Drs. Karen McCaleb and Phyllis Robertson are exploring the best mechanisms for preparing all educators to coordinate and provide supports to students with low-incidence disabilities, specifically severe disabilities, in inclusive environments. They have made presentations of their work at national and international conferences including TASH and the Council for Exceptional Children.
Drs. Robertson, McCaleb & Smith have published the following article, which was highlighted by the American Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities on their Facebook page on March 21, 2017.
Robertson, P. M., McCaleb, K. N., & Smith, N. J. (2017). Future education leaders' needs in serving students with severe disabilities: A call for intentional preparation. Inclusion, 5, 60-76.
Drs. McCaleb and Robertson presented two sessions. The first, "The Journaling Journey: Self-Reflection and Impact on Practice," described the results of a qualitative analysis of journal entries of students enrolled in an interdisciplinary preparation program in low-incidence disabilities. Students' comments revealed their evolving perceptions of students with extensive and pervasive support needs, service delivery, and programming. The second session described results of evaluation data collected to measure the impact of the interdisciplinary preparation program.
Drs. Robertson and McCaleb presented results of a qualitative study conducted to determine the level of knowledge of school personnel regarding the services necessary to support students with severe disabilities and to determine the additional knowledge and skills required by these educators in order to meet not only the legal mandate but also the social justice goals of IDEA. Qualitative analysis of three discipline-specific focus groups (graduate students in educational leadership/educational administration, curriculum and instruction, and counseling) reveal that participants were largely unprepared to serve students with severe disabilities. They reported relying instead upon their ability to learn from colleagues and families, their own personal experiences, and their willingness to "take risks and fake it.” A number of barriers to effective inclusion were identified as educators described limited opportunities for meaningful collaboration, feeling afraid to ask for support and/or clarification, facing a system that often valued form over function, and working with students with disabilities who experienced segregation, isolation and neglect. Participants cited the need to create a supportive system for educators, students, and their families and offered suggestions for improving university-based preparation, professional development, and hands-on learning opportunities.
Drs. McCaleb and Robertson shared results of a survey designed to explore the perceptions of school administrators and counselors related to their preparedness to serve students with severe disabilities. While participants generally report feeling prepared for their roles in supporting students with significant support needs, both groups report relying on 'on the job training' as well as 'personal experiences' as their sources of preparation.
Inherited practices are common in schools but may not reflect best/most effective practices for students with severe disabilities. Neither does reliance on personal experience ensure accurate knowledge or effective practice. Both groups indicated needing training in similar areas (i.e., available services and supports, disability-specific information, and effective school-based strategies) along with training specific to their professional roles and responsibilities (e.g., special education law and working with parents).