The Principal's Role in Managing Special Education: Leadership, Inclusion, and Social Justice Issues
Van Horn, Shannon M.
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Principals are recognized as a key component to the successful implementation of inclusion of students with special needs in schools. Research exploring the factors for success and barriers was completed over a 10-month period, using an intrinsic and instrumental case study method of two elementary schools. For the purposes of this study, inclusion was defined as educating students in the mainstream with programs that are geared to their capabilities and needs, as well as any support they and/or their teachersmay need to be successful in the mainstream (Barnett & Monda-Amaya, 1998). The facilitative power concept, developed by Dunlap and Goldman (1991), wasused to frame the research. Their approach argues that principals can share leadership and decision-making in the school reform process. No one person is able to have all the power or expertise with this framework therefore it can be distributed more broadly. The research questions that guided the study are as follows: (1) How do principals and teachers define the issues around inclusion? (2) How do principals use facilitative power to implement inclusion effectively? (3) To what extent is inclusion framed and understood as a social justice issue? The following were found to be factors that fostered successful inclusive practices: clearly communicated vision, acceptance of change, provide staff support, focus on students, schedule adult access to students, model and encourage teamwork among staff, schedule time for collaboration, model and encourage relationships with students and parents, provide training, resources, materials, and quiet space. Barriers to implementation of inclusion were identified as pre-conceived notions/emotions regarding inclusion, non-typical student characteristics, and concerns about "typical" kids. Areas in need of future research are (1) a comparison of principals with and without backgrounds in special education and their effectiveness in inclusion implementation and (2) how to successfully include students with behavioral issues and/or students with moderate to severe disabilities.