Attitudes of Elementary School Principals toward the Inclusion of Students with Disabilities

By Praisner, Cindy L. | Exceptional Children, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Attitudes of Elementary School Principals toward the Inclusion of Students with Disabilities


Praisner, Cindy L., Exceptional Children


Over the last 2 decades, inclusion has become a critical part of the reform effort to improve the delivery of services to students with disabilities by focusing on the placement of these students in the general education setting. In an inclusive school, general education does not relinquish responsibility for students with special needs, but instead, works cooperatively with special education to provide a quality program for all students. This new arrangement for providing services has created challenges for many education professionals including the principal.

The role of the school principal has been dramatically changed to include additional duties, personnel, and paperwork. Principals are now expected to design, lead, manage, and implement programs for all students including those with disabilities (Sage & Burrello, 1994). Administrators are called upon to:

   promote visions and values, and to support and encourage positive action on
   the part of students, teachers, parents, and community members. Other new
   administrative roles include identifying and articulating the needs of
   inclusive schools and providing an important link between the schools and
   the larger community. (Falvey, 1995, p. 10)

For such whole-school reform, a principal's leadership is seen as the key factor to success (Hipp & Huffman, 2000). Therefore, to ensure the success of inclusion, it is important that principals exhibit behaviors that advance the integration, acceptance, and success of students with disabilities in general education classes.

According to Goodlad & Lovitt (1993), the decision to develop an inclusive school depends largely upon leaders' values and beliefs. Leaders demonstrate their beliefs and priorities by the following:

* How they make and honor commitments.

* What they say in formal and informal settings.

* What they express interest in and what questions they ask.

* Where they choose to go and with whom they spend time.

* When they choose to act and how they make their actions known.

* How they organize their staff and their physical surroundings (Nanus, 1992, pp, 139-140).

As the leader in the school, the principal directly influences "resource allocations, staffing, structures, information flows, and operating processes that determine what shall and shall not be done by the organization" (Nanus, 1992, p. 142). Due to their leadership position, principals' attitudes about inclusion could result in either increased opportunities for students to be served in general education or in limited efforts to reduce the segregated nature of special education services. Therefore for inclusion to be successful, first and foremost, the school administrator must display a positive attitude and commitment to inclusion (Evans, Bird, Ford, Green, & Bischoff, 1992; Rude & Anderson, 1992).

Although there has been some research and discussion regarding the importance of principals' attitudes toward inclusion, there is very little that identifies the present state of those attitudes. There is even less research that attempts to identify the influences that develop attitudes toward inclusion or determine the impact principals' attitudes have on placement perceptions. The earlier studies are also complicated by mixed groups, low numbers, unclear or outdated definitions, and small geographic area representation. This study (Praisner, 2000) was conducted to provide additional research, specifically focusing on principals and inclusion, using a more current definition and conceptual framework. Three research questions guided this study:

1. What are the attitudes of elementary principals toward the inclusion of students with severe/profound disabilities in the general education setting?

2. What is the relationship between principals' personal characteristics, training, experience and/or school characteristics and their attitudes toward inclusion?

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