What supports can school leaders provide to develop effective and committed special education teachers?

Page 8: Deliberate Role Design

ind_08_aAs mentioned earlier in this Module, many new special education teachers quickly become stressed and frustrated by their work demands. School leaders can help new teachers avoid these feelings, and instead develop confidence and success, by clearly establishing the boundaries of the special education teacher’s role in the school, by creating a common understanding of this role and its accompanying responsibilities, and by developing a clear plan for collaboration among school personnel and special education teachers. School leaders should consider the factors outlined below when they plan the role of a new special education teacher.


Protect Instructional Time

Because special education teachers are often pulled in many directions, it is easy for new teachers to struggle with managing their time. They can get bogged down in procedural requirements such as writing IEPs, creating behavior plans, or assisting in scheduling meetings. Leaders can help new teachers protect instructional time by:

  • Alleviating procedural demands whenever possible (e.g., an administrative professional schedules all meetings)
  • Encouraging special education teacher team collaboration for paperwork completion
  • Scheduling opportunities for assistance (e.g., meetings with mentors) outside of instructional time

Mary Kate McGinn describes the difficulty she had prioritizing tasks and responsibilities as a new special educator (time: 0:36).

Mary Kate McGinn
Mary Kate McGinn
Special Education Teacher
Special School District of St. Louis County
St. Louis, Missouri

Bolster Collaborative Practices

All special education teachers are required to collaborate with their colleagues to meet the needs of students with disabilities. New special education teachers often struggle with establishing collaborative relationships. Problems with collaboration can make it difficult to either ask for support when needed or to share specific knowledge about addressing student learning or behavioral difficulties. Leaders can boost collaborative practices by:

  • Scheduling common planning times with key support personnel (e.g., mentor, team leader)
  • Strategically surrounding new special education teachers with the most effective faculty during school activities (e.g., committee meetings, duty assignments)
  • Placing new special education teachers in appropriate professional learning communities

Make Curriculum and Materials Available

One of the biggest barriers new special education teachers face is being left on their own to create instructional materials. It can be both time-consuming and stressful to scramble in preparation for lessons. Additionally, for special education teachers who are in classroom placements that are not a perfect match with their preparation, the curriculum can be essential for providing effective instruction. School leaders can offer support by:

  • Making sure teachers have access to necessary curriculum materials to meet individual student needs by the pre-planning period at the beginning of the school year
  • Meeting with new teachers during the first two weeks of school to ascertain additional curricular needs
  • Directing new teachers to the available additional resources

Support New Teacher’s Interactions with Paraprofessionals

The availability a paraprofessional can be critical to the success of some students with disabilities. However, adding another adult to the classroom context on a regular basis can also create complications and even awkward situations. New teachers are often responsible for collaborating, supervising, and providing guidance for paraprofessionals, who are sometimes decades older. Leaders can assist new teachers in navigating relationships with paraprofessionals by:

  • Clarifying responsibilities with new teachers in working with paraprofessionals
  • Meeting with paraprofessionals to set the stage for positive relationships with new teachers
  • Scheduling regular meetings with new teachers and paraprofessionals to facilitate collaboration
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