Leading Special Education Instruction: Voices of Novice Elementary Principals



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Background: For over forty years, the US public schooling system has aimed to provide educational equity for students with disabilities. Many laws and policies mandate schools to close the receivement gap of this student population compared to their mainstream peers. The Civil Rights movement opens the door for change in how students with disabilities receive an education. However, racial disproportionality within special education identification and placement continues due to poor quality instruction, cultural responsiveness, and inaccurate teachers' perception. Students with disabilities continue to fall further behind non-disabled peers. History shows that due to inadequate learning environments, resources, and facilities, children of color and students with disabilities' experiences must be acknowledged and addressed. School principals are expected to lead special education programs that ensure the equity and growth of all students, regardless of ethnicity or race. However, research suggests that many principals need more special education instruction and administration training. Purpose: This multi-site case study explores, reveals, and analyzes novice principals' perceptions of their preparation and needs as special education instructional leaders. Methods: The following research questions guided this study: How do novice principals describe their preparation for leading social justice practices in special education? How do novice elementary principals describe their needs concerning leading special education instruction in an inclusive school? This qualitative study included nine participants, five novice principals, and four district administrator leaders that support novice principals. I gathered data through interviews, focus groups, campus observations, and through a collection of artifacts. Before I examined and categorized themes, interviews and focus groups went through a member-checking process. Results: The study's results revealed that the preparation programs attended by the novice principals of this study did not prepare the leaders to lead special education instruction. Novice principals communicated a need for on-the-job training and support to effectively lead and support instruction in special education programs. In conclusion, this research revealed that principal preparation programs and job-embedded professional development need refinement and alignment to the current accountability and responsibility of the school principal.



Special education, Leadership, Novice principal, Transfornative leadership