The importance of administrator support for teachers is considerable for teachers' morale and long term sense of empowerment.
This sentiment was expressed well by an administrator who witnessed the impact of the Early Achievements professional development program on teachers in her school district. Ms. Egorin-Hooper offered good tips to administrators as they embark on supporting teachers learning the Early Achievements instructional strategies.
“Administrators can be more supportive of teachers as they utilize and implement the Early Achievements strategies by first and foremost being present. Administrators can support their teachers by showing excitement and enthusiasm about the fact that their teachers’ are going to be more successful teachers for this group of students who have very specific needs …. so knowing that they’ve [the teachers] gotten [trained in] these very fine evidence-based practices and they’re able to actually put them into use with students and to see that progress is exciting. I think that administrators need to come in and say, “Wow. You know I really see a difference in how you are as a teacher and that’s so reflected in the way your students are learning. It’s just visible way before your eyes.” I think that administrators need to allow teachers to also present to other staff members because again, I feel like these strategies are excellent for all learners, not just students with ASD and by being able to share and teach other people you not only gain confidence but you feel proud of what you’re doing and you know how worthwhile it is.”
Sara Egorin-Hooper, EA Coach
Baltimore County Public Schools
Some things that school-based administrators can do to make their school a shining example of educational excellence for students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other social and communication disorders are as follows.
- Remember that ASD and social communication disorders are neurobiological in nature, affecting development and learning. The core learning challenges of ASD initiate a cascade of events that can lead to secondary problems (such as challenging behavior) and even an exacerbation of the core characteristics of ASD (such as inattention, repetitive behavior, social isolation). You can put into place two things that will simultaneously promote learning and minimize the secondary problems: (a) arrange for teachers and instructional assistants to participate in ongoing training (with job-embedded coaching) to implement evidence-based instructional strategies (e.g., Early Achievements); and (b) create a school-wide atmosphere of acceptance of neurodiversity and support for students with special learning needs.
- Recognize that children with ASD will bring a broad range of abilities to your school or school system. The range of intellectual, adaptive, verbal communication, and social functioning of children with ASD varies from high to low across, and sometimes even within, children. Universal design, when well-prepared, will lead to the best outcomes, and teachers need training in how to adapt curriculum to achieve success in delivering differentiated instruction and universally designed instruction (which are accomplished through the EA intervention).
- Help your staff to see the ‘glass half full’ in children with special needs. In other words, take an abilities-focused perspective. Look for ‘work arounds’ to the challenges that children present to the teaching situation. Everyone should do their best to look deeper when challenges arise. Creativity and optimism are great allies in challenging situations.
- Promoting school success for students with special needs requires a team approach. Find creative ways for teachers, allied health professionals, and instructional assistants to plan instruction together and exchange information about strategies that support students’ success.
- Promote consistency and predictability in classrooms of children with ASD and other social and communication disorders (including staffing, scheduling special events, etc.).
- Find creative ways for teachers to obtain the specialized instructional materials that children need. Also, find creative ways to ensure that teachers and/or instructional assistants have time to create theme-related instructional materials that are not readily commercially available.
- Ensure that children who need augmentative communication devices (low or high tech) obtain these and have them available all through the day. In addition, ensure that teachers and instructional assistants get the proper training to use these communication systems with children, and incorporate them into instruction with the students consistently.
The important role of principals in shaping and supporting teachers' ability to provide high quality instruction is highlighted by DiPaola and Walther-Thomas (2003, p. 11).
"Effective principals know their own professional strengths and interests; understand the time constraints they face; recognize staff members’ talents, skills, and professional growth interests and needs; and know how to foster shared leadership to support new instructional initiatives. Skillful principals nurture the professional development of local facilitators who understand effective instructional models, have effective teaching and management skills, and are committed to sustained implementation of various innovations. By fostering the development of others, effective principals can build support networks that facilitate lasting implementation (Gersten & Brengelman, 1996; Loucks-Horsley & Roody, 1990)."
DiPaola, M. F., Walther-Thomas, C. (2003). Principals and special education: The critical role of school leaders (COPPSE Document No. IB-7). Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education.