How to be a Special Education Leader

Blog 10

            This week I got to meet Deborah Richards. She was our presenter on what kind of leader we want to become in the special education field. Richards is with the Connecticut State Board of Education and Director of Student Services at Capitol Region Education Council (CREC).

She taught us to identify our core beliefs about students with disabilities. And to use those core beliefs as our guiding principles as special education leaders. She familiarized us with important collaboration partners in the special education field. We identified resources to help us in our inclusive practices. And we learned about organizations that support educational leaders in Connecticut.

An essential concept that Richards showered upon us was to be authentic and build capacity within our team so we could leave and everything would still be fine. Another thing she said was it is also important to know when to leave a job or school district.

I read the assigned article Spheres of Influence article before class. It reminded me how important it is to remember there are things we have no control over, things we do have control over, and things we can influence. Knowing the difference and remembering to refer to these spheres of influence is essential as a special education teacher and leader. Some of the participants in this year’s group actually had the spheres of influence laminated and on their desks. It helps remind them of these leadership principles. They said it helped relieve some of the stress of the job, too.

Richards said being a leader is very tricky because being a good leader can mean many different things. And there is no one set of competencies that equals a good leader in all situations. Thus, say hello to situational leadership. To mention just a few of the other things Richards said, leaders need to be accountable, active listeners, good communicators, empathetic, flexible, eager, innovative, and much, much more.

Next, we learned about the different leadership styles. These styles consist of coaching, visionary, service, autocrat, laissez faire, democratic, pace-setter, transformational, and bureaucratic. Like the personality test True Colors I took in a previous class, I came out with multiple leadership styles. They are coaching, visionary, and service.

I have been a coach of some sort, primarily in sports, for most of my adulthood. The coaching style of leadership consists of being positive, being a motivator, and using guidance instead of commands. That’s me. A visionary is inspirational and breeds confidence, is sometimes a risk-taker, an innovator, and future orientated. That’s me, too. And finally, a servant leader puts people first, builds morale, motivates and cares for and about people, and cultivates trust. That’s obviously me, too.

During this class, I learned more about reciprocal accountability. And I totally agree with it. School teachers often have mandates passed down by the Connecticut State Department of Education. The concept of reciprocal accountability says that if the Connecticut State Department of Education mandates public schools’ educators to do something, the Department needs to provide the resources to help the schools succeed with the new expectation. Richards says, “Every increment of performance we expect, we provide them the capacity to meet the expectation. I would like to see this same principle when principals demand things from teachers. Help them be successful. That’s a simple concept, isn’t it?

Next, we talked about the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration.

Standard one is effective educational leaders develop, advocate, and enact a shared mission, vision, and core values of high-quality education and academic success and well-being of each student. This means the educational leader pulls in as many stakeholders as possible to create the best educational environment for each student.

Standard two is effective educational leaders act ethically and according to professional norms to promote each student’s academic success and well-being. This means they put the student in the front center of everything they do as professional educators and ensure their staff does the same.

Standard three is effective educational leaders strive for equity of educational opportunity and culturally responsive practices to promote each student’s academic success and well-being. This means recognizing each kid for who they are and giving them what they need to succeed.

Standard four is effective educational leaders develop and support intellectually rigorous and coherent systems of curriculum, instruction, and assessment to promote each student’s academic success and well-being. This means educators plan and implement instruction and then pay attention to what’s working.

Standard five is effective educational leaders cultivate an inclusive, caring, and supportive school community that promotes the academic success and well-being of each student. This means we create an environment every student likes and wants to be in.

Standard six is effective educational leaders develop the professional capacity and practice of school personnel to promote each student’s academic success and well-being. This means they empower all staff, including themselves, to be the best version of themselves through life-long learning and service to their students.

Standard seven is effective educational leaders foster a professional community of teachers and other professional staff to promote each student’s academic success and well-being. This means they have continuous ongoing professional development for themselves and their staff.

Standard eight is effective educational leaders engage families and the community in meaningful, reciprocal, and mutually beneficial ways to promote each student’s academic success and well-being. This means they collaborate well with the families and communities the school resides.

Standard nine is effective educational leaders manage school operations and resources to promote each student’s academic success and well-being. This means they ensure every penny of the school budget is wisely spent in systems that help the students be more successful.

Standard ten is effective educational leaders act as agents of continuous improvement to promote each student’s academic success and well-being. This means they try to make school more effective for each student, staff, and family.

Now, no one is an island, and no one can do all the things these ten standards above call for. So, we went over collaborative partnerships all educators, especially special educators should be aware of with that in mind.

Collaborative partners would include parents, the school principal, union leaders, the school business manager, the Board of Education, The State Department of Education, the Bureau of Special Education, and professional organizations like CEC, ConnCASE, and CAS, which provide mentors. And parent organizations like CPAC, AFCAMP, ASRC, Down Syndrome Congress, CT ARC, and UCEED. There are many, many more potential collaborating partners one could pursue.

Finally, Richards gave us some personal advice based on her many years in educational leadership roles. Are you listening? Okay, here we go. She said it was all about communication. Did you hear that? Also, remember there are always two sides to every story, deal with the most challenging conversations first thing in the morning, and call parents back even if you don’t have an answer. If you have to, tell parents you don’t know what the answer is, but you’re working on it. Be confident and articulate what you need. Agree to disagree, and finally, move on with respect because Connecticut is a small state.