What are the Roles of Principals in Successful Inclusive Schools?

Male teacher reading to young students

Perhaps the most critical role in successful inclusive schools is the role of the principal. The school principal’s active participation is the single most important predictor of success in implementing change, improving services, or setting a new course. The school principal is central to facilitating systemic change and leading faculty to adopt new attitudes and new practices.

What are the roles of principals in successful inclusive schools? Review the following critical leadership actions.

Roles of Principals in Inclusive Schools

1. Review Aspects of Inclusive Education

Review the most important aspects of inclusive education before launching your efforts in leading your school through your action steps.

The reason? It will help you avoid missteps in the future, save time, money and frustration.

There are many inaccurate perceptions of inclusion and leaders must provide a clear definition and guidance to all faculty and parents. Click To Tweet

Resource: A Summary of the Evidence on Inclusive Education

2. State Your Support

State your support, clearly and explicitly, for an inclusive philosophy and practice across all classrooms in your school in a faculty meeting or other gathering that involves all staff members.

The reason? A faculty needs and wants a clear vision of the direction their leader is promoting and his or her rationale for doing so.  A formal opportunity to state your expectations will significantly increase goal clarity and progress toward implementation.  Informal conversations are not as effective as a formal presentation with clear expectations from the principal leader.

Resource: Inclusion Basics Online Tutorial

3. Assign Special Education Staff

Assign special education staff to grade level or department teams, instead of disability or program-specific teams.

The reason?  This action quickly demonstrates a philosophy of shared ownership versus separate responsibility and reiterates that ‘every student is a general education student’. This one change has a surprisingly rapid and positive impact on your inclusive efforts. The entire faculty recognizes that segregation of the teaching staff is a silent message that contradicts a verbal commitment to an inclusive school.

Resource: Categorical vs Non-Categorical Staffing

4. Provide Planning Time for Teaching Teams of General and Special Educators.

The reason? The lack of common planning time is the most often cited reason that faculties become frustrated with inclusive efforts. School leaders know that common planning time is an important prerequisite for successful inclusion.  Collaborative teachers must have time to plan instructional delivery and ways to increase success for diverse learners in the classroom. Without protected planning time, the full advantage of having two teachers in the same classroom will never be realized.

Resource: Effective Use of Planning Time Online Tutorial

5. Ensure Access to the General Curriculum

Ensure that students receiving special education services are participating in on-grade level general curricula and that all special education teachers receive relevant professional development regarding curriculum with their general education peers.

The reason?  Actually, the law requires access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities. “Congress finds…almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible, in order to meet developmental goals and, to the maximum extent possible, the challenging expectations that have been established for all children; and be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives, to the maximum extent possible” (IDEA 2004). Why is access to the general curriculum important? Historically, children with special needs only had limited if any access to the general curriculum. Students with disabilities were taught an alternative curriculum. Thus, these individuals were not able to progress to their full potential. Now there is one core curriculum for every student.

Resource: Frequently Asked Questions about Access to the General Curriculum

6. Communicate the Use of Accommodations

Communicate that the use of appropriate instructional accommodations for any student who requires them is an expected instructional delivery activity in every classroom.  Communicate that any student with an Individual Education Program (IEP) must receive all specified accommodation and/or curricular modification and modified grading procedures as specified in the IEP.

It is important to identify appropriate accommodations with students as part of their regular classroom activities and then to use the accommodations as needed throughout a student’s daily instruction.  Accommodations: provide students with disabilities with equal access to course instruction, materials, and evaluation, “level the playing field” and minimize the impact of the student’s disability on their academic performance. When indicated on the student’s IEP the accommodations MUST be provided.  The student should be involved in selecting the best accommodations for their learning style and needs and teachers should receive staff development on selecting and providing these accommodations.  They typically have a significant and positive impact on student success.  Leaders must make this expectation clear and must periodically monitor to be certain that accommodations are provided appropriately.

Resource: Instructional Accommodations Article

7. Convene Meetings to Review Individual Student Needs

Convene meetings with general and special education teachers to complete the Step-by-Step planning forms for each student with an IEP to begin the staffing process for the next school year. Be sure to ask each set of teachers to consider the possibility of more time in the general education classroom for each student. Recommended: January-February

The reason? For decades, special education staffing allocations were based on formulas and ratios without consideration of the actual personal support needs of each individual student.  As a result, students were either under-supported, over-supported or did not receive support at the appropriate times.  The SBS approach to staffing for inclusive schools relies on information regarding individual student needs to build a schedule.  Two outcomes can generally be expected from this process:  1) student achievement increases because instructional and behavioral support needs are the basis for staffing — not numbers and 2) the need for staff in inclusive schools is generally less than expected because many schools are actually over- supporting students or are not using current resources wisely.

Resource: Scheduling Online Tutorial

8. Create a Schedule of Instructional and Personal Supports

Use the information from Forms 1 and 2 (step 7) to create the schedule of instructional and personal supports for the next school year.  This step should be completed in advance of the creation of the master schedule. Notify the teaching staff of their assigned students for the upcoming year. Recommended:  March-April

The reason?  Just as leaders consider ‘singleton courses’ as a starting point for building the master schedule, the same logic is true with supports needed for students with IEPs.  By simply placing the staffing for students with IEPs ‘on the board’ first, assistance is targeted for student success, additional staff may not be needed, resources are used more wisely, and it is much easier to schedule collaborative planning time for those teachers who will work and teach together in inclusive classrooms.

Resource: Student Centered Scheduling

9. Include Students and Parents in Creating an Authentic Inclusive School

Take steps to include students and parents in creating an authentic inclusive school.  Pay particular attention to social inclusion by creating specific opportunities for all students to develop friendships and a sense of belonging through shared activities. Use students, faculty, parents, and community to plan these activities.

The reason?  While physical inclusion (serving students in their neighborhood schools and in the general education classroom whenever appropriate) and academic inclusion (including students with IEPs in the general education curriculum with high expectations and grade-level standards) are critical aspects of a leader’s role, social inclusion is often neglected.  It is assumed that social inclusion or authentic student-to-student friendships and interactions will ‘automatically’ occur in inclusive schools, the reality is that adults must purposively plan for these relationships to grow.  Parents and community members should be partners with the school in planning for and carrying out these opportunities.

10. Provide Data Snapshots and Celebrate Your Successes

Provide data snapshots of increases in time students spend in the general education classrooms and in achievement, attendance, and graduation to your faculty twice each year.  Celebrate your successes and plan for continuous improvement.

The reason?  As the saying goes, “what gets measured, gets done!”  In addition, leaders know that the many demands on teachers can seem overwhelming and we often neglect the many opportunities to reward and celebrate accomplishments.  Successful leaders recognize that celebrations cement greater commitment and contribute to teacher retention!  Not only do we plan for implementation of inclusive practices — we have to plan for sustaining them over time!

Resource: Self-Assessment Data Snapshot

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