TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap

Supportive Leadership

Purposeful and systematic change driven by the values of equity and inclusion lead to increased educational opportunities for all students, including students with significant cognitive disabilities. Leadership is foundational to building and sustaining inclusive educational systems (Howley & Telfer, 2021). Inclusive leaders focus on implementing effective instructional practices for all students, nurture and sustain a collaborative culture (e.g. trust, openness, inquiry), and build the capacity of all staff and families to meet individual student needs and the needs of the system. They also emphasize accountability and continuous learning as they move their systems forward (Telfer & Howley, 2020).

Leaders committed to systems change for inclusive education use a combination of technical and adaptive leadership skills. Heifetz and Laurie (1997) described technical and adaptive leadership strategies in this way:

  • Technical challenges are relatively straightforward with reasonably clear paths to solutions. Leaders with technical challenges can engage in the typical problem-solving processes, resources, and administrative structures already in place in the system. 
  • Adaptive challenges are more complex in part because the focus must be inclusive of educators and families. They include concerns that have not previously been raised and/or solved in the system and usually have more complex solutions. Adaptive challenges often need a deeper level of reflection and consensus-building as possible solutions emerge.

Building sustainable inclusive education systems is complex. Technical and adaptive leadership challenges are continually emerging and often intertwined. This necessitates the use of a wide variety of leadership skills and talents.

Inclusive Education Examples

Technical Challenges

  • SEA or LEA  messaging does not use person-first and/or self-advocate preferred language in its communication
  • Newly included students with significant cognitive disabilities do not have access to district general education online learning platforms (i.e. Google Classroom) because the use of the platform was not an expectation in the previous self-contained placement. 
  • A student who uses a wheelchair is rostered into a class on the third floor which does not allow for safe fire evacuation. 

Adaptive Challenges

  • An SEA wants to build cadres of inclusive coaches in its regional centers that will support districts and schools in implementing inclusive education using the MTSS framework. This is a new concept. There is not a plan for how to proceed. It will require reallocation of resources, change of roles, capacity building and relationship building between SEA Special Education and MTSS staff and between SEAs and LEAs.

Supportive leadership is essential to all stages of implementation of inclusive practices. Both technical and adaptive leadership skills are needed to support organizations throughout the change processes. It is impossible to make change at a systemic level without engaged and supportive leaders (Tian & Huber, 2019). During the Initial Implementation phase, education leaders have three primary tasks:

  • Support the continuing development of an inclusive mindset for educators and families
  • Monitor the implementation of new processes and practices, and
  • Supervise and support personnel as they develop and demonstrate inclusive educational practices

Example Support Strategies

Inclusive Mindset

  • Model inclusive language in meetings and discussions
  • Celebrate Inclusive Schools Week
  • Share individual teacher and student success stories weekly
  • Share research on the benefits of inclusive education in a way that will resonate with school personnel and families
  • Acknowledge examples of inclusive thinking in students and staff
  • Create a hallway bulletin board with photos of "Together We Are Better"
  • As part of a communication plan, the district includes inclusive messages and articles in its weekly newsletter

Inclusive Processes and Practices

  • Ensure that new processes and practices (e.g., changes to staffing models, special education services being provided in the general education classrooms) are clearly explained to all affected stakeholders, including families, prior to their implementation
  • Create the expectation for implementation of new processes and practices 
  • Increase walkthroughs to check for fidelity of implementation of new processes
  • Develop continuous improvement cycles that engage the whole system with the work of the EILT

Support Personnel

  • Use the TIES Teacher Confidence Survey on a quarterly basis to gather feedback on staff confidence and efficacy
  • Attend secondary Professional Learning Communities (DuFour et al., 2016) once a month to give ongoing encouragement and gather feedback about how to best support the teams
  • Highlight teacher and student success in newsletters and other system-wide communications
  • Consider adopting the Concerns-Based Adoption Model