Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Breaking the Language Barrier: Promoting Collaboration between General and Special Educators

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Breaking the Language Barrier: Promoting Collaboration between General and Special Educators

Article excerpt

The degree to which we don't understand the culture of others is the degree to which we're culturally impoverished.--Jonathon Kozol, 9/29/2005

The public school system has undergone dramatic changes within the last ten years. We have moved toward a standards-based system, implemented statewide assessments and have increased accountability for both students and educators. Inherent in all reform initiatives has been the effort to increase success for all students, including those with disabilities, in the general education setting and the general education curriculum (Nolet & McLaughlin, 2002). The increase in such inclusionary practices has increased the need for collaboration between the multiple players in the public school system. This has created challenges for both general education and special education teachers and teacher educators who have historically worked as separate entities and who may operate from very different paradigms and belief systems. No longer are special education teachers able to primarily provide one-on-one instruction in pullout settings; instead, they are expected to work in the "least restrictive environment" possible, often within a general education classroom. At the same time general education teachers are not able to assume that the responsibility for the education of students with special needs lies with someone else. The roles of teachers have changed and schools and school systems are being held to higher standards of accountability than ever before. At the same time current and historical service delivery models of both general education and special education have are not always effective (Denton, Vaughn, & Fletcher, 2003). An evolution in education is occurring and professionals in both areas find that they must work together; they must collaborate to meet the needs of all students.

Traditionally a separate culture exists between special education and general education. The two fields have viewed the world of education from different theoretical perspectives that in part stems from different legislative and experiential backgrounds. As Kozol (opening quote) comments about culture, the degree to which we don't understand the paradigms of others leaves us impoverished and unable to work collaboratively to best instruct students. When we lack shared experiences and perspectives, we have two choices--we can haplessly dismiss the perspective or paradigm of the other or we can decide to learn about another's perspective, attempt to understand what a person's beliefs are, and where the beliefs stem from. From this point, we can then establish a mutual goal of working collaboratively to improve the instruction of all students.

"Collaboration" is included in many vision and mission statements and educators are expected to collaborate with each other, with administrators, and with parents. The word is often used generically, implying that collaboration happens when individuals are working together. This broad use of the term easily gives the impression that collaboration is an easy and natural process, when the opposite is true (Friend, 2000). Collaboration, as a successful process, takes effort, diligence, and training. It is not simply working together, liking each other, or spending time engaged in a joint activity. Instead, collaboration has been defined as an interactive process that enables people with diverse expertise to generate creative solutions to mutually defined problems (Idol, Nevin, & Paulocci-Whitcomb, 2000). Friend and Cook (1996) identify several specific facets of successful collaboration including the following: parity, mutual goals, shared responsibility in decision-making, shared resources and accountability, and valuing of personal interactions.

Skills for effective collaboration, especially among general education and special education teachers, are most readily learned through modeling (Hoffman & Jenkins, 2002). The most powerful and influential opportunity for teacher modeling occurs during initial teacher preparation programs (Villa, Thousand, Nevin, & Malgeri, 1996). …

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