TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap RETIRED


Leadership in Systems Change for Inclusive Education

Inclusive systems don’t just happen. We know this because despite multiple organizations having vision and mission statements that speak to greater outcomes for all students, separate silos persist throughout the whole educational system. Purposeful systems change creates inclusive educational opportunities for all students, including students with significant cognitive disabilities. Leadership is foundational to building and sustaining inclusive educational systems (Howley & Telfer, 2021). Effective leadership at all levels of a system that is committed to systems change for inclusive education identifies priority areas for action and intentionally combines the use of the TIES IER Inclusive Competency and Organizational Drivers to support and monitor change efforts.

Heifetz and Laurie (1997) describe and identify the importance of technical and adaptive leadership strategies:

  • Technical challenges are those problems that are straightforward with reasonably clear paths to solutions. Leaders with technical challenges can engage in the typical process of gathering a team, creating a plan to address the problem,  supporting those people to implement the plan, and monitoring the success of the plan.  
  • Adaptive challenges are more complex. This type of difficulty does not have consensus on what the challenge is exactly nor a path toward solutions. While the endpoint may be clear, there are many unknowns for what the best way to proceed and the mix of supports for achieving the outcome. The “how” emerges through a process of collaborative problem solving among leaders and multiple stakeholders with divergent perspectives. 

These divergent perspectives require that stakeholders representing different views all be involved in addressing the challenge, working to understand one another’s perspectives regarding the challenge and potential strategies for addressing it. This stance of seeking first to understand (Covey, 1995) and being open to the ideas and influence of other perspectives will lead to learning on the part of all involved and, more importantly, more viable and effective strategies for addressing complex challenges.

The problem-solving by both leaders who are in formal positions, as well as the Equitable Inclusive Leadership Teams (EILT), addresses both technical and adaptive challenges on an ongoing basis as they build inclusive systems. 

The creation of inclusive systems of education with multiple components that require attention is an example of an adaptive challenge. The commitment to become more inclusive involves the examination of an organization’s mission and vision and the values underlying them.  It also involves a critical look at practices and policies to determine if they are aligned with an inclusive system of education or need to be changed or new practices developed. Engaging in these large systemic tasks requires that stakeholders from across the educational system (for example, teachers, families, administrators, staff, students, and community members) be involved in addressing these adaptive challenges. Members of these various stakeholder groups have different perspectives, experiences, and areas of expertise necessary for effective and sustainable systems change. It is critical that members of all stakeholder groups be involved in addressing systems change to ensure their understanding of the rationale for and commitment to change.