Teaching Profession

What Should Special Education Teachers Know and Be Able to Do?

By Christina A. Samuels — July 18, 2017 2 min read
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Arlington, Va.

A newly-minted special education teacher should be able to:

  • “collaborate with professionals to increase student success,”
  • “use multiple sources of information” to understand a student’s strengths and needs, and
  • “systematically design instruction toward specific learning goals.”

These skills are among 22 “high-leverage practices” for special education teachers that were developed by the Council for Exceptional Children and the federally-supported Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform, also known as CEEDAR.

Representatives for the groups have been spreading the word about their work this year, including during a session here at the annual leadership conference sponsored by the federal office of special education programs.

It’s taken nearly two years to develop the practices, which are grouped into four categories: collaboration, assessment, social/emotional/behavioral, and instructional. Twelve of the 22 practices fit under the instructional umbrella.

And it also took some time to settle on the 22, said Deborah Ziegler, the director of policy and advocacy for the CEC. “We spent hours debating the issues,” she said.

Ultimately, the groups working on the practices chose these because they are research-based, broadly applicable to any content area, considered fundamental to effective teaching, and skills that can be taught to preservice professionals.

Teacher-education programs have already started to shift their training to embrace the high-leverage practices, including in Oregon. Sarah Drinkwater, the state director of special education for Oregon, said the high-level practices have given schools of education a “common language” to use when thinking about how to prepare well-qualified teachers.

Teacher training that focuses on educational practices “represents a shift in the way we’ve been doing our work,” said Paula Lancaster, the director of teacher education at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids. Her university is among several in the state that are incorporating the “high-leverage practices” into their training.

“What we need now is focus,” Lancaster said. " Now it’s time to dig a little bit deeper into the high-leverage practices, and what our expectations for our candidates are.”

File Photo: Special education teacher Elizabeth Rosenberry, right, uses singing in a lesson to encourage Jesus Torres-Tiamani, left, to make eye contact.—Emile Wamsteker for Education Week.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.