Best Practices in Special Education: Quick Guide

Special education is a field that demands continuous refinement and adaptation to ensure that every student receives the support they need to thrive. As our understanding of learning differences evolves and new research emerges, it’s crucial for educators to stay informed about best practices and implement them effectively in their classrooms. This comprehensive guide delves into the essential aspects of advancing best practices in special education, offering practical insights and actionable strategies for educators and administrators alike.

Key Takeaways:

  • Incorporating Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs) in special education requires assessing research quality, gradual integration into routines, and adaptation to each student’s unique needs.
  • School leaders should promote a culture of evidence-based decision-making, allocate resources for EBP implementation, and emphasize the importance of inclusive practices.
  • Collaboration among all educational stakeholders is crucial for inclusive education, requiring clear communication protocols, respect, and the use of collaborative tools.
  • Data-driven decision-making enhances special education by identifying student needs, adjusting strategies, and monitoring EBP effectiveness.
  • Ongoing, tailored professional development is essential for teachers to stay current with best practices and improve their skills in implementing EBPs and collaborative techniques.

Understanding Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs) and Their Implementation in Special Education

Evidence-based practices (EBPs) form the foundation of effective special education. These practices are supported by rigorous research, demonstrating their efficacy in improving student outcomes. It’s important to distinguish EBPs from research-based practices, which have some empirical support but lack the extensive evidence base of EBPs, and recommended practices, which are often based on expert consensus but may not have been systematically evaluated.

Implementing EBPs in special education classrooms can be challenging due to various factors such as resource limitations, training needs, and the necessity to adapt practices to diverse student needs. To overcome these challenges, educators should:

  • Assess the quality and relevance of research supporting EBPs by reviewing study designs, sample sizes, and the generalizability of findings to their specific student population.
  • Integrate EBPs into classroom routines gradually, starting with small, manageable changes and building up to more comprehensive implementation over time.
  • Maintain flexibility in adapting EBPs to individual student contexts, considering factors such as learning styles, cultural backgrounds, and co-occurring disabilities.


Role of Educational Leadership in Advancing Best Practices

School leaders play a pivotal role in promoting the use of EBPs and inclusive practices in special education. Effective leadership strategies include:

  • Fostering a school culture that values evidence-based decision-making and continuous improvement.
  • Allocating resources, such as professional development opportunities and material resources, to support the implementation of EBPs.
  • Regularly communicating the importance of EBPs and inclusive practices to staff, students, and families.

To operationalize these strategies, school leaders can:

  • Set up dedicated training sessions and collaborative planning time for teachers to learn about and discuss EBPs.
  • Establish systems for monitoring the impact of EBPs on student outcomes, such as regular data review meetings and progress reporting.
  • Celebrate successes and share case studies of effective EBP implementation to reinforce their value and inspire continued efforts.

Discover Ori Learning’s research-based transition curriculum. 

Collaborative Approaches for Inclusive Education

Collaboration among special education teachers, general education teachers, and other stakeholders is essential for creating inclusive educational environments that meet the needs of all students. Research has consistently shown that collaborative practices lead to better student outcomes, increased teacher satisfaction, and more efficient use of resources.

However, effective collaboration can be hindered by various barriers such as time constraints, communication breakdowns, and differences in expertise and perspectives. To overcome these barriers, schools can:

  • Establish clear protocols and expectations for collaborative meetings, including developing focused agendas and assigning specific roles and responsibilities to team members.
  • Foster an environment of mutual respect, trust, and open communication where all team members feel valued and heard.
  • Leverage collaborative tools and technologies, such as shared document platforms and messaging apps, to facilitate ongoing communication and documentation.

Data-Driven Decision Making in Special Education

Data plays a crucial role in informing teaching practices and interventions in special education. By regularly collecting and analyzing data on student performance and progress, educators can:

  • Identify areas of strength and weakness for individual students and groups.
  • Adjust teaching strategies and interventions based on student response.
  • Monitor the effectiveness of EBPs and make data-informed decisions about their continued use.

To harness the power of data-driven decision-making, schools should:

  • Set up comprehensive data collection systems that track both academic performance and behavioral improvements.
  • Provide training and support for teachers in interpreting and using data to guide their instructional decisions.
  • Establish a culture of continuous improvement where data is regularly reviewed and acted upon to refine practices and improve student outcomes.

Professional Development for Sustained Impact

Ongoing professional development is critical for ensuring that special education teachers stay up-to-date with emerging best practices and continue to refine their skills. However, traditional “one-size-fits-all” approaches to professional development often fail to address the specific challenges and needs of individual teachers and school contexts.

To maximize the impact of professional development, schools should:

  • Tailor training to the specific demographics, challenges, and priorities of their district or school.
  • Offer a mix of formal training sessions and job-embedded learning opportunities, such as coaching and mentoring.
  • Integrate professional development into teachers’ regular schedules in a way that minimizes disruption and maximizes engagement.
  • Select professional development programs that emphasize practical, hands-on training in EBPs and collaborative practices.

A Call to Action

Advancing best practices in special education is an ongoing process that requires the commitment and collaboration of all stakeholders. By prioritizing evidence-based practices, fostering a culture of collaboration, harnessing the power of data, and investing in targeted professional development, we can create educational environments that truly meet the needs of all students.

As special educators and leaders, we have a responsibility to continuously refine our practices and adapt to the evolving needs of our students. By embracing the strategies and insights outlined in this guide, we can take meaningful steps towards ensuring that every student receives the high-quality, individualized support they need to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.

Let us work together to build a future where best practices in special education are not just aspirational goals, but a lived reality in every classroom and every school.

Sources & Further Reading

  1. “Unravelling Evidence-Based Practices in Special Education”by Bryan G. Cook & Sara Cothren Cook 
  2. “Evidence-Based Practices in Special Education: Current Assumptions and Future Considerations” by Jacqueline Russo-Campisi 
  3. Improving Special Education by the District Management Journal (DMJ)
  4. “High-Leverage Practices in Special Education” by the Council for Exceptional Children 
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Jon Izak

Jon Izak is the founder and CEO of Ori Learning.