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Open Access Publications from the University of California

How the Formal and Informal Social Networks of Special Education Teachers Shape Their Practice

  • Author(s): Wong-Hooker, Amie M
  • Advisor(s): Datnow, Amanda
  • et al.

Teacher collaboration has long been considered to be a vehicle for educational improvement. Meanwhile, some teachers find themselves disconnected and isolated from their colleagues, in part due to the roles they serve in schools. There is little research information on the social networks of special education teachers. This study is intended to learn more about the social connections from special education teachers’ perspective. These findings will help provide a better understanding of special education teachers network and their role collaborating, which can benefit special education students’ academic achievement. Using a parallel mixed method approach involving interviews and an ego network analysis, this study examines how special education teachers connect with general education teachers and other special education teachers. This study is grounded in research and theory on social networks and community of practice and in research on the work of special education teachers. Analysis of the data revealed that mild/moderate special educators viewed themselves in support roles rather than as a true co-teacher. Moderate severe special educators perceived their instruction as different and separate from general education. Although special education teachers share more connections formally with general education teachers, there are informal connections through co-teaching, social gatherings on campus, and by proximity of class location. The study also found with new policy initiatives that special educator did not perceive this as impacting their instruction, but more of a general educators’ role. This has implications for how leadership structures new policy reform and issues for the lack of planning and support with specialized programs.

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