Instructional leaders play an important role in many aspects of student learning, and special education is no different. The goal of instructional leadership is to facilitate learning outcomes, set goals and measure results. In addition, administrators and other instructional leaders can help create teaching strategies and classroom activities.

In special education, also known as exceptional student education, teachers and administrators work together to create successful interventions for students who have a wide range of mental and physical disabilities. Education professionals such as principals, assistant principals and curriculum directors are leaders when it comes to developing the specialized curriculum these students need to succeed.

Defining Special Education in the Context of Instructional Leadership

Among the more common disabilities that fall under the special education category include learning disabilities such as dyslexia and auditory processing disorder, along with physical disabilities. Instructional leadership provides all students with a quality education, regardless of setbacks. School administrators help ensure quality coursework when they are able to understand students’ needs, and in the case of special education, these needs can vary widely.

In some cases, special education classrooms are inclusive environments. This means that special education teachers co-teach with a general education teacher. This gives students with disabilities a place in the general education classroom and ensures that they get the specialized attention they need during the classroom day. Conversely, resource environments “allow the special education teacher to pull students out of the general classroom and teach them in a quieter, more structured location,” according to the Council for Exceptional Children. In both cases, instructional designers are needed to map out how the classroom environment will function and what it means for students.

Universal design for learning (UDL) can be key for special education classrooms. UDL enables teachers and instructional leaders to design a curriculum that gives all students an equal opportunity to learn. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy Center, “UDL is designed to serve all learners, regardless of ability, disability, age, gender, or cultural and linguistic background. UDL provides a blueprint for designing goals, methods, materials, and assessments to reach all students including those with diverse needs.” UDL’s use of flexible curriculum and a wide variety of instructional practices make it ideal for either inclusive or resource classroom environments.

Create Classroom Environments that Work for All Students

The fully online Master of Education in Instructional Leadership enables teachers to transition into administrative roles while continuing to run their classrooms.

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Designing Coursework for Pre-K Special Education

Working with young children with disabilities means being aware of students’ unique needs. Instructional leaders in the Pre-K space ensure that classroom lessons and curricula help students grow individually in terms of academic learning as well as socialization. School administrators in particular are responsible for instructing faculty and informing communities of the needs and resources available concerning both special education students and programs.

Designing Coursework for K-12 (High-Incidence Disabilities)

For older students, schools often differentiate between high-incidence and low-incidence disabilities when designing curricula. Students with high-incidence disabilities make up the majority of students in special education classrooms. Examples of high-incidence disabilities include speech and language impairment, learning disabilities, mental health issues and mild intellectual disabilities.

Instructional leaders may employ both inclusive and resource environments when determining how best to deliver learning outcomes to these students. They work to ensure that school culture and classroom objectives align with student needs and provide the environment required for them to learn and grow. Examples include helping students develop stronger listening and social skills, designing a behavioral management system and motivating them to learn through assigned tasks.

Designing Coursework for K-12 (Low-Incidence Disabilities)

Students with low-incidence disabilities aren’t as common in the education system, but their needs are just as important. Low-incidence disabilities include more severe intellectual disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, autism spectrum disorders, blindness, deafness and more.

In these cases, instructional designers develop and strategize coursework that caters to students on a more individual basis, with the aim of improving self-esteem and teaching functional skills as well as traditional classroom learning. Such strategies might include modifying the classroom environment for easier access, allowing scheduled breaks and creating a predictable routine.

Getting Started: Instructional Leadership at West Virginia State University

When it comes to special education strategies, instructional leaders play an important role in ensuring student needs are met in the classroom and beyond. WVSU offers a fully online Master of Education in Instructional Leadership degree that prepares educators to develop specialized skills and advance to administrative and leadership roles. Through a curriculum focused on relevant techniques and emerging concepts, this program is designed to help teachers create pathways to success for both students and staff.