Click here for an overview of Victoria's and Beth's joint research study.

Training Needs of Special Education School Administrators
Leadership Perspectives: Training Needs for Communicative Competence in
Special Education School Administrators
Dr. Vicki Kelly and Dr. Beth Brennan
Research Summary Presented at the GSOE Faculty Retreat
August, 2013
Every school improvement requires leadership to work collaboratively with teachers and parents
to create a sense of purpose and commitment to pursue a collective vision of collaboration (Chrispeels,
2002; Chrispeels & González, 2006; Louis & Miles, 1990; Togneri & Anderson, 2003). For special
education administrators, there is a heightened need for strong skills in the area of communication
competence due to the range of collaboration required by the responsibilities of the role ( Lashley &
Boscardin, 2003). Also, for the special education administrator, those interactions must be based on social
competencies that include cultural proficiency and responsivity (Bakken & Smith, 2011).
The reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA,
2006) directly calls for greater collaboration between parents of students with disabilities and their school
district through one of the main “core principles” of that legislation. However, recent studies have shown
that parent perception of the collaborative process is most often unfavorable (Cheatham, Hart, Malian &
McDonald, 2012). When looking at the mandate for collaboration in IDEA alongside the unfavorable
parent perceptions of that collaboration, it becomes increasingly clear that training in how to establish
collaborative working relationships between families and special education school leadership becomes
vital to the success of that dynamic.
Purpose of the Study
This study examined the communicative competence of educational leaders as it pertains to
parents of children with special needs. The researchers received full disclosure from those participants
with regard to the skills they perceive as most important to establish a relationship based on clear
communication with parents of children with special needs. This research is intended to further our
understanding of the needs of future leaders, and most importantly, the information gathered will assist in
planning and program development in educational leadership university coursework.
Brief Overview of Method
Participants responded to questions addressing the issues that hinder meaningful relationships and
participation in Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. Individual interviews were conducted
with purposefully chosen participants (administrators and parents) who had at least four years of
experience working in and with the present district and have participated in the IEP process. Data was
collected and analyzed from those who meet the criteria. The sample included leaders and parents from
school districts in Southern California.
Emergent themes were distinct and centered on process-oriented supports or relational aspects
that would render a special education administrator communicatively competent. Knowledge of the law
and the IEP process and procedures was viewed as an important responsibility of special education
administrators. Parent participants noted that administrators who were knowledgeable about the laws
were also the most creative in developing solutions to issues and recognizing possibilities that exist in
providing the best education for their child.
Relational aspects emphasized teamwork and sharing ideas of a common goal for the child.
Importance was placed on respect for all ideas from team members and valuing differing perspectives
can also be seen as a priority through the data. One parent expressed that a special education
administrator must have the ability to use language succinctly, structuring the conversation that doesn’t
give the impression the administrator is trying to flex their authority. “Creatively restructuring the
conversation” in order to help the parents feel that there are multiple possibilities as well as being honest
about challenges they may be confronted due to the child’s disability or placement.
Administrators revealed the importance of special education leaders having knowledge of the
process (i.e., laws, IEP procedures) as well as relational skills to develop teamwork, address conflicts in a
non-threatening manner and making it clear that the child with disabilities is valued as much as the nondisabled child.
Contribution to future development
Data and analysis from this study will be used to inform graduate level leadership training in the
GSOE at California Lutheran University. Data collected will also serve as a baseline for future grant
applications focusing specifically on funding that addresses leadership personnel preparation needs at the
graduate level. Future funding sources will be investigated as they relate to communication competence
of educational leaders and parents with children with special needs.