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Principals Utilizing Leadership for Special Education: The PULSE Workshop Model for Improving the Practice of Instructional Leadership for Special Education


Elementary principals are expected to be instructional leaders for all students. However when it comes to leadership for students with disabilities, this role can be problematic. This is largely due to a lack of their own efficacy about their special education leadership role, unfamiliarity about the unique cultural features of special education, and a lack of technical competence for special education. These factors contribute to a diminished principal leadership role. Special education leadership has become a significant concern for elementary principals as their roles have increased to ensuring successful outcomes for all students. The research has demonstrated that in general, principals receive little to no formal training in leading special education in pre-service or on-going professional development.

For this study, I developed a theory of action to guide the design and implementation to address the problem of practice for principals leading special education. Drawing from the literature on instructional leadership and special education leadership, I identified three key design dimensions to address principal learning in the area of special education instructional leadership: principal efficacy, the unique cultural aspects about special education, and technical competence for special education. I created a 10-week professional development intervention, referred to as PULSE - Principals Utilizing Leadership in Special Education: The PULSE Workshop Model for Improving the Practice of Instructional Leadership for Special Education.

During the course of the study, I investigated the impact of the design on the principals' learning and practice based on pre and post intervention data. In addition, I examined the design process including the appraisal of lesson content, instructional method, session length, and overall usefulness of curriculum material. Overall, the impact and process data findings suggest that the PULSE workshop series intervention contributed to enhancing principal instructional leadership behaviors for special education and the impact of that change can be attributed to the design of the intervention. Results reveal that the structure, content, and method of the PULSE intervention workshop helped shift principal behavior in a positive leadership direction. These findings also inform potential future design modifications that may be utilized to improve upon the foundational elements of the PULSE workshop intervention.

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