Luann Purcell: Training and Retaining Our Special Education Teachers and Instructional Support Personnel

Luann Purcell Bio

Originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of AC&E/Equity & Access

Everyone seems to want the opinions of various folks in the field on what the top trends will be in 2020. I am sure you have seen several articles about these opinions. Of course, funding is typically in the top five. But in my opinion, one of the process of including everyone in developing it!

Teacher and specialized instructional support personnel shortages

What we have all learned over the years is cross stakeholder involvement in problem solving large issues is successful but a difficult process. Teacher and specialized instructional support personnel shortages are among the biggest issues. It certainly can be related to funding — not just in the pay scale but also in the areas of resources, technology, and paperwork.

Recruitment, preparation, and retention are areas many groups are looking at carefully to see if they can find solutions. But the reasons behind the shortages are complex and an easy solution is not likely to manifest itself, even with intentional considerations but varied groups. The Phi Delta Kappa 2019 poll ( which this year included a sampling of teachers as well as the general population, reported:

Frustrated by poor pay and underfunded schools, half of public school teachers nationally have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past few years — and majorities in the 2019 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools say that given the opportunity, they’d vote to strike.

The report goes on to show most of the public would support the teachers in their efforts. It also found that for the 18th year in a row, the public selected lack of financial support as the biggest issue facing their local schools.

Through communication with our members, we have found many are frustrated with the efforts, both time and money, put into recruiting staff only to realize the retention of these staff members is a losing battle. We also know without qualified staff, our students will not receive the quality of education they need in order to be successful.

Whose problem is this?

It is everyone’s problem and the solution, if it is to be sustainable must be obtained through a process of including everyone  developing it! What we have all learned over the years is cross stakeholder involvement in problem solving large issues is successful but a difficult process.

A wonderful resource for bringing diverse groups together to tackle common issues such as the shortages of teachers and specialized instructional support personnel is Leading by Convening. I was fortunate to be a part of the writing team, but really it was the culmination of the efforts of members of over 50 organizations and their work through the IDEA Partnership grant under the leadership of Dr. Joanne Cashman. The principles were embraced by the National Center for Systemic Improvement (NCSI) who have developed online modules and taken the resources to the next level.

The three main sections are Coalescing around Issues, Ensuring Relevant Participation, and Doing the Work Together. All three are worthy endeavors but the “how to” can cause the whole process to come to a halt. The original document and the tools as well as the new module developed by cross stakeholder teams led by NCSI, provide the “how to!” All of this work was funded by the Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education.

Coalescing Around Issues

To perhaps whet your appetite for Leading by Convening, let me just give you a glimpse of one of the sections: Coalescing Around Issues. In this section there is a narrative and research that leads to the tools to assist you in this first step-bringing people together who share a problem. The four tools are: How People Are, Four Simple Questions, Seeds of Trust, and Meet the Stakeholders.

Teacher and Specialized Instructional Support Personnel shortages impact more than just the school system. These shortages impact the students, the parents, the community at large and specific industries as well as at the school building level, the district and even the state level. If all of us are impacted and see the problem, then it makes sense for us to all come together to find solutions—both short and long term. By convening a diverse group, their shared experience, circle of influence, and resources can be used to discover more options for ameliorating the problems.

Leading by Convening can make this process run much more smoothly. I hope you will explore the modules and the book so we can all tackle this critical issue and give our students access to a quality education!

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

Current issue of Equity & Access:

Equity & Access - Issue 28

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