Serving Students With Disabilities

New guidelines illustrate how principals can best support students with disabilities.

March 2017, Volume 40, Issue 7

How does a principal transform a school into an inviting place that promotes learning and growth for students with disabilities? What key competencies are necessary to lead an inclusive school where all students succeed?

These are the central questions addressed in the Council of Chief State School Officers’ recently released PSEL 2015 and Promoting Principal Leadership for the Success of Students with Disabilities, which serves as a tool to assist state education agencies to work with stakeholders in setting policies or launching programs to cultivate and promote these core practices and competencies to maximize success for struggling learners.

Drawing from the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL), the document outlines best practices for principals serving students with disabilities, and how they align with the standards, such as:

  • Leading with interpersonal and social-emotional competence, and develop productive relationships by communicating effectively, cultivating interpersonal awareness, and building trust.
  • Communicating high academic expectations for all students, including students with disabilities; promote high-quality, intellectually-challenging curricula and instruction; and provide opportunities for students with disabilities to achieve within the general education curriculum using a multi-tiered system of support.
  • Engaging families to provide insight about their children’s specific disabilities that allows teachers to better understand their needs, make educationally sound instructional decisions, and assist in interpreting and assessing student progress.


The guidelines also highlight the work of real principals and how they are effectively putting these strategies into practice. One example illustrates how a principal successfully engaged with parents in supporting students:

A newly appointed elementary principal in a rural district invited key stakeholders to discuss, adopt, and commit to implement tiered prevention and intervention for students with disabilities. During the course of this work, the principal realized that a connection between schools and families in the district was lacking. With an eye toward families of students with disabilities, the principal proposed a family and community engagement plan. The plan included monthly parent and community forums to establish two-way communication; school visits so parents could observe programs and suggest improvements for how to better serve their children; and outreach to students’ homes by school staff to build relationships and increase support.

For more examples and strategies like this, you can read the full document online here.

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