creating a collaborative climate in which special education teachers and general education teachers have time to plan and work together
- Supporting the development of individual educational programs (IEPs)
- Taking time to talk with and provide encouragement to special education teachers
Mary Kate McGinn compares her experiences at a school with a supportive principal to one without a supportive principal (time: 0:42).
Mary Kate McGinn
Special Education Teacher, Special School District of St. Louis County
St. Louis, Missouri
Transcript: Mary Kate McGinnis
I worked in two different schools. I did a half-day at one school and a half-day at the other school. The schools were very different. In one building, I felt very supported by the administration, and I feel like that really trickled down to the rest of the staff, and that as a whole that building was way more supportive. And I felt comfortable asking questions of anybody in that school. The school where the administration was not quite as supportive of the special education piece, I feel like that went across the board. Obviously, there were people who were supportive, but as a whole I think that the administration really set the tone.
For Your Information
A major challenge for new special education teachers is managing student behavior; they often feel alone and unsupported in dealing with behavior challenges. Leaders can support teachers by:
- Creating a school-wide system of behavior management
- Providing follow-through on established procedures
- Regularly discussing with new teachers the specific behavioral needs of students with disabilities on their caseload
- Creating opportunities for new teachers to observe and discuss problem-solving strategies related to behavior with expert teachers