Bridging classrooms: Collaboration between general and special ed
April 8, 2024
The following article was written by Tamra Simpson.
As an elementary school principal, one of the key aspects of my role is cultivating an environment of collaboration and understanding among our vibrant team of educators.
Operating as a thermostat that seeks to adjust the conditions of the school site to the precise setting that allows for community building and the fostering of healthy relationships is a challenge, but one that must be taken up.
This is especially important when setting the stage for fostering collaborative relationships and dialogue between our general education teachers and our special education, or SAI, teachers. The partnership between these two groups of educators is fundamental to ensuring that all our students, particularly those with learning disabilities, are given the support they need to thrive.
The collaboration between general education and special education teachers plays a crucial role in fostering an inclusive learning environment. By working together, these teachers can effectively implement Individualized Education Programs, adapt teaching methods to cater to diverse learning needs and ensure that all students are fully engaged in the learning process.
When the general education and special education teachers have the opportunity to share the same think tank, their two separate but equally important skill sets create an educational environment that is not only inclusive but also effective. When the collaboration of these two groups of educators are prioritized, expertise in understanding and addressing the unique needs of students with learning disabilities, standards-based instruction, curriculum content and classroom management are all present in the room.
However, collaboration is just the first step. It is equally important for general education teachers to understand how to support all students, especially those with learning disabilities. This understanding goes beyond knowing about a student’s IEP. It involves recognizing strengths and challenges of each student and the ability to respond in real time to the learner’s responses and adjust instruction accordingly. When this is present in the classroom, you witness the celebration of diversity and know that the teacher supports all students in reaching their full potential.
To support this process, district and site leadership should provide ongoing professional development opportunities that focus on addressing the diverse needs in the classroom. These sessions should aim to equip teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to support students with learning disabilities effectively. They should cover a range of topics, from understanding different types of learning disabilities and their impact on learning to implementing evidence-based teaching strategies that support diverse learning needs.
Truly, collaboration between general education teachers and special education teachers is not a mere option — it’s a necessity. More than 2 million school-age students in the United States identify as having a learning disability. More than 90 percent of fourth- and eighth-grade students with specific learning disabilities are not proficient in reading or math. It is only through such collaboration that we can create more equitable and accessible learning environment for all our students.
Many students remain underserved even though it’s been roughly 50 years since the authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. We must answer the call and do all we can to remove barriers and eliminate opportunity gaps.
Tamra Simpson is principal of Newberry Springs Elementary School in Silver Valley Unified School District.