Retention of special education professionals: Perceptions of principal support
The field of special education is faced with the challenge of a national shortage of special education professionals, including teachers, speech-language pathologists and psychologists. This has devastating effects on students with disabilities, as they do not have the benefit of well-qualified, experienced professionals due to a continual turnover of staff. This research focused on the retention of special education professionals, as approximately 50% leave before their fifth year, and this trend is expected to continue. Beginning professionals are most vulnerable, particularly in the first three years of teaching. Research has examined factors that impact a special education professionals' job satisfaction, and consequently their motivation to remain in the field. The number one factor cited was building administrator's support.
This research explored the phenomena of building administrator support to special education professionals. Surveys were sent to over 300 special education professionals in a large urban school district. Included in the survey were items that described behaviors/attributes of principals that fell into one of 6 categories of principal support: emotional, appraisal, instrumental, informational, advocacy for students with disabilities, and knowledge of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Respondents were asked to rate how important these attributes were to them, and to what extent they perceived receiving this support from their principal. In total, 216 (59%) of special education professionals from all grade levels in a large urban school district participated in the survey. Findings indicated that emotional support from principals was rated the highest in importance by special education professionals, followed by knowledge of the special education law (IDEA), advocacy for students with disabilities, instrumental, appraisal and informational support. The individual behavior/attribute ranked highest was: Is honest and straightforward with the staff.
Special education professionals indicate that various forms of principal support were “moderately” to “very important” to them. However, they reported that they received this support only up to “some” extent. Several factors may contribute to this discrepancy, including role ambiguity between principals and special education administrators, as well as lack of knowledge of special education law and procedures for building administrators.
0529: Special education