Supporting Principals in Effectively Managing Special Education

 width=As the leader of the school, the principal is ultimately responsible for the education of each child, and both teachers and parents rely on them to ensure quality special education in their school. The principal knows the students, knows the parents, and knows the teachers. And it is the principal’s responsibility to create a school environment and culture of inclusiveness that supports all students’ learning.


The principal needs to make sure staff include adequately trained teachers and related services personnel and ensure that the education team meets the specific timelines and requirements for providing special education services.


Unfortunately, many principals still do not receive much training in the fundamentals of special education law or how to create a school culture that effectively supports students with disabilities, as Christina Samuels reported in a recent Education Week article, “The Important Role Principals Play in Special Education.” Many principals reported that their training is primarily gained “on the job.”


Special Education and Principal Collaboration

With the understanding that principals may have limited background in their areas of responsibility related to special education, special education administrators and staff can try to support principals in their work to manage special education. Some ways to provide support include working collaboratively, providing guidance, and maintaining a relationship of trust and open communication. The following are key areas in which principals may need additional training and support:

Legal Requirements

  • The laws regarding special education, what the laws require, the process of special education, and procedural safeguards to ensure school compliance with federal law.
  • How to lead their school staff in meeting Child Find and LRE requirements.

IEP Process

  • Understanding the IEP process and how the IEP should be implemented and monitored for success.
  • Their responsibilities when serving as the district’s representative at IEP team meetings.
  • Guidance on working with parents through the IEP process.

Behavior Management

  • Developing and implementing appropriate behavior management systems.
  • Discipline procedures for students with IEPs and Section 504 plans.

Strategies for Supporting Staff

  • Providing resources to meet the professional development needs of general education teachers and paraeducators who support students with exceptionalities.
  • Creating an environment that supports and facilitates collaboration between special education and general education teachers.

To help give principals, general education teachers, and paraeducators the professional development they need to effectively manage and deliver special education services, Exceptional Child provides expert-authored, online PD courses on a range of topics including special education law, behavior management, IEPs, instructional strategies, and more. Click here to view the full course list.


Source: A Principal’s Guide to Special Education, by David F. Bateman and C. Fred Bateman, published by the Council for Exceptional Children.

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