The proposed solutions will be based on some theories that help to make sense of this issue. According to Ainscow (1999), active participation of principals is the main factor ensuring the effective inclusion of students with special needs in educational activities. Their responsibilities include promotion of inclusive school cultures and instructional programs that address the needs of students. Therefore, the first proposed solution is based on the transformational leadership theory. Transformational leadership is an approach to management and organization, in which leaders seek to create positive changes in their followers (Al-Husseini & Elbeltagi, 2014).
It works by demonstrating four factors such as individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, charismatic leadership, and idealized influence upon the subordinates (Al-Husseini & Elbeltagi, 2014). As the main figure in the hierarchical structure, it falls upon the principal to influence teachers and allow them to affect students in a similar manner. The role of the principal is key to improving the educational environment for students with disabilities, teachers, and within educational institutions in general. The research indicates that transformational leadership is useful in facilitating training programs, which teachers may further employ (Al-Husseini & Elbeltagi, 2014).
As it has already been mentioned, many teachers feel that the administration is not providing enough support to them. Principals should focus on creating a welcoming school culture, in which teachers can focus on improving the attitudes, believes, knowledge, personal skills, and self-efficacy (Waldron, McLeskey, & Redd, 2011). When administrators are supportive, teachers have a sense of responsibility for the teaching and learning of special education students. In the inclusive classroom, the strongest predictor of success is the principals’ beliefs about inclusion and disability. When school leaders believe special education students can be successful in the general education setting, they create an atmosphere that is reflective of their beliefs regarding inclusion.
This notion is supported by Riehl (2000), who states that a new form of practice may be implemented if administrations take appropriate measures. In particular, they should encourage equity and inclusive culture and support the principles of social justice. Moreover, they need to facilitate positive relationships outside the educational environment. Under the proposed solution, principals should ensure that there are learning strategies in place to support learning for all students. The role of the principal is to serve as a guide and a supporter of quality instructional practices (Waldron et al., 2011). For that reason, the principal needs to have good relations with teachers and students with disabilities and possess the knowledge of the strategies used to help students with disabilities to study.
Second Solution: Professional Development
As noted above, many teachers do not have the required levels of self-efficiency to teach and meet the needs of students with disabilities. The theory proposed by Bandura’s (1977b) assists in making sense of this issue. The self-efficacy approach is part of the social cognitive theory, which attributes human behavior to a variety of personal and environmental factors (Bandura, 1997b). Self-efficacy affects human behavior by influencing their cognitive, affective, motivational, and decision-making processes. Importantly, self-efficacy has both a direct and indirect impact on the conduct of people. It determines whether a person has an optimistic or pessimistic manner of thinking and has a self-enabling or self-disabling worldview (Bandura, 1977a; Bandura 1997b).
Based on these parameters, teachers may look at particular issues in a positive or a negative manner. Self-efficacy has a large influence on the teaching process as well. Instructors, who believe they have expertise in establishing a positive learning environment, arrange their educational activities and settings differently. The more self-efficient a teacher is, the more likely it is for them to use their time more effectively. This time could be spent on providing students with the appropriate instructions they need as well as on studying new information and practicing different techniques (Mojavezi & Tamiz, 2012). As a result, students with disabilities would receive the type and form of instruction that is reflective of their needs.
According to Mojavezi and Tamiz (2012), self-efficacy is an important predictor to teachers’ performance in classrooms, translating into better preparedness and teaching techniques adjusted to fit the learners’ needs. Self-efficacy of an educator indicates his or her views regarding their ability to employ effective strategies in a certain environment to achieve a specific educational goal (Tschannen-Moran, Hoy, & Hoy, 1998). Teacher’s self-efficacy ensures the educational success of students through differentiated instruction, enthusiasm, and dedication (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001). Therefore, it is important to boost teacher’s self-efficacy and self-perception as a way of encouraging them to learn and apply their knowledge and skills in differing situations.
One of the primary means of improving self-efficacy in a teacher is training. Professional development is helpful in improving the quality of teaching and self-efficacy of educators and assists in meeting the needs of students with disabilities (Hashim, Ghani, Ibrahim, & Zain, 2014). The theory developed by Bandura (1977b) suggests that self-efficacy is a characteristic that changes continuously as the teacher becomes more experienced and receives new information. As a result, the dynamic of self-efficacy changes with experience. Short-term and long-term training would, thus, enhance the teacher’s capabilities for self-efficacy as well as their skills in dealing with children with disabilities. This confidence would also facilitate a change in attitude towards these children.
All teachers should be provided with training to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary for meeting the instructional needs of students with disabilities successfully (Royster, Reglin, & Losike-Sedimo, 2014). According to Halvorsen and Neary (2009), there are some topics that need to be addressed in terms of professional development. The model of professional development places a particular emphasis on such aspects as planning to meet student needs in the inclusive classroom, methodical instruction, peer relationships and support, and collaboration to provide inclusive service (Halvorsen & Neary, 2009). Professional development sessions are an effective tool that helps teachers master their instructional strategies and refine the curriculum. Moreover, professional development on inclusive classes is indeed helpful in changing the perceptions of educators, which directly affects the academic achievement of learners (Royster et al., 2014). Thus, teachers always need training when dealing with students with disabilities since it helps them to employ proper accommodations for each student in order to respond to their needs in an effective manner and achieve equality.
Notably, there is an evident need to build and facilitate cooperation and interdependence between general teachers and special education teachers in the classroom. According to Al-Natour, Amr, Al-Zboon, and Alkhamra (2015), in some cases, collaboration between general teachers and special education teachers occurs at a low level or is limited. Educators have a very specific view of how collaboration should proceed when working with a student with special needs. Many teachers believe that they should work separately with the same student while cooperation implies that teachers work interactively. In that case, the needs of the student will be addressed appropriately (Al-Natour et al., 2015). There is often power tension between teachers within the classroom, and the rivalry present between them results in avoidance of consultations for the sake of maintaining an image of competence (Hamilton-Jones & Vail, 2013). This issue comes from the currently upheld independence model, in which every teacher is considered a separate unit rather than a part of the whole.
It should be mentioned that Ainscow (1999) emphasized the importance of social relationships between educators to achieve the goals of inclusion. The relationship and collaboration should be built on social interdependence theory. This theory suggests that positive interdependence is a notion, which implies that individuals can achieve their aims when their partners also reach their goals. This means that instructors need to support and encourage each other to achieve educational success (Johnson, Johnson, & Anderson, 1983). Such an approach stimulates teachers to cooperate with each other and ensures they recognize their responsibility in the success of the other instructor’s activities (Johnson et al., 1983). This approach places a particular emphasis on building effective cooperative teams. Instead of being rivals, general teachers and special needs educators should regard one another as part of the process.
As Lingo, Barton-Arwood, and Jolivette (2011) suggest, teachers may conduct classes together and cooperate to devise grading rubrics, instruction, and tasks to accommodate the needs of special learners. Each educator has a specific role to fit, with the general teacher providing field notes and on-site observations whereas the special needs educator could use their expanded knowledge on the subject to equip the general teacher with a necessary framework and a list of tools to be used for a particular student. It is important to note that neither of the educators is in a subordinate position since the theory of social interdependence relies on respect, communication, parity, and trust for relationship collaboration (Johnson et al., 1983).
The school needs to strengthen collaborative relationships between general and special education teachers to meet student needs and reduce professional knowledge deficiencies by providing teachers with effective collaboration strategies, sufficient time to work together, and appropriate training and support (Al-Natour et al., 2015; Lingo et al., 2011). As a result, the quality of education and teachers’ professional knowledge will increase and, thus, will lead to innovative and appropriate methods to be implemented in the classroom. The dilemma of professional incompetence in teaching students with disabilities would reduce as a result.
Fourth Solution: Using Differentiated Instruction
Another strategy that can assist in maximizing students’ educational opportunities is differentiation. This approach implies achieving equality through diversified instruction and teaching students based on their level of readiness and individual learning styles (McLaughlin & Talbert, 1993). Sociocultural theory suggests that the interaction of students with various levels of development may be particularly helpful (Gauvain & Cole, 1997). In this scenario, learners will cooperate with more skilled students and reach the Zone of Proximal Development faster. This concept implies that a student has specific functions he or she can develop if guided by adults or supported by more skilled peers (Gauvain & Cole, 1997). Thus, it may be assumed that teacher-student interaction and cooperation between students, as well as flexible instruction, are central to differentiation (Subban, 2006).
It should be noted that the use of differentiated instruction is beneficial for all students. It implies that the teacher comprehends that all students learn at their individual pace, and a uniform approach is not applicable. Each student has his or her learning style, and differentiated instruction allows addressing the unique needs and capabilities of each student. To achieve differentiation, the instructor may adapt the curriculum so that it includes various educational forms and flexible instructional strategies (Subban, 2006). This way, all students will become part of the educational process, and learners with disabilities will not feel excluded from general-education classrooms (Broderick, Mehta-Parekh, & Reid, 2005). In that matter, it is crucial for instructors to develop responsive lessons that will accommodate the needs of students with different levels of development and performance. This requires teachers to abandon such activities as one-to-one skills and drills and use their creativity to make the exercises, instructions, and tasks as responsive as possible.
Moreover, this approach implies a change in instructional focus to achieve equity among learners, which is one of the requirements specified in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Broderick et al., 2005). The purpose of diversified instruction is to meet the individual needs of each student and maximize their potential based on their learning capabilities and the current state of development. Teachers should strive to assist students with disabilities in achieving learning progress at their individual pace (Broderick et al., 2005). Therefore, differentiated instruction is a strategy that pushes teachers to abandon activities aimed at completing the curriculum and adopt a new approach that caters students’ distinct needs (Tomlinson, 2001).
The choice and organization of content play a primary role in the effectiveness of differentiation. Educators need to select content based on the objectives they want to achieve during every lesson and activity. Moreover, they should choose instructional approaches that correlate with the learning styles of students and their levels of readiness (Subban, 2006; Tomlinson, 2001). As stated by Tomlinson (2001), instructors should pay particular attention to three areas, which are learning content, process, and product. The first domain implies specific knowledge students need to gain as a result of teacher’s instruction (Tomlinson, 2001). Importantly, in the majority of instances, educators cannot control what content will be taught to students; however, they have the tools and instruments to modify it so that it reflects the learning style of each student.
The second domain denotes the way a student interacts with the learning content, which is often defined by their preferences. At present, learners exhibit various styles, preferences, and abilities, and the instructor has an opportunity to employ an array of different activities to accommodate those (Tomlinson, 2001). Finally, the third concept, which is product, is as important as the two previous domains since the educator receives an opportunity to detect students who need more time and further instruction to achieve a specific learning objective or outcome (Tomlinson, 2001).
It should be stressed that the participation of school leaders and administration is an important aspect necessary for the successful introduction of differentiated instruction in the general education classroom. Leadership should provide enough support to teachers and encourage the culture of inclusion throughout the institution (Waldron et al., 2011). This way, differentiated instruction and inclusive education will become more meaningful and will be implemented at the required level.
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