Nowhere in education is the effect of high turnover and staff shortages more acutely felt than in special education. As states and local districts struggle to build incentives to lure educators into the realm of special education, it has become apparent that it is just as important to build the teachers and leaders that districts already have into a strong cadre well prepared to meet the challenges that are inherent in educating our exceptional children.
How does one go about building these skills? In a recent EdWeek article, Shortage of Special Educators adds to Classroom Pressures, Bonnie Billingsley, a professor of education at Virginia Tech, says that many special educators feel they do not have the support and tools they need to do their job. Providing tools that are both flexible and easily applied can help districts give special education teams the skills and confidence to meet these universal special education team needs:
- Defensible decision making: Decisions in special education often come up against intense scrutiny and must be in strict compliance with the law. Using a transparent decision-making process that features visible steps and requires reasoned logic can help you increase success and buy in for the choices that are made in hiring, curriculum, program alternatives, placement, purchasing, etc.
- Meaningful stakeholder participation: Processes that provide for and help manage diverse stakeholder (parents, team members, students, administrators, teachers and community members) input can help Special Education team members run more productive and satisfying meetings (IEP, faculty, admin, board) and remove bias from emotional (hot?) issues.
- Problem solving skills: Organizing and analyzing data can prevent wasting time and money spent on solutions based on similar problems which may have different causes. Having a structured strategy can help ensure that you are addressing the right problem and applying the most appropriate solution.
- Implementing change: Even the simplest changes and transitions involving our special ed population can have repercussions involving families, teachers, transportation, dietary needs, etc. Having a simple routine of examining potential problems and potential opportunities before implementing change can help you ensure the least amount of disruptions to your success.
- Being prepared: Building skills helps prepare teams to better handle issues they face before they escalate. Giving your team a clear process to work through problems eliminates panic and stress and instills confidence that you have developed the best solutions.
Increasing the capabilities of the staff that you have through mentorship and professional development opportunities can help alleviate some of the pressure brought on by the scarcity of potential candidates and staff turnover. Providing support and simple tools to address the common challenges in the area of special education will empower your team to do what is truly best for the children you serve.