Administrators of Special and Gifted Education: Preparing Them for the Challenge

By Milligan, Julie; Neal, Gwen et al. | Education, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Administrators of Special and Gifted Education: Preparing Them for the Challenge


Milligan, Julie, Neal, Gwen, Singleton, Jacques, Education


Education of the gifted is unique to the field of special education in terms of the mandates and federal involvement. Gifted education is not federally mandated; thus, there are no federal funds available to operate programs at the local level. However, it was over three decades ago that Sidney Marland addressed congress with a concern for the educational needs of gifted learners (Marland, 1980). In his address he called attention to the need for identification and differentiated service for advanced learners. He clearly defined giftedness and made 'gifted' a term of interest. Yet, no federal mandate was initiated and to this day gifted education remains a matter of state choice.

Regardless of one's perspective on the matter of federal or state involvement or any differences that exist between the programs due to a mandate or lack thereof, one consistent need remains between the two programs. Effective leadership by specialists in both areas of special education is essential to the operation of programs. At the helm of overseeing the services for the children, effective leaders ensure that quality programs are implemented. Some key components at the foundation of effective leadership are shared decision making, teamwork, and group problem solving ability (Robinson & Moon, 2003; Woodcock & Vialle, 2010; Zirkel; 2004).

Qualities of Effective Leadership

It was approximately two decades ago that a paradigm shift occurred in the field of educational leadership in general. This shift included a change from autocratic leadership to shared decision making. There was suddenly an emphasis on teamwork and the need for understanding cultural and environmental influences when addressing decisions that pertained to personnel, stakeholder involvement and student accountability (Bridges & Hallinger, 1995; Mulkeen & Tenenbaum, 1990; Muth, 1989). As a result, university training and professional development shifted to a more authentic learning, authentic assessment, and reflection model for training educational leaders (Mulkeen & Tenenbaum, 1990; Wiggins, 1993). This training had as a central theme the need for teamwork in the realm of shared decision making and group problem solving.

Benefits from leadership through shared decision making, teamwork and group problem solving certainly apply to all school leaders, but those of special programs must meet a unique set of problems and issues. Inherent to both special education and gifted education, administrators make decisions relevant to 1) compliance at the federal, state or local levels, 2) effective identification procedures, 3) maximizing program options to meet individual learning needs, 4) parent involvement to plan and maintain effective individualized services and 5) program changes based on program evaluations (Council for Exceptional Children, 2007; Woodcock & Vialle, 2010; Zirkel, 2004).

One example of a support program for effective leadership and problem solving in the field of special education is the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network--PTTAN (www.pattan.net). The PTTAN offers a program called The Leadership Initiative which is offered to educational leaders with responsibility of administering special education programs. Through collaborate leadership efforts this program is designed to improve student achievement, compliance monitoring, and service delivery. One of the training elements, that has proven to be successful, is the Pennsylvania Fellows Program--PFP. During the 2010-2011 academic year, approximately 130 administrators and educators of special education programs engaged in the PFE This group met to initiate program changes based on Council for Exceptional Children and the Council for Administrator Standards. Following the institute, participants reported the experience to be a positive influence, one which provided usable and practical strategies as a result of shared decision making. …

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