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Is There An Elephant in the Room? Considerations that Administrators Tend to Forget when Facilitating Inclusive Practices among General and Special Education Teachers
Sandra Cooley Nichols, PhD
Associate Professor and Department Head The University of Alabama

Adriane N. Sheffield
Post Graduate Student The University of Alabama

Abstract More than six million students are being served nationwide under the Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004). As a result of NCLB mandates and IDEIA, inclusive practices have become standard in addressing the needs of all learners. Co-teaching is one inclusive practice that is now being used at all levels of schooling. The purpose of this reflective analysis is to inform administrator preparation and professional development research related to special education. Themes addressed by study participants included: need for cultural sensitivity training, time and techniques for building co-teaching relationships, and administrative support. Keywords: collaboration, inclusion, instructional practice, administration ______________________________________________________________________________ According to recent reports, more than six million students nationwide are being served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2011 not in references). These students comprise more than ten percent of the overall school population and can be found in urban, rural, and suburban school districts, regardless of their size. School accountability was raised for all students with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (2001 not in references), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) (2004) mandated that a free and appropriate education be provided to all students with disabilities. As a result of NLCB mandates and IDEIA, inclusive practices have become standard in addressing the needs of all learners regardless of gender, race, class, nationality, or exceptionality (Riehl, 2000). In addition, an increasing number of scholars and policy makers agree that provisions must be made to ensure that all students are successful in school settings, regardless of ability.


SANDRA COOLEY NICHOLS and ADRIANE N. SHEFFIELD Literature Review The Meaning of Inclusion In order to understand the move to inclusive practices, first the meaning and purpose of inclusion, must be understood, and practices that encourage inclusion identified and studied for implementation processes. A clear definition of inclusion has been somewhat problematic. However, there are several underlying principles. First, inclusion is based on the premise that all humans have the right to participation, access, and achievement (Harpell & Andrews, 2010; Rice, 2006; Ryan, 2010). Those who support inclusion strive to minimize the exclusion (Harpell & Andrews, 2010, p. 191) by creating a welcoming and supportive environment for those who may be disenfranchised. (Obiakor, 2011; Obiakor, Harris, Mutua, Rotatori, &Algozzine, 2012; Rice, 2006). This supports the social justice concept that promotes inclusion in opposition to exclusion and encourages recognition, care, respect, and empathy towards others (Theoharris, 2007). Second, inclusion is a process that emphasizes meaningful participation by all members of a school community (Harpell & Andrews, 2010; Rice, 2006; Ryan, 2010). This process must involve a change in school culture in order to be sustainable. Last, inclusion is a practice that requires all learners to be supported in academic settings by merging regular and special education services (Harpell & Andrews, 2010; Ryan, 2010). The successful use of inclusive practices requires collaboration, acceptance and support from parents, teachers, and, most importantly, administrators (Obiakor, 2011; Ryan, 2010). Co-Teaching One inclusive practice that has increased in interest is that of co-teaching. Co-teaching can be defined as the pairing and partnering of a general education teacher and a special education teacher, or other specialist, who jointly deliver instruction to a group of students, including those with disabilities or other special learning needs (Friend, Cook, HurleyChamberlain, & Shamberger, 2010). Co-teaching should include at least three components: coplanning, co-instruction, and co-assessment (Murawski & Lochner, 2011). Co-planning allows the special education teacher to proactively participate in the planning of instruction. There are a variety of instructional variations encompassed by co-teaching. These include station teaching, parallel teaching, alternative teaching, teaming, one teach, one observe and one teach, and one assist (Scruggs, Mastopier, McDuffe, 2007; Friend et al., 2010). A combination of these variations should be used as deemed appropriate for each co-teaching situation. The literature has identified many benefits to co-teaching as an inclusive practice. For students who are co-taught, the potential benefits included increased individual attention (Scruggs et al., 2007; Harpell & Andrews, 2010), reduced negative behaviors, improved social skills and self-esteem, and increased academic achievement (Rea, McLaughlin & WalterThomas, 2002) Not in references. This increase in academic achievement was not readily transferred to high-stakes testing situations. Idol (2006) Not in references found that scores on high-stakes tests were only slightly affected by co-teaching for either general education or special education students. Likewise, Rea et al. (2002) Not in references found that while students with learning disabilities in co-taught classrooms performed better on report card grades, their performance on high-stakes tests was comparable across classroom types. This 32

SANDRA COOLEY NICHOLS and ADRIANE N. SHEFFIELD brings into question the measures currently being used to determine the effectiveness of coteaching. In addition to benefits for students, there are benefits for professionals as well. First, both general education and special education teachers report professional growth as a result of co-teaching arrangements (Murawski & Lochner, 2011; Scruggs et al., 2007). In addition, teachers report shared accountability and responsibility for students; improved morale and reduced burnout, and the use of increased instructional strategies (Friend et al., 2010). Kloo and Zigmond (2008) question whether there is actual evidence to support that co-teaching is effective in its present form. For while there are benefits to co-teaching for educators, numerous concerns still exist regarding co-teaching situations. Teacher concerns included: a need for common planning time (Friend et al, 2010). Scruggs et al, 2007; teacher assignment to coteaching situations (Rytivaara & Kershner, 2012), and the need for additional professional development (Hines, 2008; Rice, 2008; Ryan, 2010) and administrative support Kloo & Zigmond, 2008; Hines, 2008; Rice, 2006). The Role of Administrators Research has found that administrators are critical of the implementation of inclusive practices. An administrator has significant power and influence over establishing and maintaining inclusive settings, and this happens on multiple levels. First and foremost, a principals beliefs, attitudes, and values about inclusion (Rice, 2006; Ryan, 2010; Schmidt & Venet, 2012) set the tone and help to create a vision of inclusive schools. In order to influence teachers, principals must also increase their own knowledge and understanding of special education (Lynch, 2012). They must then model a positive attitude toward inclusive practices (Harpell & Andrews, 2010;Rice, 2006; Ryan, 2010) for their faculty and community. Second, it is crucial that principals serve as instructional leaders in their schools (Fullan, 2009; Lynch, 2012; Waldron, McCleskey & Redd, 2011). Educators need principals to be highly visible as instructional leaders. They need to create and encourage open dialogue and communication among all staff (Hines, 2008; Rice, 2006; Riehl, 2000). Hines (2012) lists six activities that encourage openness and collaboration. These include: (1) providing positive opportunities for sharing; (2) scheduling time for planning; (3) having teachers document their collaborative activities; (4) visiting other inclusive settings; (5) providing resources, and (6) celebrating successes. In addition, administrators must encourage and support parents, students, educators, and community members to take an active role in building an inclusive climate (Waldron et al., 2011). According to Lynch (2012), an inclusive learning environment is concerned with the schools emotional atmosphere, culture, values, and high expectations of all students, especially those with disabilities (p. 42). In order to develop more inclusive learning environments, administrators will need to influence and support teachers. One major teacher concern when initiating inclusive practices, particularly co-teaching, is planning time. This may require administrators restructuring the school day to provide adequate planning time for teachers to collaborate (Hines, 2008; Rice, 2006; Ryan, 2010) and modify curricula (Rice, 2006). In addition, administrators must provide ongoing professional development opportunities that facilitate and support inclusive practices (Hines, 2008; Rice, 2008; Ryan 2010). Principals can also demonstrate instructional leadership by addressing and mediating conflicts that may arise between constituents (Hines, 2008; Lynch, 2012; Rice, 2006). One important factor for administrators is the development and utilization of effective 33

SANDRA COOLEY NICHOLS and ADRIANE N. SHEFFIELD evaluation methods of inclusive practices within their school. Murawski and Lochner (2011) propose a framework for evaluating co-teaching that includes collection of documentation to encompass collaborative planning, reflective sharing and problem-solving, and examples of accommodated assignments. It provides administrators with a clear picture of what to ask for before observing and what to look for while observing. Questions remain about how administrators collaborate with community partners to initiate a cultural change in their schools around inclusion and how they evaluate the effectiveness of co-teaching situations within their school. Administrators must be proactive in the structuring of co-teaching relationships and diligent in providing support and feedback to teachers who are willing to take on the challenge of co-teaching. Their level of involvement and participation in professional development aimed at supporting inclusive learning environments could offer additional insight into how administrators implement and sustain cultural change within their schools. Additional information related to sharing responsibility and feedback provided to co-teachers could also be beneficial. The following reflective analysis begins to answer these questions. This analysis is associated with a larger study, which focused on the evaluation of a co-teaching professional development model.

Purpose Special education service delivery has been transformed over the past decade and is continually changing. Mainly, separate special education programs within schools have become integrated in theory [Response to Intervention and Positive Behavior Support] and policy [No Child Left Behind and Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act] with general education. Inclusion is the result of this integration. The effectiveness of implementing inclusive principles ranges from stellar to non-existent. Although the ideals of inclusion have been documented for more than 20 years, some professionals still refer to it as a new trend, and, unfortunately, many remain opposed to it. The opposition can be credited to a multitude of reasons. However, some are fear of the unknown, awareness of failed attempts, lack of support and enforcement by administrators, and reluctance to leave the comfort zone. Consequently, there are major challenges that must be addressed simultaneously in order for inclusion to have maximum effect. The cultural biases of teachers working collaboratively with multicultural colleagues and students, along with the shift from individual power to shared authority, must be readdressed. Research that gives attention to these areas in administrator and teacher preparation programs is needed. Thus, the purpose of this reflective analysis is to inform administrator preparation and professional development research related to special education. Methodology Participants Participants represented 18% (N = 49) of the total number of teachers employed with the district. Participants represented 25% (N = 49) of the total number of teachers employed with schools that participated in this study. All study participants were teaching in K-8th grade inclusive settings and/or co-teaching. Special educators who did not have co-teaching 34

SANDRA COOLEY NICHOLS and ADRIANE N. SHEFFIELD assignments but wanted to participate in the study were also included. A total of 37 general education teachers participated in the study. The 37 participants represented 20% (37 of 186 total) of general education teachers employed by the participating schools. A total of 12 special education teachers participated in the study; 11 had inclusive/co-teaching assignments, and 1 volunteered to participate. The participant who volunteered was assigned to teach in a segregated classroom setting. The 12 participants represented 80% (12 of 15 total) of special education teachers employed by the participating schools. The 49 participants represented two racial/ethnic groups: African-Americans (43.3% or N = 21) and Caucasians (56.7% or N = 28). The gender representation was 97.7% (N = 48) female and 2.3% (N = 1) male. Participants resided in rural, suburban, and urban geographical areas. Setting A public school district in rural southwest Tennessee was the setting of this study. The district consisted of 11 schools seven elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school, and one alternative school. A total of eight schools, six elementary and two middle, participated as the focus of this reflection. Total student enrollment was 3,562, and the total number of students receiving special education services was five-hundred seven (507) or 14.2% of the total population. Table 1 provides a description of the district student body demographics. Table 1 School District Demographics Characteristics African-American Asian Pacific Islander Hispanic Native American/ Alaskan White Limited English Proficient Economically Disadvantage Title I Female Male Number of Students 2,330 14 131 7 1,341 113 3,045 3,557 1,852 1,971 Percent of Students 60.9 .4 3.4 .2 35.1 14.2 82.1 93.0 48.4 51.6


SANDRA COOLEY NICHOLS and ADRIANE N. SHEFFIELD Procedure The building level principals and the Director of Special Services identified the special education and general education teachers who were included in the professional development project. Prior to initiation, these individuals were told that their participation in the study was voluntary; identifying information would not be attached to the data, and participation in the study could be terminated at any time. The potential participants were given a letter describing the study and a consent form which was read aloud and the meaning was discussed. The signed consent forms were collected from the individuals who chose to participate. General education and special education teachers assigned to co-teach formed school teams. These individuals jointly completed the professional development series, inclusive of planning, implementation, evaluation, and reflective activities. Participants engaged in an inclusion-focused professional development series that consisted of a summer, two and one half day retreat, bi-monthly professional development workshops, and an end of year celebration which focused on implementation of inclusive principles. In addition to the special and general education teacher participants, attendees of the summer retreat and bi-monthly professional development sessions included district administrators and principals from the 8 representative schools. Bi-Monthly Professional Development Bi-monthly professional development sessions were conducted throughout the school year. Participants attended two four-hour professional development sessions per month. The bimonthly professional development sessions were held on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of each month (September April) from 10:00 a.m. 2:00 p.m. There was a total of 14 sessions. Professional development activity. A basic format was followed during each professional development session; the objectives of each session were connected to a co-teaching strategy. Knowledge introduction sessions began with a welcome, followed by a team-building activity. The team building activities were infused with probes that required participants to express their views related to specific topics. The instructional portion of the sessions included a review of previously covered information. The conceptual foundation of co-teaching models and strategies was reviewed and/or presented. A visual depiction, an illustration, and a description of the strategy were disseminated. The professional development leaders modeled the strategy. The teams created lesson plans based on the strategies. Participants had to ensure that they addressed multicultural considerations in their plans. The professional development leaders and participants involved provided feedback and engaged in topic discussions. The teams implemented the plans before the next professional development session. Implementation follow-up sessions began with the welcome and a team-building activity. However, the instructional portion of the session began with a discussion of implementation and was focused on reflection and adjustment. The leaders shared examples of ways to adapt instruction and helped participants process interpersonal conflicts. Instructional concerns were addressed, such as limited content knowledge and differing ways to problem solve, as well as using assistive technology and alternative strategies. Relational barriers were also processed, such as sharing authority, parity, balancing responsibility, and communication. 36

SANDRA COOLEY NICHOLS and ADRIANE N. SHEFFIELD Data Collection Personal documents: Each session included a brief period for reflection during which participants were encouraged to journal about experiences related to their practice and to the study. The journaling assignment [15 minutes of free writing] was connected with a break [15 minutes], so participants had up to 30 minutes to privately reflect. Participants responses to the activities that were integrated into the bi-monthly professional development sessions were used as personal documents. Personal documents are first person narratives of an individuals actions, experiences, and beliefs (Plummer, 1983; Taylor & Bogdan, 1984). Reflection Analysis Qualitative descriptive measures were used to review the reflections. The overarching family of codes that shaped the coding process was the participants ways of thinking about people and objects. The subjects understanding of each other, of outsiders, and of the objects that make up their world is the underpinning of this family of codes. The reflections consisted of personal documents that were first-person narratives of the participants actions, experiences, and beliefs. The personal documents contained a total of 1,138 statements. Generally accepted procedures for coding/identifying themes (e.g., Bogdan & Bilken, 1992) were used. The researcher conducted two training sessions for the three research assistants who were responsible for coding the data. The participants ways of thinking about people and objects family code description, and relevance to the study were reviewed. Techniques of coding and identifying themes were presented. The researcher and the three research assistants [coders] coded simulated data sets until inter-rater reliability was established. The data were reviewed for similarities and patterns, as well as reoccurring topics; representative words and phrases were listed. The coders met to condense the representative words and phrases into coding categories by combining repetitive and like words/phrases, as well as eliminating outliers/items that did not address the study topic. By following these procedures, 10 categories/reoccurring themes were identified from the data; only major code categories were utilized in this study. See Table 3 for a list of the coding categories [major themes]. After the major codes/themes were finalized, the coders analyzed the data by marking each unit with the appropriate coding category. Coders were paired to conduct inter-rater reliability checks on the data. Finally, each response was correlated with the 10 codes/themes. Refer to Table 2. Results Participants Referred to the Lack of a Clear Understanding of the Meaning of Culture Participants responses indicated that prior to participation in the professional development series many did not know the correct definition of culture. Likewise, they reported Can this be moved to under the table so the sentence is not split up by the table? The way it is now makes it difficult to follow the sentence.


SANDRA COOLEY NICHOLS and ADRIANE N. SHEFFIELD Table 2 Coded Data by Percentages and Numbers of Items Representing Major Themes
Major Themes % #

Participants referred to the lack of a clear understanding of the meaning of culture.



Participants appreciated the opportunity to learn about multicultural considerations in educational settings. Participants discussed respecting cultural differences.





Participants discussed the frustrations that they experience when working with students that they do not understand.



12.6 Participants discussed the frustrations that they experience when working with coteachers that they do not understand.


Participants noted an increase in their comfort level related to working with their coteaching team.



Participants indicated that administrators have to require integration of cultural consideration in lesson planning and delivery for it to be sustained.



Participants explained how they use multicultural considerations to work more effectively with their co-teachers.



Participants stated that they were able to measure the changes in their students productivity based on multicultural considerations they applied in lesson planning and delivery.





Participants addressed the impact that having a better understanding of their co-teachers culture(s) and behavior patterns had on their ability to collaborate.



Other responses Participants made statements about co-teaching that were not specifically related to multicultural education. 9.6 109

Participants made unrelated statements

Total responses 1,138




that their views and opinions of cultural differences were distorted; thus, few cultural considerations were incorporated into their lesson plans or delivery. Some of the participants said that they were saddened by the self-discovery of their limited knowledge about culture and diversity. Others were agitated by the idea of having to incorporate more into instruction. Participants Appreciated the Opportunity to Learn about Multicultural Considerations in Educational Settings Participants stated that the information that they learned about cultural considerations was beneficial and that they were interested in learning more. They discussed benefits such as having a context for certain behaviors and/or customs. Interest in learning more about cultures effect on learning and parental involvement was mentioned numerous times. Additionally, participants provided examples of ways they were referring to cultural considerations during lesson planning and delivering instruction via the six co-teaching models. Participants Discussed Respecting Cultural Differences Participants discussed the value of understanding students cultures related to lesson planning, delivery, and language. Reference was made to the possibility of offending students when presenting content. Specifically noted was the need for techniques that support introducing and examining sensitive issues. Also of concern was the fear of integrating inappropriate examples (e.g., objects, animals, and people) or manipulatives into instruction.


SANDRA COOLEY NICHOLS and ADRIANE N. SHEFFIELD Participants Discussed the Frustrations That They Experienced When Working with Students They Did Not Understand Participants began describing their feelings and beliefs about working with some of their culturally diverse students with disabilities and those who are typically developing. They frequently mentioned being disheartened about not being able to reach some of their students. They described their frustrations and ideas about students inability/lack of interest. However, participants also stated that they were better able to reach their students after developing an understanding of culture and diversity. Participants Discussed the Frustrations That They Experienced When Working with CoTeachers That They Did Not Understand Participants (special education teachers) said that they were tired of being treated as if they were not professionals. Participants (general education teachers) stated they were uncomfortable releasing authority in their classes to someone who is not held accountable for [standardized] scores. Many participants (special education and general education teachers) were open to learning to work together and believed that understanding their co-teachers culture(s) and reasons for behaviors would help them build mutual trust and respect. Participants Noted an Increase in Their Comfort Level When Working with Their CoTeaching Teams Participants stated that understanding their co-teachers culture(s) allowed them to examine their personal comfort levels and set the stage for working together to overcome and work around barriers. Participants Indicated That Administrators Have to Require Integration of Cultural Considerations in Lesson Planning and Delivery for it to be Sustained Participants believed efforts to encourage their colleagues who did not participate in the professional development to utilize cultural considerations were met with opposition. They felt that little would be done or sustained without administrative support. Participants compared integration of multicultural considerations to inclusion. They eluded that, similar to inclusion, it was difficult to fully embrace the integration of multicultural considerations when they are inconsistently implemented. Participants Explained How They Use Multicultural Considerations to Work More Effectively with Their Co-Teachers Participants mentioned that having insight into their co-teachers culture(s) allowed them to better determine how to assign specific responsibilities for the six co-teaching models. Participants also indicated that they have better ideas of ways to support each another. They stated that understanding their co-teachers behavior helped improve working conditions.


SANDRA COOLEY NICHOLS and ADRIANE N. SHEFFIELD Participants Stated That They Were Able to Measure the Changes in Their Students Productivity Based on Multicultural Considerations They Applied in Lesson Planning and Delivery Participants were able to describe the considerations they made during lesson planning. They were able to provide concrete examples of changes to instruction. Participants noted increases in student engagement, on-task behavior, and mastery of content. Participants Addressed the Impact That Having a Better Understanding of Their CoTeachers Culture(s) and Behavior Patterns Had on Their Ability to Collaborate Participants discussed how understanding culture and human behavior, as well as professional expectations, assisted them with collaboration. Participants elaborated on the need to work together to benefit students. Participants stated that they were getting to know their audiences better and using the information to engage in professional communication and collaboration more effectively. Limitations While careful consideration was given to the multicultural education materials and topics that were linked to the inclusive principles and co-teaching content, there was not an established curriculum that was implemented. The researcher designed the curriculum to address the specific needs of the district related to implementation of inclusive practices. Multicultural considerations were not addressed in the research questions. Thus, the information extract was not deliberately collected and well defined.

Discussion The Elephant in the Room is the lack of attention and preparation that is provided to teachers assigned to teach in inclusive settings, especially those who co-teach. While the inability to process cultural differences and come to a common understanding of professional roles, expectations, and implementation principles may not be an issue for all, it is reasonable to estimate that it is an area of concern for many. The concern intensifies when teachers are located in areas that have a history of social division or separation among specific groups, whether ethnic, political, racial, or gender related. What the evidence showed is that perceptions of groups, stereotypes, fears, etc. impacted interactions with colleagues and students. Merely requiring adults to work together for the common good of students is not enough. It is imperative that effective professional development that enhances teachers and administrators knowledge of basic multicultural considerations is provided. It is also necessary to ensure that proper implementation of these considerations, principles, and practices occur consistently over time. These assumptions are justified by the aforementioned reflections. The reflections shared in this manuscript supported previous scholarship on inclusive practices that included basic multicultural considerations (Murtadha-Watts & Stoughton, 2004). Participants believe that co-teaching enabled teachers to provide explanations from two perspectives which allowed them to attend to cultural considerations. Participants also stated 41

SANDRA COOLEY NICHOLS and ADRIANE N. SHEFFIELD that they developed an appreciation for knowing students, understood the importance of needing to be familiar with the students culture, and noticed improved attitudes of teachers reluctant to accept implementation of the co-teaching models. This realization parallels the conclusions drawn by Trent, Artiles, Fitchett-Bazemore, McDaniel, and Coleman-Sorrell (2002). Throughout the project, participants reflections documented a gradual shift from a uniform understanding of culture and knowing students to a more realistic understanding. Initially, participants definitions of diversity and culture were not based on research or scholarship. Their ideas were formed from life experiences and were very limited. None of the participants had an accurate understanding of the definitions of the terms presented (culture and diversity). Participants associated culture with ethnic background most frequently. Participants generally associated diversity with individuals who identified themselves as not being White. Consequently, an overwhelming majority of the participants understanding of cultural differences and similarities among and between their students was misinformed.

Implications The present findings emphasized the need for additional administrator training related to facilitating inclusive environments in PK-12 schools. Inclusivity is wide in range and requires that attention is given to sensitive issues. Administrators must be prepared to handle these situations professionally. Likewise, there is a need for more teacher preparation program effectiveness research focused on in-service teachers practicing in multicultural inclusive settings. The barriers that are associated with stereotypes and misconceptions will continue to plague the effectiveness of inclusive programs, unless practical solutions are identified and implemented. Administrators must determine how they will address teachers and their own personal biases that may greatly impact the facilitation of inclusion, as well as other systemic initiatives.

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SANDRA COOLEY NICHOLS and ADRIANE N. SHEFFIELD Authors Sandra Nichols, Ph. D. is an Associate Professor and Department Head at the University of Alabama. Her scholarly interests focus on teacher preparation and practice with an emphasis on special education. Her research explores the intersection of teacher knowledge and skills, practice in authentic educational settings, and the impact of culture and subcultures on student outcomes. Her work has been published in national and international journals, as well as books and book chapters. Adriane Sheffield is a Post Graduate Student in the Educational Studies in Psychology, Research Methodology, and Counseling Department at the University of Alabama. Her scholarly interests include disproportionality, encouragement in educational settings, and after school programs. She has conducted presentations in her areas of interest at national and regional conferences.