Outsiders Looking in? Ensuring That Teachers of the Gifted and Talented Education and Teachers of Students with Disabilities Are Part of the 'In-Crowd'
Henley, Joan, Milligan, Julie, McBride, Jackie, Neal, Gwendolyn, Nichols, Joe, Singleton, Jacques, Journal of Instructional Psychology
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.
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).
In discussing ethical treatment and relationships among professionals, Shapiro and Stefkovich (2001) emphasized that "the great challenge to be faced involves how educators balance the acceptance and support of differences without hurting the collective whole" (p. 78).
The Role of the Principal
The role of the school principal is critical in addressing the problems associated with professional isolation of teachers and the retention of faculty. Studies have indicated many talented, new teachers are leaving the profession early in their careers due to feelings of isolation (Heider, 2005). Chambers (2008) attributes the increased feelings of isolation among special education teachers to the design of special education delivery systems where special education teachers enter their classrooms and close the door on the team and collaborative instructional models of education and technology that personally and professionally connect teachers to resources and supports.
School principals can respond to the problem of teacher isolation by tapping into the human resources available within the context of the school and creating teacher learning opportunities and collaboration for personal and professional growth. A study conducted by Drago-Severson and Pinto (2006) concludes that a school's human resources, specifically mentoring and teaming which places more adults in the classroom, provide opportunities for teacher learning by reducing isolation and building a more collegial environment.
Heider (2005) identifies four specific mentoring programs which have been successful in reducing feelings of isolation felt by many new teachers: telementoring, mentoring by veteran teachers, teacher learning communities, and peer coaching. Genuine administrative support is needed to promote and provide technology supports and access to learning communities to reach beyond the isolation of the walls of the classroom.
The telementoring program proposed by Heider (2005) would be the use of e-mail to build collegial relationships between teachers. This would allow teachers to voice their concerns, share valuable teaching resources, get advice about dealing with difficult students, share strategies for time management and parent conferences, and exchange creative lesson plans. Heider reports that telementoring allows teachers to communicate freely with other colleagues and it also allows them to obtain assistance or feedback at times that accommodate their individual schedules.
Principals can establish mentoring programs for novice teachers or teachers new to their building to avoid feelings of isolation among new staff members. Mentoring programs can foster strong professional relationships that benefit not only the beginning teachers, but the mentors themselves. Pairing veterans with new teachers can prevent isolationism and help beginning teachers complete a successful indoctrination.
School principals can also set up teacher learning communities to allow all teachers to share ideas, discuss problems, and come together for support and guidance. The face-to-face meetings can be informal or formal to allow for the development of personal and professional relations and teacher growth. Novice teachers involved in teacher learning communities have indicated high levels of success in reflecting on their teaching, sharing resources and techniques, and developing professional relationships, thus reducing feelings of isolation (Heider, 2005).
School principals and other school leaders can implement specific strategies for alleviating teacher isolation utilizing the human resources available within the school. Rothberg (1985, November) identifies several approaches for alleviating teacher isolation which a principal should consider to address the isolation of teachers, including developing a climate of trust within the school, sharing decision-making and using professional development activities to improve communication and team-building among teachers. Additional strategies to consider include forming quality circles or other problem-solving committees, presenting meetings focused on the daily activities of staff members, requiring peer observation, increasing opportunities for staff social activities, encouraging attendance at professional meetings, conducting retreats for sharing values and attitudes, and planning regular informal meeting to discuss teaching techniques or new ideas gleaned from the professional literature.
Feelings of Isolation:
Teachers of the Gifted and Talented
In focusing on educators of the gifted, one must first consider reasons why these specialists might experience feelings of isolations. In many instances an educator of gifted children is hired as an itinerant teacher. He or she may travel between multiple school campuses within one school district serving the learning needs of advanced learners on each campus. Classroom teachers might wonder what the teacher of the gifted is doing when he or she is not visible or available within their school building. Further, services may be provided to children ranging from grades K-12 compounding the issue of availability. Classroom teachers are not trained in strategies for serving gifted children within the classroom, but many times they are expected to provide differentiated curriculum. Since there are already multiple demands upon them to teach, prepare students for standardized testing, maintain positive relations with parents, etc., they may feel that the request to assist with services for the gifted is an imposition thus straining relations even further. A combination of any of these circumstances do not avail the opportunity for relationship building between the specialist for gifted education and the classroom teacher.
Despite any barriers, classroom teachers are invaluable to the educator of the gifted. In fact their knowledge and cooperation are imperative for the success of gifted programs. Over the past two decades, researchers (Bigelow 1993; Milligan, 2001; Starko, 1990; Tomlison, 2001) consistently reported more support from classroom teachers for gifted programming when the teachers had a greater understanding of giftedness. On the other hand, when classroom teachers were unaware of programming, the chances for successful service to the gifted children were decreased (Tomlinson 2001).
In a study by Starko (1990)) teachers selected to implement enrichment and acceleration strategies reported that they were told they would provide programming for gifted students. The reason for their selection, given by the administrators, was because those teachers were creative, young, and or "gung ho". One teacher stated, "When I said I didn't know what I was doing, they said, you decide!" (Starko, 1990, p. 35). Another teacher said, "I knew nothing. I had no preparation. Nobody sent me anywhere. Nobody gave me any clues" (Starko, 1990, p. 35.) According to the classroom teachers, who were made responsible for providing services to gifted children, the school district was unable to maintain a program for the gifted due to a lack of teacher preparation and knowledge about giftedness.
Hickey (1990) also studied classroom teachers' perceptions of giftedness and appropriate programming for the gifted. In the study, 27 teachers were surveyed and asked to identify major problems related with gifted programs and make recommendations regarding services for gifted students. Classroom teachers from the study described problems with gifted programming in the following areas: (a) disruptions related to gifted students being pulled from class for program services, (b) conflicts that existed in opinions about the definition of giftedness, (c) complaints by teachers and students that program participants behaved arrogantly, and (d) complaints by teachers and parents that tracking was detrimental to lower performing students. Hickey also reported that when teachers lacked training related to gifted children, they were less likely to make accommodations in the classroom to differentiate curriculum for the gifted.
Based on the premise that awareness, knowledge and cooperation bring about better working relations and less isolation, researchers have also reported positive results of cooperative efforts. In fact, recommendations for improving gifted programs and relationships between educators were made by teachers in Hickey's (1990) study. The recommendations included the following: (a) use models besides pull-out programming, (b) employ better screening procedures to help insure that only the truly gifted were served, (c) stress that gifted means different not better, and (d) provide better communications and planning between the classroom teacher and the teacher of gifted students.
An important relationship between the Starko (1990) and Hickey (1990) studies exists. In both studies, teachers' understanding of giftedness was vital in the successful programming for gifted children. Also, both studies reported the importance of(a) teacher training for all educators about giftedness, (b) awareness of viable programming services, and (c) cooperation between the specialist and classroom teachers. When classroom teachers felt left out because a specialist was the only one making decisions about placement and programming for the gifted, there was a lack of continuity in curriculum between the gifted program and the regular classroom. By the same token, when educators of the gifted feel isolated or unwelcome, necessary collaboration becomes less likely.
To further emphasize the importance of communication between the classroom teacher and the facilitator of gifted children, Diezsi and Cummings (1997) describe the detrimental nature of the lack of communication by stating, "Make it the sole province of one' very special' teacher. Then make it clear that everyone else should keep hands off" (p. 27). At the same time they report successful participation of classroom teachers in implementing services for gifted children when teachers were involved in (a) creating gifted characteristic checklists, (b) coordinating program services, (c) designing courses to meet the needs of the gifted, and (d) conferencing with parents about gifted students.
Milligan and Campbell (2003), observed and surveyed teachers involved in a summer program for gifted students and positive effects of communication and co-teaching were reported. These teachers said that as they cohabited and performed team-teaching, a sense of camaraderie and security developed. They also said that sharing ideas during planning time made the co-teaching more than just the shared teaching of a lesson. The experience became a source of shared decision-making and professional growth.
Drawn from research findings and expert opinion, some conclusions emerge. First, classroom teacher's knowledge about giftedness and involvement in curriculum planning for gifted children are important to the success of gifted programs. Secondly, promising practices for classroom teachers and successful gifted education begins with cooperation between the educator of gifted children and the classroom teacher. Finally, classroom teachers and specialists need not work in isolation of one another, but rather collaboration, team planning, and team teaching are a matter of collaborative effort--an effort that begins with awareness and willingness.
Feelings of Isolation--Special Education Teachers
Special Education teachers are probably the group encountering the most difficulty in feeling that they are active and participating members in schools. This is especially troublesome in lieu of the fact that the shortage of special education teachers has been referred to as "a national epidemic" (Thornton, Peltier, & Medina, 2007) stating that over 98% of school districts nationwide frequently deal with these shortages. Moreover, teacher vacancies are often filled with teachers who have no experience in teaching special education, which makes a difficult job virtually impossible; sometimes the position is left vacant. Consequently, efforts to prevent teacher isolation in special education are imperative if shortages and high attrition rates of special education teachers are to be alleviated.
There are several factors that have been identified as attributing to the shortages and high attrition rates of special education teachers. Some of these factors were summarized by Schlichte, Yssel, & Merbler (2005) to include large caseloads, lack of behavior management skills, poor or inadequate administrative support, and organizational structure of the school. Further, many of the teachers in special education placements are uncertified and/or novice teachers that lack the training and expertise to work with the diversity of students typical in special education classrooms (Billingsley, 2004). Placing teachers in situations where they are not adequately trained, are often isolated, typically dealing with the most severe behaviors, and frequently not having the support needed to be successful is not surprisingly often doomed to failure. One of the major contributors to special education teacher shortages is high attrition rates. It is little wonder, therefore, that Institutes of Higher Education (IHEs) and/or Alternative Routes (AR) to licensure in special education are not keeping pace with the high rates of attrition. Nonetheless, it would seem much more logical to try to enhance the support and encourage those teachers already in the special education positions to stay.
One example of a seemingly misguided rule for licensing teachers in special education exists in Arkansas. The Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) will not allow any individual who does not have an initial teaching license to obtain licensure in special education (http://arkansased.org/teachers/pdf/special_ ed_ec_march05.pdf). As a result of this ruling, approximately 90% of students in Arkansas State University licensure programs in special education are already practicing teachers with their own special education classrooms and caseloads. Furthermore, many are often first-year teachers who were unable to obtain jobs in a regular classroom; they take a job in a special education classroom with the intent of staying only until they are able to secure a placement in a general education position. Although it may be commendable in theory that any special education teacher should have a general education teaching license first, in practice these teachers are placed in a figure-it-out-as-you-teach situation that is not fair or even ethical to the student or to the teacher.
Regardless of the obstacles and concerns, the principal can have a major impact in ensuring that teachers in special education are provided with the supports they need to counteract some of the problems. Providing the teacher in special education with a mentor to assist them can make a tremendous difference in the teacher's performance as well as whether they opt to stay in the field. Ensuring that these teachers receive plenty of opportunities for relevant professional development in special education can alleviate some of the concerns of job training. Assisting the special education teacher in dealing with difficult teachers and parents can provide them with the assistance they need to gain self-confidence (Billingsly, 2004).
Literature extensively addresses the at-risk populations in the nation's schools. It is unfortunate when this population is expanded from actions, or lack thereof, within school systems. Programs for students with disabilities and for students who are gifted and talented appear to be, in many in stances, out of the "mainstream" due to a variety of factors. When programs are viewed in this fashion, the children served in them are placed at-risk of being viewed in the same fashion. It is hard to place the blame on any specific cause for this dilemma. What is important is that school districts make a concerted effort to ensure that all teachers and the student populations they serve are considered "insiders." This starts with leadership that not only sees the "big picture," but is also able to articulate this vision to a system's stakeholders. Teachers in both the regular education curriculum and those who function outside that arena need to make an effort to ensure that all children and programs are worthy and that they are not working in isolation from one another.
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Joan Henley, Ph.D., Julie Milligan, Ph. D., Jackie McBride, Ed. D., Gwendolyn Neal, Ed. D., Joe Nichols, Ed. D., and Jacques Singleton, Ed. D., Arkansas State University.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Joan Henley at email@example.com…
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Publication information: Article title: Outsiders Looking in? Ensuring That Teachers of the Gifted and Talented Education and Teachers of Students with Disabilities Are Part of the 'In-Crowd'. Contributors: Henley, Joan - Author, Milligan, Julie - Author, McBride, Jackie - Author, Neal, Gwendolyn - Author, Nichols, Joe - Author, Singleton, Jacques - Author. Journal title: Journal of Instructional Psychology. Volume: 37. Issue: 3 Publication date: September 2010. Page number: 203+. © 2009 George Uhlig Publisher. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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