In developing and maintaining an effective special education program, principals face a number of complex issues, as detailed in the recently released book “Essentials for Principals: The School Leader’s Guide to Special Education” by Margaret J. McLaughlin and Kristin Ruedel and published by NAESP and Solution Tree. These issues include:
- The law—Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA), No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and others—and what it means for schools. “To ensure that students with disabilities are provided with high-quality educational opportunities, principals need an understanding of the legal foundations and entitlements for students with disabilities and their families,” McLaughlin and Ruedel write.
- Implementing programs or approaches that seem to hold promise for helping students with disabilities achieve educational standards. “Providing high-quality instruction that supports the diverse needs of all students in the classroom is a process that requires teamwork among the principal, teachers, and specialized school personnel,” the authors stress.
- Building relationships, such as establishing frequent communication, trust, and collaboration with parents. McLaughlin and Ruedel advise principals to promote more active parent involvement by scheduling and structuring parent interactions to minimize discomfort for them, encouraging parents to be assertive, clarifying how parents can help, developing trust, building on home experiences, and using parent expertise.
- Ensuring that the school provides safe, nonthreatening environments for students and staff. The authors suggest that individualized education program (IEP) teams can anticipate and proactively manage behavior by “including in the IEP document functional learning goals that address the behavior needs of the student.” Positive behavior support is built on prevention, intervention, and teaching replacement behaviors.
McLaughlin and Ruedel urge principals to review their current practices and then select a few areas to study and improve. “…Ask yourselves what aspect of your special education program—development of IEPs, collaboration between general and special education, or discipline programs—currently seems most in need of attention. Focus on that, using this ‘Essentials for Principals’ guide to help your school improve its practice,” the authors advise.
What are your biggest challenges in managing and supporting your school’s special education program?