Making Principal Leadership More Inclusive

Making Principal Leadership More Inclusive

By Kaylan Connally
April 15, 2020

In this Voices from the Field piece, the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII) talks with Kaylan Connally from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to learn more about the Advancing Inclusive Principal Leadership (AIPL) State Initiative, which is a collaborative state effort to create and implement principal leadership plans focused on improving outcomes for every student, especially those with disabilities. She shares how the AIPL initiative can help states refine principal development supports to include an intentional focus on supporting the academic and social success of students with disabilities, including those in need of intensive intervention.

NCII: Tell us a little bit about the AIPL State Initiative and how it’s designed to support principals.

Kaylan Connally: CCSSO’s AIPL State Initiative is designed to help state education agencies—in partnership with key stakeholders—develop and implement a plan to advance the preparation and practice of effective inclusive principal leadership. This work grew out of CCSSO’s National Collaborative on Inclusive Principal Leadership (NCIPL), a diverse alliance of 20 organizations focused on strengthening supports for school leaders to meet the needs of students with disabilities. States’ work through AIPL is anchored in the online resource Supporting Inclusive Schools for the Success of Each Child: A Guide for States on Principal Leadership developed by NCIPL in partnership with the CEEDAR (Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform) Center and Oak Foundation.

Through the AIPL initiative, four states—Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Ohio—are working to deepen and refine their principal development efforts to ensure a focus on supporting the academic and social success of students with disabilities. Three of these states are building on prior educator preparation reform efforts through the CEEDAR Center. The broad goal of states’ work is to support the knowledge, mindsets, and skills of principals to effectively lead inclusive schools.

NCII: Why is it important for principals to have this knowledge and lead the charge for creating more educational opportunities and outcomes for students with disabilities?

Kaylan Connally: While some principals may have come to their position as a former special education teacher or having worked with students with disabilities, most principals do not have this experience. AIPL aims to ensure that all principals are equipped to support teachers across general and special education in ensuring high expectations and appropriate services and supports for students with disabilities.

Many states have adopted new professional standards for educational leaders and built strong school leader development systems aligned to the new standards. Still, states in the AIPL initiative have acknowledged that more work can be done to strengthen principal preparation and development to ensure a focus on the instructional leadership practices that are most effective for serving students with disabilities (for example, implementing Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and supporting teachers in implementation of High-Leverage Practices).

It is a critical time for states to use inclusive leadership as a lever for change, particularly in our nation’s lowest performing schools, since a preponderance of schools are being identified for improvement due to persistent opportunity and outcome gaps for students with disabilities. Strengthening the capacity of principals to cultivate effective, inclusive learning environments can be a strong strategy for states to continuously improve schools for all students who may struggle to learn.

NCII: What are some challenges or barriers that leaders face when they’re attempting to create inclusive cultures?

Kaylan Connally: One barrier is that despite an increased rate of inclusion, general education teachers report being under-prepared to best serve students with disabilities. According to a recent nationally representative survey from NCLD, only 17% of general education teachers report feeling very well-prepared to teach students with mild to moderate learning disabilities. Compounding this challenge, school principals often lack training (whether it’s in their initial preparation or ongoing development) on inclusive education and evidence-based instruction for students with disabilities. According to a recent nationally representative survey of principals, only 12 percent reported that they felt well-prepared and supported to serve students with disabilities.

If principals are provided a course on these topics in their initial preparation, that course is more likely to focus on the legal aspects surrounding the education of students with disabilities, rather than on building inclusive cultures and the instructional leadership practices most effective for ensuring that students with disabilities receive the support they need to access the general education curriculum.

It is important that principals understand best instructional practices for students with disabilities so that they can provide high-quality feedback, coaching, and professional development for teachers across general and special education to improve outcomes.

NCII: What tools or resources have been most helpful for these administrators when they are advancing that goal of creating a more inclusive school culture?

Kaylan Connally: The resource referenced earlier—Supporting Inclusive Schools for the Success of Each Child: A Guide for States on Principal Leadership—anchors this work. It offers state leaders eight key strategies to establish a vision for and integrate inclusive leadership into policy and practice to strengthen outcomes for students with disabilities. Each strategy is accompanied by specific recommendations, along with resources to support states during implementation. The resources in the Supporting Inclusive Schools guide represent the collective knowledge base of the NCIPL.

There is also the foundational resource that we released in partnership with the CEEDAR Center: PSEL 2015 and Promoting Principal Leadership for the Success of Students With Disabilities. This supplementary guidance document to the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders highlights the aspects of leadership practice that are particularly important for supporting the success of students with disabilities. It is contained in the digital guide referenced earlier along with other great resources from our partners at the CEEDAR Center, the IRIS Center, CAST, NCLD, and other organizations.

About the author

Kaylan Connally
Kaylan Connally
/ Council of Chief State School Officers

Kaylan Connally serves as Program Manager, Student Expectations at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) where she supports states’ efforts to develop and implement policies and practices that promote equitable outcomes for all learners, with a focus on students with disabilities. In this role, she helps build the capacity of states to strengthen their educator preparation and development programs for the success of each child. Prior to joining CCSSO, Kaylan held positions at New America and DC Public Schools where she wrote and worked on educator workforce policy and implementation. Kaylan began her career as a sixth-grade English teacher in Brooklyn. She holds an EdM in education policy and management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a BA from New York University.