Issues Surrounding Needs of Students With Disabilities

The essential aspects of modern-day education are based on the concepts of equity and equality. Education evolved from an elitist and segregated institution reserved only for the rich, able, and powerful, towards an inclusive and integrated model. Inclusion and the introduction of students with disabilities into public schools is a worldwide phenomenon as the rights and contributions of disabled individuals become more recognized by society (Felder, 2018). This trend became prominent with the adoption of a landmark federal legislation called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975, which entitled individuals with various physical and mental disabilities to the use of public classrooms (Yell, Rogers, & Lodge-Rogers, 1998). Ever since, schools and teachers were required to provide special accommodations for students with various disabilities to help them fulfill their educational needs (Yell et al., 1998).

After the IDEA was enacted, a significant number of students with disabilities began to receive education in generalized classroom settings. It means that although they receive special services from school authorities and education facilities, they spend the majority of their time alongside non-impaired individuals. According to Ruijs and Peetsma (2009), the introduction of the least restrictive environment (LRE) greatly improved the autonomy of students and helped them increase their academic performance, participate in classroom and community activities, while also reducing the stigmatizing effects of special education (Salend & Duhaney, 1999; Ruijs & Peetsma, 2009). Nevertheless, research shows the existence of restrictive stressors associated with educators’ stereotyped perception, fit of advisors, low quality of support services, and lack of knowledge which lead to a lower level of academic success (Hong, 2015).

The ethical issue of teachers being unable or unwilling to accommodate students with disabilities was brought to the forefront of public discussions. According to Dowrick, Anderson, Heyer, and Acosta (2005), teachers in generalized classrooms frequently fail to accommodate all educational needs of students with disabilities. Despite robust federal legislation for educating students with special needs, researchers, parents, and others stakeholders raise a high concern regarding the fact that educators tend to students with disabilities and instruct them in an appropriate manner (Damianidou & Phtiaka, 2018). This means schools are not doing enough to accommodate learners with disabilities and help them reach academic success.

While the reasons for the abovementioned failure can vary depending on contexts and situations, teachers’ level of competence, attitudes, and approaches to students still can be considered the major factors contributing to the problem. The power and importance of the generalist teacher in today’s diverse educational environment cannot be underestimated. According to Forlin and Chambers (2017), “inclusive education requires generalist teachers to be able to cater for the needs of the most diverse student populations academically, socially and culturally” (p. 563). Therefore, when teachers do not engage in their respective duties, for whatever reasons, it presents an ethical issue.

The major problem is that teachers ignore the needs of students with disabilities in the classroom (Damianidou, & Phtiaka, 2018). Sometimes, they have low expectations from them, ignore modification, and do not employ inclusive teaching practices. More precisely, this issue compromises ethics of care and justice on several parameters, which also violates the ethics of teaching. In this case, teachers prevent students from accessing the material in equal measure with other students. Consequently, the quality of education for students with disabilities without special modifications and accommodations drops dramatically.

Education is supposed to recognize every student’s learning, academic, personal, and social needs as well as their values (Litwack, 2003). In the failure to provide proper instructions and adjustments, teachers do not recognize the specific needs of a student, failing to take personal responsibility for the quality of their work. In this case, teachers do not respect students’ dignity, worth, and uniqueness, which is their right, according to the code of teaching ethics (Litwack, 2003). As a result, the students do not learn following their educational ability and potential.

The major assumptions behind the issue of the failure to accommodate students with disabilities in the classroom can be classified into some major groups: the lack of training and knowledge; the lack of experience; the lack of support, time, and resources to meet the needs of students with disabilities; conscientious objections to the practice (Leatherman, 2007; O’Gorman & Drudy, 2010; Hong, 2015; Hernandez, Hueck, & Charley, 2016).

The lack of training and knowledge comes at the forefront of most researches that is dedicated to the subject of decreased academic performance in students with disabilities.

According to Moriarty (2007), inclusive pedagogy presents various barriers that impede teachers’ creation of an encouraging learning environment for all students. In particular, the lack of an inclusive mindset and insufficient knowledge of pedagogic principles, which reflect the low willingness of educators to assist students with disabilities. Many teachers cannot comprehend that such students have special needs and require an individual approach that can be accomplished via modifications and accommodations (Moriarty, 2007). In addition, the assumption is associated with limited time and high teaching loads, which lead to the inability of educators to develop and introduce new methods of teaching. In the instances when they do apply certain techniques and programs to try to help students with disabilities, these tools are often used improperly. These research findings demonstrate that even though inclusive pedagogy is regarded as the key strategy across countries to involve students with disabilities in the general learning environment, educators’ beliefs, knowledge, and accessibility of multimodal teaching tools identify inclusivity.

As Leatherman (2007) claims, the majority of educators perceive inclusion as a positive phenomenon yet many also indicate a need for training and skill development, greater support from school administration, and inter-professional collaboration. To work with special education students more effectively, teachers should be trained on how to design curricula and modify instructional practices in a way that all learners’ needs are met. In addition, they must know how to manage the behaviors of those students and be provided with adequate support services. Overall, at the present moment, many generalist educators lack confidence and self-efficiency in teaching special education students. O’Gorman and Drudy (2010) and Goddard and Evans (2018) also state that the root of the issue lies in the limited professional pre-service training. Students who study teaching are not provided with access to professional development resources focused on types of learning disabilities and evidence-based instructional strategies that could be used in inclusive classroom environments.

Among the teachers who do have some sort of specialized training in educating disabled individuals, many of them lack practical experience in the classroom. The number of students with various disabilities is increasingly enrolling in schools, colleges, and universities. Avramidis and Kalyva (2007) state that little experience in applying the learned tools and strategies to real people and situations requires a degree of flexibility and adjustment. In addition, various physical and mental disabilities create a discrepancy in knowledge and experience in dealing with certain types of teaching tools. In other words, the lack of training and experience makes it difficult to accommodate different kinds of disabilities. An individual with a physical disability would not necessarily have issues understanding the material, whereas students with mental disorders or learning inefficiencies would require a different approach. As a result, many teachers are not prepared to deal with all different types of disabilities, which results in exclusion and a lack of equity in studying (Avramidis & Kalyva, 2007).

The lack of time and resources play an important part in causing the object of the ethical dilemma. Westwood and Graham (2003) report that generalist teachers are concerned with balancing teaching to the whole class, providing additional supervision for special students, and curriculum progression. According to Skaalvik and Skaalvik (2010), the correlation between burnout and overworked schedules contributes to high turnover rates among generalist educators. In comparison, Hernandez et al. (2016) claim that self-efficacy levels among special education teachers are higher than those of generalist teachers. It must be noted that special education teachers usually have smaller classes and more personalized schedules, which could be the contributing factor to their higher self-efficacy levels.

Another issue is a lack of inter-professional collaboration promotion between generalist and special education teachers. Fuchs (2010) claims that despite the availability of resources, generalist teachers prefer not to refer to the administration or their colleagues as this is considered undermining their authority. Therefore, educators tend to encounter loneliness due to a lack of support from the administration and perceived unproductivity of resources (Bender, Vail, & Scott, 1995). In addition, seeking assistance from colleagues who may know more about inclusive pedagogy is also regarded as time-consuming.

The last assumption revolves around conscious opposition to inclusivity and the focus on disabled individuals during classroom studies. Historically, the teaching community was not positive about working with students with special needs (Crowson & Brandes, 2014). Some teachers find the concept of inclusion to be flawed since the purpose of a teacher is to ensure the success of the best students rather than assisting the alternatively capable ones. Others state that an unreasonable amount of time is needed to make modifications for special education needs (SEN) students (Crowson & Brandes, 2014). In particular, attending educational meetings, creating alternative learning programs, and spending time with other specialists seem to be inappropriate to them. Such educators believe that an unfair amount of time, attention, and resources are required for students with disabilities compared to the other learners in the class.

As it is possible to see, the majority of assumptions behind the topic of teachers’ exclusion of students with disabilities and their failure to provide an encouraging learning environment and meet their need lies in the dimensions of time, experiences, knowledge, and support. All of these issues must be addressed to facilitate a better environment and meet the needs of all students.

Neglect towards students with disabilities violates their fundamental rights for educational development. Teachers’ failure to modify instructional strategies and curricula to meet those students’ needs and interests limits opportunities of the latter for equal access to education. As it was discussed above, a large percentage of educators have to advance their knowledge and skills and must also be rendered adequate support from principals to work with all children well. Considering this, it is essential to create a strategy that would help teachers serve the needs of students with disabilities effectively. Maciver et al. (2017) state that to foster better inclusion, teachers must have well-developed skills and understanding of how to do that. Thus, an action plan that will be developed in the present paper will allow school staff to create inclusive environments better. It will aim to enhance teachers’ self-efficacy, knowledge, and skills and to build collaboration between general and special education professional teams. Additionally, the action plan will have an objective to provide principals with the knowledge they may need to accelerate the development of school-wide inclusive environments. By following the suggested plan, professionals playing distinct roles in schools will be able to alter their practices in a way that accommodates the interests and developmental needs of each student.

For each change there is resistance. It is important to understand the resistance to change. If staff does not comprehend the meaning of imposed changes, they are likely to feel discouraged to engage in its realization. Lewin’s Change Management Model can assist in involving employees in the change process and reduce their resistance to change. It comprises three stages: unfreeze, change, and refreeze. The first one is the preparation for change and it requires the communication of a need for a shift to an inclusive practice to all educators in the school. It implies a full disclosure of the existing ethical issue and why it should be eliminated. The second stage refers to the implementation of the action plan. The last stage is about solidifying the change. It includes an interim assessment of the progress and adjustments to the performance. This will help the school system/ school district to reduce the resistance and make a successful change.

After meeting with all staff members to discuss the problem and the goals, the action plan below would be implemented as a solution for this issue. The improvement of principals’ performance is important for better student and teacher learning and the cultivation of a healthy and supportive school climate. The first step is providing professional development for principals. The goal of this action is to promote their knowledge and skills to create transforming the culture and practice of schools into inclusive schools. It will be focused on the following factors: equity, inclusiveness, support, and empowerment of teachers to meet student’s needs in their classroom. Experts will be attended and will engage principals in collaboration with other principals from whom they would be able to learn how to create inclusive schools. According to Ainscow (1999), the active participation of principals is the main factor ensuring the effective inclusion of students with special needs in educational activities. Their responsibilities include the promotion of inclusive school cultures and instructional programs that address the needs of students. Therefore, this step is based on the transformational leadership theory. Transformational leadership is an approach to management and organization, in which leaders seek to create positive changes in their followers (Bass and Riggio, 2006). It works by demonstrating four factors such as individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, charismatic leadership, and idealized influence upon the subordinates (Bass and Riggio, 2006). As the main figure in the hierarchical structure, it falls upon the principal to influence teachers and allow them to affect students similarly. The role of the principal is key to improving the educational environment for students with disabilities, teachers, and within educational institutions in general. The research indicates that transformational leadership is useful in facilitating training programs, which teachers may further employ (Thoonen, Sleegers, Oort, Peetsma, & Geijsel, 2011).

As has already been mentioned, many teachers feel that the administration is not providing enough support to them. This professional development will help principals to focus on creating a welcoming school culture, in which teachers can focus on improving the attitudes, believes, knowledge, personal skills, and self-efficacy (Waldron, McLeskey, & Redd, 2011). Administrators’ support is key to developing teachers’ sense of responsibility for working effectively with special education students. It is valid to say that principals’ orientation towards inclusion is one of the major success factors. When they believe that students with special needs can attain academic excellence in generalized classrooms, they create a climate that makes educators reflect upon their attitudes to and perceptions of inclusion. This notion is supported by Riehl (2000), who states that when school leaders are committed to equity and social justice, they undertake efforts to promote inclusive school cultures and develop constructive collaboration with all relevant stakeholders and, as a result, it can eventually transform organizational behaviors and practices. In this case, principals should ensure that there are learning strategies in place to support learning for all students. The role of the principal is to serve as a guide and a supporter of quality instructional practices (Waldron et al., 2011). For that reason, professional development will help principals to create good relations with teachers and students with disabilities and possess the knowledge of the strategies used to help students with disabilities to study.

The second step will aim to promote teachers’ self-efficacy by providing them with knowledge about inclusive classrooms that they may need. As noted above, many teachers do not have the required levels of self-efficiency to teach and meet the needs of students with disabilities. The theory proposed by Bandura (1977b) assists in making sense of this issue. The self-efficacy approach is part of the social cognitive theory, which attributes human behavior to a variety of personal and environmental factors (Bandura, 1997b). Self-efficacy affects human behavior by influencing their cognitive, affective, motivational, and decision-making processes. Importantly, self-efficacy has both a direct and indirect impact on the conduct of people. It determines whether a person has an optimistic or pessimistic manner of thinking and has a self-enabling or self-disabling worldview (Bandura, 1977a; Bandura 1997b).

Based on these parameters, teachers may look at particular issues positively or negatively. Self-efficacy has a large influence on the teaching process as well. Instructors, who believe they have expertise in establishing a positive learning environment, arrange their educational activities and settings differently than teachers who have low efficacy beliefs. The more self-efficient a teacher is, the more likely it is for them to use their time more effectively. This time could be spent on providing students with the appropriate instructions they need as well as on studying new information and practicing different techniques (Mojavezi & Tamiz, 2012). As a result, students with disabilities would receive the type and form of instruction that is reflective of their needs.

According to Mojavezi and Tamiz (2012), self-efficacy is an important predictor of teachers’ performance in classrooms, translating into better preparedness and teaching techniques adjusted to fit the learners’ needs. The self-efficacy of an educator indicates his or her views regarding their ability to employ effective strategies in a certain environment to achieve a specific educational goal (Tschannen-Moran, Hoy, & Hoy, 1998). Teachers’ self-efficacy ensures the educational success of students through differentiated instruction, enthusiasm, and dedication (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001). Therefore, it is important to boost teachers’ self-efficacy and self-perception as a way of encouraging them to learn and apply their knowledge and skills in differing situations.

One of the primary means of improving self-efficacy in a teacher is training. Professional development helps improve the quality of teaching and self-efficacy of educators and assists in meeting the needs of students with disabilities (Hashim, Ghani, Ibrahim, & Zain, 2014). The theory developed by Bandura (1977b) suggests that self-efficacy is a characteristic that changes continuously as the teacher becomes more experienced and receives new information. As a result, the dynamic of self-efficacy changes with experience. Short-term and long-term training would, thus, enhance the teacher’s capabilities for self-efficacy as well as their skills in dealing with children with disabilities. This confidence would also facilitate a change in attitude towards these children.

All teachers will attend the training to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary for meeting the instructional needs of students with disabilities successfully (Royster, Reglin, & Losike-Sedimo, 2014). Teacher training should consist of courses aimed to expand their knowledge and understanding, as well as interventions that have a purpose to address educators’ attitudes and to promote their willingness to include all students in regular classrooms. This training will be focused on these major areas: definition of the inclusion, the goals of the inclusive classroom, the importance to meet the needs of an individual student with disabilities in the inclusive classrooms, response to their needs, and inclusive services delivery. This training will be an effective tool that helps teachers to understand the needs of students and effectively respond to their needs and achieve equality. Moreover, professional development in inclusive classes is indeed helpful in changing the perceptions of educators, which directly affects the academic achievement of learners (Royster et al., 2014).

The third action is the promotion of differentiated instruction in the classroom. This session will discuss the correct definition of differentiated instruction according to education experts and differentiated instruction strategies for classroom teachers to use in their classrooms. It will also provide educators with an opportunity for reflection on current differentiated instruction practices and how to improve them. Lastly, the session will focus on the creation of lessons by using the tools for differentiated instruction and the sharing of knowledge with other teachers. This approach implies achieving equality through diversified instruction and teaching students based on their level of readiness and individual learning styles (McLaughlin & Talbert, 1993). Sociocultural theory suggests that the interaction of students with various levels of development may be particularly helpful (Gauvain & Cole, 1997). In this scenario, learners will cooperate with more skilled students and reach the Zone of Proximal Development faster. This concept implies that a student has specific functions he or she can develop if guided by adults or supported by more skilled peers (Gauvain & Cole, 1997). Thus, it is assumed that teacher-student interaction and cooperation between students, as well as flexible instruction, are central to differentiation (Subban, 2006).

It should be noted that the use of differentiated instruction is beneficial for all students. It implies that the teacher comprehends that all students learn at their pace, and a uniform approach is not applicable. Each student has his or her learning style, and differentiated instruction allows addressing the unique needs and capabilities of each student. To achieve differentiation, the instructor may adapt the curriculum so that it includes various educational forms and flexible instructional strategies (Subban, 2006). This way, all students will become part of the educational process, and learners with disabilities will not feel excluded from general-education classrooms (Broderick, Mehta-Parekh, & Reid, 2005). In that matter, instructors must develop responsive lessons that will accommodate the needs of students with different levels of development and performance. This requires teachers to abandon such activities as one-to-one skills and drills and use their creativity to make the exercises, instructions, and tasks as responsive as possible.

Moreover, this approach implies a change in instructional focus to achieve equity among learners, which is one of the requirements specified in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Broderick et al., 2005). The purpose of diversified instruction is to meet the individual needs of each student and maximize their potential based on their learning capabilities and the current state of development. Teachers should strive to assist students with disabilities in achieving learning progress at their pace (Broderick et al., 2005). Therefore, differentiated instruction is a strategy that pushes teachers to abandon activities aimed at completing the curriculum and adopt a new approach that caters to students’ distinct needs (Tomlinson, 2001).

The choice and organization of content play a primary role in the effectiveness of differentiation. Educators need to select content based on the objectives they want to achieve during every lesson and activity. Moreover, they should choose instructional approaches that correlate with the learning styles of students and their levels of readiness (Subban, 2006; Tomlinson, 2001). As stated by Tomlinson (2001), instructors should pay particular attention to three areas, which are learning content, process, and product. This session will help teachers to differentiate instruction by adjusting the contact, process, and product based on students’ interests, learning preferences, and readiness. This way, differentiated instruction, and inclusive education will become more meaningful and will be implemented at the required level.

The last step will focus on building and strengthening collaborative relationships between general and special education teachers to meet student needs. Notably, there is an evident need to build and facilitate cooperation and interdependence between general teachers and special education teachers in the classroom. According to Al-Natour, Amr, Al-Zboon, and Alkhamra (2015), in some cases, a collaboration between general teachers and special education teachers occurs at a low level or is limited. Educators have a very specific view of how collaboration should proceed when working with a student with special needs. Many teachers believe that they should work separately with the same student in mainstream schools. Thus, they do not see collaboration as a continuous process that involves teachers working interactively to address the needs of the student (Al-Natour et al., 2015). There is often power tension between teachers within the classroom, and the rivalry present between them results in avoidance of consultations for the sake of maintaining an image of competence (Hamilton-Jones & Vail, 2013). This issue comes from the currently upheld independence model, in which every teacher is considered a separate unit rather than a part of the whole.

It should be mentioned that Ainscow (1999) emphasized the importance of social relationships between educators to achieve the goals of inclusion. The relationship and collaboration should be built on social interdependence theory. This theory suggests that positive interdependence is a notion, which implies that individuals can achieve their aims when their partners also reach their goals. This means that instructors need to support and encourage each other to achieve educational success (Johnson, Johnson, & Anderson, 1983). Such an approach stimulates teachers to cooperate and ensures they recognize their responsibility in the success of the other instructor’s activities (Johnson et al., 1983). This approach places a particular emphasis on building effective cooperative teams. Instead of being rivals, general teachers and special needs educators should regard one another as part of the process.

General and special education teachers will attend this training. The goal of this session is to build a collaborative relationship between general and special education teachers. This meeting will discuss what a collaborative team is. It will provide teachers with strategies that they need to implement for successful collaboration. Training participants will learn how to design accessible lessons and assessments that would be aligned with students’ needs and content goals.

As Lingo, Barton-Arwood, and Jolivette (2011) suggest, teachers may conduct classes together and cooperate to devise grading rubrics, instruction, and tasks to accommodate the needs of special learners. Each educator has a specific role to fit, with the general teacher providing field notes and on-site observations whereas the special needs educator could use their expanded knowledge on the subject to equip the general teacher with a necessary framework and a list of tools to be used for a particular student. It is important to note that neither of the educators is in a subordinate position since the theory of social interdependence relies on respect, communication, parity, and trust for relationship collaboration (Johnson et al., 1983).

The school needs to strengthen collaborative relationships between general and special education teachers to meet student needs and reduce professional knowledge deficiencies by providing teachers with effective collaboration strategies, sufficient time to work together, and appropriate training and support (Al-Natour et al., 2015; Lingo et al., 2011). As a result, the quality of education and teachers’ professional knowledge will increase and, thus, will lead to innovative and appropriate methods to be implemented in the classroom. The dilemma of professional incompetence in teaching students with disabilities would reduce as a result.

The survey will be collected as a final step to evaluate progress and formulate further steps that the school system will need to take for the next time. Also, we will continue to assess the system by looking at the achievements of students with disabilities.

Educational norms and practices should be created to address the needs of students with disabilities. The children must play an important part in formulating and informing the existing curriculum. Therefore, paying less attention and ignoring students with disabilities by the teachers within the education system is a direct violation of the tenets of the professional code of ethics. People involved in the students with disabilities’ learning environment, particularly the general and special education teachers and school administrators, should coordinate with one another towards meeting the needs of these students and providing them with equal opportunities. This paper provides an action plan that can be implemented in a school setting to solve the discussed ethical dilemma and improve the learning experience for everyone. It will contribute to improving the skills, knowledge, and self-efficacy of educators while helping school administrations to involve students with disabilities in the inclusive classroom.

References

  1. Drazin, R., Glynn, M. A., & Kazanijan, R. K. (2004). Dynamics of structural change. In M. S. Poole & A. H. Van de Ven (Eds.), Handbook of organizational change and innovation (pp. 161-189). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  2. Maciver, D., Hunter, C., Adamson, A., Grayson, Z., Forsyth, K., & Mcleod, I. (2017). Supporting successful inclusive practices for learners with disabilities in high schools: A multisite, mixed-method collective case study. Disability and Rehabilitation, 40(14), 1708-1717.

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