Lead Special Education Teacher

Darra McCallum, OCT

My Vision as Lead Special Education Teacher

My vision for our Special Education Team is to ensure commitment to every student ensuring that we develop strategies to help each student learn, no matter their personal circumstances. My vision is rooted in inclusion of not only my team members and my students but more importantly of the entire school community. My vision of this inclusive environment is supported by the use of universal design for learning to support the creation of quality programs for all students using a differentiated instruction framework. In this framework, assessment for learning helps us teach and assess students according to their readiness, interests, and learning styles.

Characteristics of a Good Special Education Resource Lead

As a great Lead Special Education Resource Teacher I have:

  • Vision - I have a clear vision and moral purpose to better the educational experiences of our students. To create and inclusive and consistent culture for them to explore and grow.
  • Courage - I have great determination, and the willpower and patience to see things through. I am willing to take risks for the improvement of our Special Education Program
  • Passion - I have a great passion for teaching and learning; creating learning experience for our students and the continuation of my own learning. It is through our commitment to our students and their educational experiences that we will see growth.
  • Emotional Intelligence - I am a team-builder. There is great importance in relationships that are created within the school community. These relationships foster empowerment of staff and students.
  • Judgement - I make sure to utilize my professional knowledge and the professional knowledge of my team members to make the right calls. It isn't simply a matter of acting alone, it's about involving the whole school community and taking people forward together.
  • Resilience - I am optimistic and resilient. Remaining calm in a crisis and being energetic and positive at all times has allowed me to promote the success of my team as well as grow as a leader. Its about really knowing yourself and having personal strategies so you are able to steady yourself in stormy waters.
  • Curiosity - As resources and technologies are always changing it is my curiosity that continues to propel me forward into finding the best solutions for our students and my team. Being able to create excellent networks and being an opportunists, has allowed me to always stay in touch with events and move my team in a upward direction.

My Leadership Style

"Be one with the Goose" has become my new motto and thus leadership style. A few highlights:

  • The Flight Path - As a team we come together in order to better the education of our students with special needs. We set out on a path with one particular leader guiding the team through the intricacies of the process.
  • Miss Direction - Not all flights are smooth and they can go 'off track'. At this point it is beneficial to let the professional who is best equipped to handle the miss direction, to take the lead. They are able to provide pertinent information, new perspective and fresh ideas.
  • Honk -The leader at the front continue to 'Honk' to keep the communication with their team open as well as encourage them to keep moving forward.
  • More powerful to fly together - we are more powerful when we are working as a team and moving together as one. We benefit from what each individual brings to the team and our workload is decreased by all taking ownership of the task and working on it together.

The Flight of Geese

Becoming a Member of the Team

Many of the teachers that you will be working with have more years experience. What strategies would you used to convince them to accept you as their team leader?

In order to be accepted by teachers who have many more years experiences it is crucial to be open to ideas and suggestions that they may have. Let them know that their experience is valued and that you are willing to listen to what they have to say. It is also important to be knowledgeable about the Special Education program, processes and services that the board offers so that you are able to answer their questions and guide them through their learning. It is also important to be innovative and continously learning and in order to use different strategies and tools (technology, software, techniques) to better support the teacher and the student in the classroom. Showing your more experienced team members that you are willing to listen to their questions and concerns begins to build their trust, but going further to show them that you are willing to actively seek out answers (attend PD, contact outside sources, research, etc.) shows them that you have just as much as a vested interest in their students success as they do.

Teacher Leadership

Becoming Part of the Team: Effective Leadership

The Back Bone: Ontario College of Teachers' Standards of Practice

The two main Standards of Practice that will influence the way that I lead the Special Education Team are:

Ongoing Professional Learning: The area of Special Education is fluid; always moving and changing. This is directly related to the fact that our students are constantly changing and their needs can be extremely diverse and individualized. Continuing to build my professional knowledge allows me to stay ahead of the learning curve and lead my team in the correct direction. It allows me to bring new ideas and strategies to the table, access outside sources and promote the development of our team. Learning is leading and that is what I intend to do as the lead Special Education Teacher.

Commitment to Students and Student Learning: This standard of practice encompasses many of the other standards. Commitment to Students pulls upon your professional knowledge and professional practice. As team lead, there needs to be a commitment to students and student learning, as this is what our job is all about. We need to provide support for our students so that we are able to be successful in the classroom. What we do every day is centred around students and what we need to do in order to provide them with successful and appropriate learning experiences. As team lead this may mean thinking outside of the box and encouraging my team to keep the student at the heart of our decisions and make sure that we are always making the best decisions for their success.

Conflict Resolution

Suppose two teachers in your group are not 'getting along'. What strategies would you use to help them resolve their differences?

If there were two teachers in my group that were not getting along these would be the steps that I would follow:

  • First, I would want to understand what the issue was, why aren't they getting along?
  • Second, I would want to get both individuals perspectives by talking to them individually
  • Third, I would come up with some possible solutions to help facilitate our future discussion
  • Next, I would have the two individuals meet with myself to discuss the issues at hand and brainstorm solutions so that each individual feels satisfied that a solution has been reached.
  • Once a decision has been made, I would continue to monitor the individuals, their interactions and the issues to make sure that it is resolved
  • If I am not able to handle the situation and it persists then it would be an issues that may have to be taken to Administration, especially if it was affecting the performance of the Special Education Team

Working As One

If the Administration made a decision that was not popular in your Special Education Team, what would you do as the leader?

If Administration made a decision that was not popular in my Special Education Team I would first, before I told my team, work to understand why Administration had to make the decision that they did. When I told my team I would then be better equipped to answer their questions. If the decision is not popular I would work to understand my team and the reasons why the decision does not work for them. I would suggest that we work together to come up with an alternative solution that takes into consideration the decision that the Administration has made as well as our teams ideas to ensure that the decision is meeting the needs of our students and our team. I would encourage my team to view this decision as a challenge to continue our learning and research different alternatives that our Administration would support.

good teamwork and bad teamwork

The Bigger Picture

As Special Education Leader, you have a role to play and a responsibility for your teachers, your students, their families and the implementation of the IEP. Describe how you see yourself participating in this larger school-wide role.

I see myself in this larger school-wide role collaborating with all of the individuals that I interact with. I will do this by:

  • Engaging in ongoing communication - being open to talk about issues, concerns, achievements and successes. Having an open door policy where teachers, students and their families can come in to gain further information or just to chat!
  • Making myself available during IEP writing time for guidance, providing resources and support. To help during the implementation and review of the IEP's throughout the year with the teachers, students, and their families
  • Working with teachers to find a time where I am able to either assist them or the student in the classroom to further ensure the achievement of the IEP annual goal
  • Continuing my own education on new strategies and tools that are being released to better assist student with special needs experience success
  • Holding PD sessions or taking time during PA days to educate staff about the IEP process (areas of need or struggle) or new software that has been released.

Long Range Goals as Lead Special Education Teacher

My Long range goals as Lead Special Education Teacher is to establish a Special Education program that is collaborative and outward looking. Meaning that I want to create an atmosphere where all individuals are able to work together to achieve the best possible outcome for the student and moreover that we are always looking ahead. We see where we are as a team and where the student is currently and are always working towards moving our team and our students forward. I envision a program that is fluid, productive and innovative. We will be encouraged to look outside of the box for answers, allow others to take the lead when their knowledge and expertise will benefit the team.