More Inclusion but Less PD for Teachers?? We Can Do Better!
May 8, 2019
If you are a teacher, specialist, administrator, or parent, you already know that it isn’t just special education teachers and staff who need professional development (PD) related to students with disabilities. By 2015, 95 percent of students with disabilities were educated in general education for part of their school day. For 63 percent of students with disabilities, the general education classroom is where they get 80 percent or more of their instruction. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019). Everyone in education should know basic facts and key instructional strategies so that students with disabilities are served appropriately and effectively.
General education teachers’ knowledge base and instructional skills can’t guarantee that students with disabilities succeed, but they sure can make a difference. Because so many students with disabilities spend most of their school day in general education classrooms and environments, leaving general education teachers out of the professional development loop related to disabilities doesn’t make sense.
What Is Inclusion, and Does it Work?
Generally referred to as inclusive education, educating students with disabilities in general education can result in academic and social gains for all students. Students with disabilities educated in general education classrooms experience positive academic outcomes, have fewer absences, and benefit socially (Mader, 2017). However, for many general education teachers the instructional arrangement can be challenging. The challenges arise not because of teacher resistance to the approach, but rather because teachers do not always get the support and professional development they need.
What is the Reality of PD Related to Disabilities?
Recent research both in the U. S. and abroad shows that many teachers receive little or no pre-service education related to instructional techniques specific to disabilities. The article by Mader described the traditional model of teacher preparation programs. Unfortunately, one aspect of it has not changed. Potential teachers are still often provided only one class related to students with disabilities, sometimes referred to as “Special Ed 101.” Whether because of time constraints, competing priorities, a lack of awareness of real-world needs, or university level personnel who themselves lack the knowledge base to provide more in-depth professional development, many pre-service programs’ offerings are inadequate.
What Kind of PD Makes a Difference?
So, what specific instructional skills do teachers want and need and how can school districts help? We suggest that after campuses and districts determine the most critical instructional skills, they create a professional development plan that is a course of study or curriculum. This approach does not rely on fragmented, one-shot large group in-service trainings, but rather a sequential, cohesive curriculum. For example, creating a three-year PD plan that starts with the basics and then gets more specialized makes a lot of sense for teachers who face high demands but have little background knowledge.
How Can You Build a PD Plan Focused on Students with Disabilities?
To structure this type of curriculum for teachers, districts will likely need a combination of formats. Providing the PD to teams of teachers who work together is likely to have the most success, so that everyone (gen ed teachers, special ed teachers, coaches, specialists, and administrators) are all on the same page. Formats can include:
- Summer institutes
- Pre-planned follow-up during the school year
- Observation and coaching
- Online learning, including micro-credentials
- Campus or team-based planning and sharing sessions (through PLCs when possible)
- Time limited problem-solving meetings
- After school or evening sessions with parents and community members
- In-district seminars and speakers
- Structured book studies
This sequential list of topics for students with ADHD is one example, related to this one disability, of how districts can support teachers with background information first, then get more and more specific:
- Definition of ADHD
- Characteristics of ADHD
- Specific instruction strategies:
- Flexible grouping
- Blended learning
- Visual memory strategies
- Tiered objectives
- Assignment choice
- Structured assignment segments
- Auditory learning
- Individualized computer-based instruction
- Specific behavioral strategies:
- Positive teacher-student relationships
- Social-emotional learning curricula
- Problem solving strategies
- Flexible learning environments
- Environmental supports
- Close monitoring and positive reinforcement
- Peer buddies
Regular checks for understanding, observations, coaching, and feedback can ensure mastery during the step by step approach.
Can This PD Benefit Everyone?
The short answer to this question is, “Of course!” Often, the same professional development topics and strategies that work for students with disabilities will benefit all students. Among the common sense, basic strategies for inclusionary settings that work for all students are those we found in an ASCD blog (ASCD, 2018):
- Begin at the end. Use backwards design planning. PD Anywhere has a post that explains how to combine backwards design planning with the four big PLC questions. The post includes a link to a free, downloadable form as well. https://pdanywhere.com/blog/the-four-questions-and-backwards-design/
- Embrace universal design. UDL makes instruction accessible for all students.
- Employ collaborative teaching techniques. When special education and general education educators partner, students benefit.
- Focus on a flexible behavior management plan. Adapting to students’ needs while providing a positive and safe learning environment is critical.
The options for PD related to students with disabilities are limitless, and for those students, essential!
Resources for This Post
ASCD Inservice Guest Blogger (June 6, 2018). Inclusive classrooms: Looking at special education today. Retrieved from the Internet on May 8, 2019. http://inservice.ascd.org/inclusive-classrooms-looking-at-special-education-today/
Lockwood, K. & Henry-Beauchamp, L. (2018). Inclusion of special education students with general education curriculum. Proximity Learning. Retrieved from the Internet on May 8, 2019. https://www.proxlearn.com/inclusion-of-special-education-students-with-general-education-curriculum
Mader, J. (March 1, 2017) How teacher training hinders special-needs students. The Atlantic. Retrieved from the Internet on May 8, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/03/how-teacher-training-hinders-special-needs-students/518286/
National Center for Education Statistics (2019). Fast Facts. Retrieved from the Internet on May 8, 2019. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=59
PD Anywhere (2019). Support inclusion by supporting teacher PD. Retrieved from the Internet on May 8, 2019. https://pdanywhere.com/blog/support-student-inclusion-by-supporting-teacher-pd/