What can school leaders do to reduce the number of special education teachers who leave each year?
Page 5: Professional Learning
Special educators need to take part in meaningful learning experiences throughout their careers if they are to continue to improve their skills and to incorporate evidence-based practices in their teaching. Although they will participate in some joint professional development activities with general education teachers, special education teachers tend to benefit most from learning opportunities that are designed to address their unique needs. This is especially true for new special education teachers. Some key considerations in addressing the professional learning needs of special education teachers are listed below.
Provide Learning Opportunities Centered on the Needs of Special Educators
Leaders should consider the professional learning needs and goals of special educators. District leaders must assess teachers’ needs across schools and assist principals in coordinating professional learning experiences for special educators (e.g., understanding special education law, maintaining confidentiality, scheduling IEP meetings) and also related to the more specialized needs of some special educators (e.g., those teaching students with autism or students who make use of assistive technology).
Help All Teachers Collaborate To Teach Diverse Learners
Most students with disabilities are usually in general education classrooms for at least part of the school day. Helping all teachers learn to collaborate effectively and to develop effective practices (e.g., Universal Design for Learning [UDL]) will increase their opportunities to be successful.
Include Special Educators in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
New models of professional learning focus on the importance of professional learning communities based on teacher inquiry and experimentation. Effective PLCs typically include teachers at a specific grade level or content area. They focus on student learning and analyze student progress, design lessons, review evidence-based practices, and support each other. Special educators need to be part of these learning communities, interacting with their colleagues to assure that the needs of diverse student groups are met.
Create Opportunities for Special Educators To Observe Their Peers
Special educators usually have few opportunities to observe other special educators in action. New teachers welcome opportunities to see the work of other teachers. School leaders can creatively schedule these peer-learning opportunities throughout the school year.
Felicia Palmer discusses the importance of training so that teachers can work together effectively (time: 0:41).
Special Education Teacher, Franklin Special School District
Transcript: Felicia Palmer
Co-teaching is a process. There are stages, and the first one is establishing trust. You learn about each other. It’s like a marriage. My first piece of advice would be don’t throw or put two professionals together that did not have training, hoping that they are nice people it’s gonna work. It’s not going to work. They need to have an understanding of the program. a training that would cover what inclusion is, what is expected of the teachers in an inclusion program. How to actually work together, how to co-teach, and to understand that co-teaching is a process, if they understand that, I think it will make the transition easier.
Special education teachers who have greater opportunities for professional development are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and report fewer role problems.
(Gersten, Keating, Yovanoff & Harniss, 2001)
Principal Kamei would like to enhance the opportunities her special ed teachers have for professional learning. She believes she has the resources to implement one of the following actions:
- Help All Teachers Collaborate To Teach Diverse Learners
- Include Special Educators in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
- Create Opportunities for Special Educators To Observe Their Peers
Imagine you are Principal Kamei. Choose one of the actions above and describe how you would implement it.