Outsiders Looking in? Ensuring That Teachers of the Gifted and Talented Education and Teachers of Students with Disabilities Are Part of the 'In-Crowd'

Article excerpt

A great deal of emphasis has been placed in recent years to identifying and serving students who are considered to be placed at risk of failure in the nation's schools. A trend that appears to be going unrecognized is one in which students in special education programs and programs for the gifted and talented are being placed at risk due to the perceptions and realities that the programs that represent them and teachers who teach them are isolated from the so-called mainstream. This manuscript provides insight into the possible causes and at-risk factors of this isolation and offers solutions to school leaders as well as to teachers of children with disabilities and teachers of children who are gifted and talented.

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The focus of the modem-day educational system is to develop attendance centers into learning communities where the entire school culture promotes the achievement of all students. Although most would agree that schools intend to work toward that end, many would contend that Gifted and Talented Education (GTE) teachers and the students they serve as well as special education teachers and the students they serve are often put at-risk due to isolation from the teaching staff, the instructional program, and the student body of which they are a part. They are often outsiders looking into the system that is supposed to be inclusive.

Where do schools start to change this trend of isolation? Whose task is it to ensure that the stakeholders in GTE and special education programs are embedded into the group of stakeholders who make up the learning community? Lunenburg and Irby (2006) would contend that this effort should start with the building principal. "Every educational reform report since A Nation at Risk ... has concluded that schools are only as good as their principals" (p.1). The Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession (1986) and the Holmes Group Report (1986) indicated that teachers should be strategic forces in focusing on schools as inclusive learning communities by being participatory managers in the functions of educational systems.

The standards set forth by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (2002) articulated seven standards to guide the leaders of effective schools. Standard 2.0 focuses on educational leadership preparation programs and articulates the importance of promoting a school culture that is designed to address all students and staff members in an inclusive fashion. The standard states that educational leaders should "promote the success of all students by promoting a positive school culture, providing an effective instructional program, applying best practice to student learning, and designing comprehensive professional growth plans for staff" (p. 1).

The practitioners in gifted and talented education (GTE) have long articulated the need for their programs to be inclusive of teachers from the general education curriculum. The Enrichment Triad Model, created by Renzulli, S and, and Reis (1986), discussed the need for collaboration teams to be in place for the planning and implementation of GTE programs. Included in the planning phase was a professional development component that included all staff in the selection of instructional materials and in the program evaluation process.

There appears to be several obstacles among school districts that are trying to implement collaborative models involving general education teachers and special education teachers. Friend (2007) indicates that a lack of proper academic preparation as well as a lack of common planning time for teachers involved in special education collaboration efforts cause teachers to feel inadequate and frustrated when dealing with the demands of working with learning disabled students. Additionally, the lack of communication between teachers in special education and general education programs are major culprits in special education programs functioning outside the instructional loop (Roach, 2006). …