Not Another Inservice!: Meeting the Special Education Professional Development Needs of Elementary General Educators
Jenkins, Amelia A., Yoshimura, Jodi, Teaching Exceptional Children
Ms. Lee is Student Support Coordinator at Sunshine Elementary School, supporting elementary teachers in meeting the needs of all students in their classes. Ms. Lee has realized over the years that as more students with disabilities are included in general education classes, teachers have been relying on her more and more as a special education resource. The teachers have shared with her their concerns about a lack of training and knowledge in special education and their need for professional development. However, the teachers' needs vary by type of support needed and their preferences in receiving support. They all agree, however, that a one-shot inservice on special education is not beneficial to them. Ms. Lee wants to identify how best to help the teachers but is unsure how to proceed. She enrolled in a graduate program in special education for her own professional development, but is reluctant to be the purveyor of all information. At the principal's suggestion, Ms. Lee decided to attempt a process to include the teachers in identifying their needs and engaging them in deciding upon a plan of action.
Today's teachers face many challenges, and one of their most challenging tasks is to meet the needs of and support the success of a diverse group of students, including those with disabilities. How confident are elementary teachers in meeting the needs of the students with disabilities in their general education classes? In areas of low confidence, what is the best way to address the teachers' needs? The literature on inclusive schooling and professional development can provide some answers to these questions.
Inclusion and Teachers' Needs
Effectively including students in general education requires general education teachers to have the basic knowledge about special education and the skills to teach students with disabilities. The number of students with disabilities included in general education classrooms is increasing (O'Shea, Stoddard, & O'Shea, 2000). The U.S. Department of Education (2004) reported that about 96% of students with disabilities are included for at least part of the school day and approximately 37.5% spend most of the school day in the general education classroom. However, many general educators feel ill prepared to meet the needs of students with disabilities in their classrooms (Cook, 2002; Kamens, Loprete, & Slostad, 2003; U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Teachers' confidence to teach is one of the key characteristics that predicts teaching ability; those who believe they can positively impact student achievement are more likely to be effective in meeting students' needs (Eggan & Kauchak, 2006; Poulou, 2007). An included student's success in school depends on the general education teacher's ability to deliver content instruction to all students, and the ability to work with special educators who can facilitate the student's participation and learning.
Although the numbers of students with disabilities placed in general education classrooms has increased, teachers report that their administration is often not responsive to their need for special education professional development. Interviews of teachers in inclusive classrooms found that they received minimal information on how to successfully include students with disabilities in their classrooms (Snyder, Garriott, & Williams Aylors, 2001).
Ornelles, Cook, and Jenkins (2007) found that general education teachers felt less confident than special educators in their ability to facilitate successful inclusion of students with disabilities. The general educators indicated a need for support in areas of special education and legal requirements, the individualized education program process, disability characteristics, and instructional approaches for students with disabilities.
Ms. Lee felt that the teachers in her school were in a similar situation. Teachers were including students in their classrooms, yet were in need of either inservice or professional development activities. …