How current school leaders make sense of inclusive education policies : a qualitative exploration of graduates of a “high-quality” principal preparation program
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With increasing demand for school accountability following the NCLB Act of 2001, school leaders have a greater responsibility to students with disabilities than ever tinclude special education leadership due to the leadership imperative to meet the needs of all students (Lashley, 2007; Yell, 2012). Little attention, however, has been paid to special education and special education law in leadership preparation programs (Cusson, 2010; Pazey & Cole, 2013), leaving school leaders inadequately prepared to serve all students. The purpose of this study was to explore how six current school leaders who are graduates of a university-based “high-quality” principalship program created an inclusive school culture. Guided by the theoretical framework of sensemaking (Weick, 1995) and a phenomenological approach (Creswell, 2007; Patton, 1990), this study examined the ways in which six school leaders used what they know about special education and special education law to develop their understanding of such policy and sought to gain insight into why they made sense of and constructed their interpretations of the policy in a particular way. Of particular interest was their perceived roles in working with special education staff, and the effects their construction and application of inclusive education policy had on students with disabilities. The findings of this study suggest that these six school leaders’ sensemaking of inclusive education policy was influenced by three factors: knowledge, experiences, and personal contexts. Each of these three factors were situated within the context of the school leaders’ constructed identities. If the school leader perceived his or her role as a leader for special education, he or she was more inclined to seek special education and special education law content knowledge, ensure their campus staff attained and maintained the capacity to meet the needs of all students, and continuously searched for specific experiences and opportunities that they could make available to themselves and others that required them to grapple with difficult issues related to special education. In doing so, they were able to effect deeper-level change on their school campuses.