Designing and Implementing Inclusive Practices as a Special Education Leader

a special education teacher working with a student

Since it was enacted, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has ensured that all children, regardless of disability status, have access to a free and appropriate public education. Of course, special education programs look a little different from school to school and professionals have varying ideas about the best way to deliver quality services to kids.

One area of ongoing debate is inclusivity. If you’re passionate about inclusive practices, you might consider doing your doctoral research in this area and bring what you learn back to the classroom with you.


A Quick Look at Inclusivity

During the mid-1970s, about a million children with disabilities weren’t even enrolled in school, let alone treated to inclusive classroom practices. As professionals become better informed over time, many of them have begun recognizing that children can often benefit from inclusion, which is the practice of bringing special ed services to the kids in the general classroom.

This is in contrast to taking kids out of “regular” classrooms and putting them in special ed rooms or separate schools altogether. Generally, professionals tend to agree that some degree of inclusivity is a desirable thing but some of them point out that full inclusivity might not necessarily be appropriate for all children with disabilities.

The Degrees of Inclusivity

When thinking about designing inclusivity programs in your own school, you’ll need to examine the degrees.

  • Mainstreaming: Special ed students need to demonstrate the ability to keep up with a general classroom, before being placed in one or two general classes. Mainstreaming is widely considered outdated.
  • Full inclusion: All students of all ability levels are taught within a regular classroom or program for the full school day. All special ed services are taken to the child within that classroom.
  • Inclusion: This is a compromise between mainstreaming and full inclusion. As long as a child can benefit from being within a regular class, he or she will receive services there. Inclusivity practices are implemented to the maximum extent that is considered appropriate.

The Necessity of Child-Centered Education

One common challenge faced by special education leaders is that all services must be carefully customized to meet the needs of each individual child. In special ed, there’s no such thing as a one size fits all solution—or even a one size fits some solution. In terms of implementing inclusivity practices, however, special ed leaders may think in terms of levels of ability.

  • Level one: Students generally meet classroom behavioral expectations and function close to grade level. They may only need classroom accommodations and differentiated instructional strategies delivered by the regular classroom teacher.
  • Level two: Students need accommodations and perhaps modifications in the general classroom setting. These students benefit from having a special ed professional in the classroom as a co-teacher.
  • Level three: Students need intensive supports and accommodations to achieve success in the general classroom. They need a special ed co-teacher and may still need selective “pull-out” special ed instruction.

Students can be matched to their appropriate level and be integrated into the general classroom according to their level. Of course, each student still receives the individualized supports and modifications he or she needs.

You can lay the foundation for greater career success with a doctoral degree from Grand Canyon University. We invite you to apply for our Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Special Education degree program. Look for the Request More Information button at the top of your screen to learn more about our College of Doctoral Studies.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.