Key Takeaway: As educators, we need to put more emphasis on creating a balance between gaining proficiency as a teacher and as a subject specialist. Teachers, particularly those in the secondary level, must be able to build relationships and develop pedagogical knowledge, but at the same time extend their learning within subject disciplines and reignite the passion for the subject areas that brought them to teaching. —Jerome Lingo

Teacher exodus and retention have always been an issue in the teaching profession. Premature departures are often rooted in workload isolation and burnout, a lack of work-life balance, poor leadership or administrative support, and teaching in remote or isolated environments. However, a promising solution to teacher exodus, especially within the secondary school context, is creating a discipline-based community of practice intervention to provide identity development for early career teachers and ongoing learning in subject areas for all teachers. The Teacher as Practitioner (TAP) program is believed to keep teachers optimistic about their long-term, quality engagement in the teaching profession. 

In order to retain educators, it is integral that we acknowledge teachers’ two sub identities: teacher and subject specialist. As Morris and Imms suggest, “it is critical that teachers can teach well; that is they develop pedagogical knowledge and skills, they build relationships with students, staff, and parents, and they work as part of the overall school community. On top of that, it is also essential for them to be subject specialists with expert skills and knowledge about the subject areas they are trained to teach.” Unfortunately, especially for beginning teachers, there is much emphasis on the art of teaching over being a subject specialist. “Teachers slowly diminish personal practice of their disciplines and having two sub identities lead to competing demands on teachers’ time, focus, and belief systems.” As a result, “diminishing this practice negatively impacts the quality of teaching,” and more often leads to an early exit from teaching. 

The big question is—how can schools and teacher education providers develop teachers as both educators and subject specialists? According to Morris and Imms, there are three supports that can be offered. First, it is essential to balance ongoing learning in both domains. Induction and mentoring are often removed after one to three years and do not support teachers across the course of their careers. Providing professional networking opportunities that aim to support a teacher’s practice as part of their “ongoing individual professional learning [can] also become a community of practice where teachers can share and discuss their discipline practice and its impact on their classroom teaching.” 

Second, we need to provide teachers opportunities to interrogate their identity and consider how their growing experiences shape both their identity development and classroom practice. Lastly, as a community, we should explore what support could be provided to teachers as they develop their identity in the early years of their career and as their needs change over time within and beyond the classroom walls. 

With these elements in mind, maybe then increased teacher retention can be achieved, and we can constructively help our educators to understand their work and their place in society. 

Summarized Article:

Morris, J. E., & Imms, W. (2021). ‘A validation of my pedagogy’: how subject discipline practice supports early career teachers’ identities and perceptions of retention. Teacher Development, 1-13.

Summary by: Jerome Lingo — Jerome believes the MARIO Framework is providing structure and common meaning to learning support programs across the globe. Backed up with current research on the best practices in inclusion and general education, we can reimagine education . . . together.

Key Takeaway: Family engagement allows teachers to better understand and support their students. As a result, building positive, cooperative relationships between home and school environments is key to a child’s success, regardless of grade level. —Taryn McBrayne

In this article, authors Alanzi and Eddy (University of North Texas) provide a detailed review of Lepkowska and Nightingale’s (2019) book Meet the Parents: How Schools Can Work Effectively with Families to Support Children’s Learning. As part of the review, Alanzi and Eddy discuss all 9 chapters, highlighting credible strategies from the book that seek to help teachers and school leaders foster positive relationships between home and school environments. 

Here are some key takeaways from the book: 

  1. Dealing with Loss – The authors (Lepkowska and Nightingale) suggest that teachers should work with both their students and their families during bereavement in order to support the child as they work through their loss. More specifically, “The authors argue that we [teachers] need to be more direct with students in addressing situations of bereavement; for example, we should use the words ‘dead’ and ‘died’ with children rather than ‘passed away.’ “
  1. Digital Citizenship/Safety – As summarized by Alanzi and Eddy, “The research found that the presumption that educated parents would be more adept in the online world was inaccurate.” For this reason, arguments for digital safety are made throughout the book. Alanzi and Eddy suggest digital safety be implemented in all school curriculums and for school leaders to engage parents in conversations about digital safety and personal information protection.
  1. Students’ Aspirations – The book argues that “close tracking of children’s progress and focusing on social skills and reasons for absences are ways to support higher achievement in students.” Therefore, communication with families is crucial to understanding a child’s learning progress. 
  1. Parent Meetings – The authors of the book highlight the value of partnership. Put simply, parent-teacher conferences and additional meetings should not be limited to teachers’ reports of student progress but should involve the family in discussions about the child’s learning as well. 
  1. Inclusion – The importance of parental cooperation in the protection of children is addressed, reinforcing that “the topic of threats to students’ emotional and physical wellbeing (ex: bullying, prejudice, etc.) can be difficult to broach with parents, but parents’ cooperation is crucial to protect children.”
  1. Supporting Special Education Students – In order to implement “best strategies and approaches to support [students] in achieving higher levels of attainment,” teacher and family cooperation is paramount. 

Additional chapters highlighted in the article include the development of new schools in the community and the appropriate use of media. 

Ultimately, Alanzi and Eddy’s review concludes that Lepkowska and Nightingale’s book is particularly useful not only for parents, teachers, and school leaders but also for anyone wishing to better support and understand students. However, the authors note that strategies surrounding medical health safety could be a useful addition to the book given the growing need for mental and social health support amongst today’s youth. 

Summarized Article:

Alanazi, F. & Eddy, C.M.  (2021). Meet the Parents: How Schools Can Work Effectively with Families to Support Children’s Learning, British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 69 (1), 119-121, DOI: 10.1080/00071005.2020.1810478

Summary by: Taryn McBrayne – Taryn believes in the power of student voice and, through the MARIO Framework, strives to create more opportunities for both educators and students to regularly make use of this power.

Additional Reference:

  1. Lepkowska, D. and Nightingale, J. (2019) Meet the Parents: How Schools Can Work Effectively with Families to Support Children’s Learning (Routledge). 

Key Takeaway: Acknowledgment of the power of social media and one’s self-image in driving a teacher’s self-directed and informal professional development, in addition to teacher’s ability to improve their teaching and learning practices, positively influences informal training across an organization. —Frankie Garbutt

In recent years, digitalization in schools has become a more urgent matter; this was heightened by the global pandemic in 2020 and the need to provide learning opportunities virtually. Fransson and Norman (2021, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, University of Gävle, Sweden) undertook research on one teacher’s perspective of professional learning in light of his self-understanding. Here, the authors asked the following questions:

  • How does the teacher’s self-understanding influence his professional development activities? 
  • Do the professional development activities influence his self-understanding and, if so, how? 
  • Which professional learning strategies are used?

“The findings show how his task perception changed over time from an emphasis on teaching to a greater emphasis on improvement, supporting colleagues in their learning and contributing to the professionalization of the teaching community. This influenced his adoption of a self-directed learning strategy.”

Professional development is essential for teacher development and constant improvement in teacher practice and student support; this is even more important when it comes to technology. “Teachers’ efforts to integrate digital technologies in education can be supported by formal professional development and informal professional learning,“ the authors argue. They highlight that a collaborative approach is most effective whereby ”informal and self-initiated and self-directed learning has been highlighted as very important.” Moreover, research has shown “that social media – such as Facebook, Twitter or other communities – informs digitally skilled teachers’ design activities and becomes the starting point for approaching new technologies and exploring pedagogical potentials and eventual added value.” This is linked to a teacher’s values and beliefs about education and accurate promotion of teaching and learning opportunities. 

The method employed in this study was a narrative-biological approach whereby the teacher would share reflections and conversations with the research team. Yet, both authors share an awareness of the vulnerability of such an approach in terms of trust and frankness. “Thus, a research partnership is based on different perspectives but strives to remain on equal terms.”

In the discussion of the data, it was found that the teacher’s “self image created a loop of new initiatives of informal learning that led to further improved self image. That images of ‘ideal teaching’ or ‘ideal teachers’ motivate teachers to learn is also shown in other research.” As a result of his learning in the study, the teacher gained accreditation and respect from students and other staff. The participant experienced ”job motivation” and the process “encouraged him to develop further and also confirms that his direction of informal learning is fruitful and rewarding. It has been suggested that increased self-esteem and motivation, operationalized as self-efficacy, could result in higher commitment and the elaboration of new learning strategies.” Consequently, teachers do not only improve their own practice but over time take responsibility to informally train other members of staff in using technology to further teaching and learning in an institution. 

Article Summarized:

 Fransson, G., & Norman, F. (2021). Exploring how a digitally skilled teacher’s self-understanding influences his professional learning strategies. A research cooperation between a teacher and a researcher. Teacher Development, 1-17.


Summary by: Frankie Garbutt — Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

Key Takeaway: Teacher attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions are critical in how they have the potential to contribute to or reduce educational inequalities. —Matt Piercy

Kate M. Turetsky, Stacey Sinclair, Jordan G. Starck, and J. Nicole Shelton (2021) investigated psychological contributors to educational inequality and the far-reaching impact of teacher psychology. Teachers’ gender-biased perceptions, fixed mindsets, and disparate assessment were all examined. Systematic factors (ie. socio-economic and racial/ethnic disparities), the broader educational system and society, and parents all factor into educational inequalities. However, a field of research is burgeoning in how teacher psychology also plays a pivotal role. Further, changing teachers’ attitudes, perceptions, or beliefs is essential.

The authors investigated two significant questions:

  1. Which teacher attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs contribute to educational inequality?
  2. How does teacher psychology exacerbate or mitigate educational inequality?

Here are the major takeaways from the article:

  • Research confirms how teachers often hold more negative perceptions and expectations of students from marginalized groups but also assess them more negatively compared with advantaged groups. This disparate assessment is evidenced across several nations including New Zealand,1 Sweden,2 Brazil,3 Germany,4 and the United States.5 Patterns of such disparities, including high-stakes national exams, are evidenced by comparisons with blind evaluations.
  • Teachers overestimating students led to larger gains in math standardized test scores. Whereas underestimation predicted smaller gains. These effects strengthened as students increased in age and were larger for girls of all races and also Black and Latino boys.6
  • No substantive change in mathematics achievement or a narrowing of the gender gap was noted from 1999 to 2011. This is attributed to teacher gender-biased perceptions of ability between boys and girls in grade school.7,8
  • The authors cite a US university-wide study where 150 STEM professors and more than 15,000 students revealed how courses led by faculty with a fixed versus growth mindset led to a racial achievement gap.9
  • Focusing intervention on teachers may reduce educational inequalities even without specifically targeting students. Blind grading is one recommended strategy but also teacher training programs where high-quality instruction emphasizes the importance of engaging all students.10

Summarized Article:

Turetsky, K. M., Sinclair, S., Starck, J. G., & Shelton, J. N. (2021). Beyond students: how teacher psychology shapes educational inequality. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Summary by: Matt Piercy — Matt appreciates how at the heart of the MARIO Framework is a passion to develop relationships and a desire to empower students to uncover their purpose while building upon strengths. Further, Matt is inspired by how the MARIO team supports educators and is quickly and nobly becoming a collaborative force in pursuit of educational equity.

Additional References:

1. Meissel, K., Meyer, F., Yao, E. S., & Rubie-Davies, C. M. (2017). Subjectivity of teacher judgments: Exploring student characteristics that influence teacher judgments of student ability. Teaching and Teacher Education, 65, 48-60.

2. Hinnerich, B. T., Höglin, E., & Johannesson, M. (2015). Discrimination against students with foreign backgrounds: Evidence from grading in Swedish public high schools. Education Economics, 23(6), 660-676.

3. Burgess, S., & Greaves, E. (2013). Test scores, subjective assessment, and stereotyping of ethnic minorities. Journal of Labor Economics, 31(3), 535-576.

4. Sprietsma, M. (2013). Discrimination in grading: Experimental evidence from primary school teachers. Empirical economics, 45(1), 523-538. 

5. Glock, S. (2016). Does ethnicity matter? The impact of stereotypical expectations on in-service teachers’ judgments of students. Social Psychology of Education, 19(3), 493-509.

6. Jamil, F. M., Larsen, R. A., & Hamre, B. K. (2018). Exploring longitudinal changes in teacher expectancy effects on children’s mathematics achievement. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 49(1), 57-90.

7. Robinson-Cimpian, J. P., Lubienski, S. T., Ganley, C. M., & Copur-Gencturk, Y. (2014). Teachers’ perceptions of students’ mathematics proficiency may exacerbate early gender gaps in achievement. Developmental psychology, 50(4), 1262.

8. Cimpian, J. R., Lubienski, S. T., Timmer, J. D., Makowski, M. B., & Miller, E. K. (2016). Have gender gaps in math closed? Achievement, teacher perceptions, and learning behaviors across two ECLS-K cohorts. AERA Open, 2(4), 2332858416673617.

9. Canning, E. A., Muenks, K., Green, D. J., & Murphy, M. C. (2019). STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes. Science advances, 5(2), eaau4734.

Key Takeaway: Students with multiple disabilities (SMDs) deserve the right to communicate effectively. One way to meet their needs is to implement Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), an assistive technology that enhances their inclusion into general education classrooms. Special educators believe that barriers to AAC are due to a lack of access to AAC, lack of professional development, and lack of support for families. Being aware of these barriers will allow us to develop the best solutions to support communication needs for SMDs. —Michael Ho

Rashed Aldabas (2021) investigated special education teachers’ perspectives regarding barriers and facilitators when using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) with students with multiple disabilities. The author acknowledges that an assistive technology like AAC has the potential to facilitate language acquisition and communication competence among SMDs. More importantly, the author emphasizes that the use of AAC not only enhances inclusion into general education classrooms and increases levels of spoken language but it also decreases problem behaviors among SMDs.

The author investigated the following four research questions: 

  1. How do special education teachers perceive barriers to using AAC with SMDs?
  2. Are there significant differences in teachers’ perspectives regarding barriers to using AAC with SMDs based on: (a) gender; (b) previous use of AAC; and (c) attendance of AAC training programmes?
  3. Are there significant differences in teachers’ perspectives regarding barriers to using AAC with SMDs based on: (a) previous teaching experience; (b) level of education; and (c) number of students taught?
  4. How do special education teachers perceive facilitators when using AAC with students with multiple disabilities?

Here are the major takeaways from the article:

  • Aldabas (2021) refers to Raghavendra et al. (2012)1 and Rubin et al. (2009)2—“Students with severe disabilities, including SMDs, who have difficulties using natural speech in order to meet all of their communicative needs, are usually at high risk for reduced participation, with poorer peer relationships and greater exclusion from classroom activities.” Assistive technologies, including AAC, are able to support those students with these barriers.
  • The main barriers to effective integration of AAC within schools were associated with staff inadequacy, lack of AAC resources, lack of teacher training, a lack of college-level courses covering essential skills and knowledge about AAC, and lack of ongoing team collaboration between teachers and students.
  • Aldabas (2021) quotes Bruce, Trief, & Cascella (2011), “Language plays a key role when considering to use AAC.” Bruce, Trief, & Cascella (2011) found that teachers of SMDs noted that there were many benefits when using tangible symbols intervention, but the symbols needed to be labelled in both English and the family’s primary language. This indicates that language can also be a significant barrier. 
  • 172 special education teachers of SMDs participated in this study. The study was conducted in all schools in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that offer educational services to different types of students including SMDs. The data was collected using a non-probability convenience sampling.
  • In response to the first research question, special education teachers identified the following top three barriers to using AAC with SMD: Difficulty in obtaining high- or low-tech AAC because of expense and lack of availability, difficulty in obtaining high- or low-tech AAC supporting the Arabic language, and lack of family collaboration in supporting the use of AAC. 
  • In response to the second research question, female special educators had a higher awareness of their lack of knowledge and skills as barriers to AAC use compared to their male counterparts. Additionally, special educators who had experience with using AAC viewed these barriers more seriously than those who did not. Participants who had attended training on AAC were more knowledgeable about these barriers than those who had not attended training.
  • In response to the third research question, the participants’ teaching experience, the level of education, and the number of SMDs taught did not have an effect on the respondents’ perceptions of barriers associated with teaching SMDs.
  • In response to the fourth research question, the participants perceived the following as the top facilitators of AAC for students with disabilities: providing a special room with AAC, providing AAC support in the Arabic language, providing AAC at affordable prices, and providing sufficient times to train SMDs to use AAC.
  • The most significant barriers for [the participants] were access to AAC, family support, and professional training, all of which should be supplied by the school environment, namely, the school administration . . . The three sets of facilitators—teacher training, awareness programmes, and SMDs’ family collaboration—could go a long way to addressing some of the most serious barriers to AAC as identified by respondents” (Aldabas, 2021).
  • The study has a few limitations, such that the sample size is relatively small and that the data is restricted to schools in Riyadh. Moreover, the participants were special educators only. Future research could target other stakeholders and other geographical locations. Research on barriers and facilitators other than schools, students, and teachers may provide a more holistic understanding of the effectiveness of AAC among SMDs. 

Summarized Article:

Aldabas, R. (2021). Barriers and facilitators of using augmentative and alternative communication with students with multiple disabilities in inclusive education: Special education teachers’ perspectives. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 25(9), 1010-1026.

Summary by: Michael Ho—Michael supports the MARIO Framework because it empowers learners to take full control of their personalized learning journey, ensuring an impactful and meaningful experience.

Additional References:

  1. Raghavendra, P., C. Olsson, J. Sampson, R. Mcinerney, and T. Connell. 2012. “School Participation and Social Networks of Children with Complex Communication Needs, Physical Disabilities, and Typically Developing Peers.” Augmentative and Alternative Communication 28 (1): 33–43. doi:10.3109/07434618.2011.653604; 
  2. Rubin, K. H., W. M. Bukowski, and B. Laursen. 2009. Handbook of Peer Interactions, Relationships, and Groups. New York, NY: Guilford.

Key Takeaway: Working conditions may be powerfully related to the day-to-day instruction a teacher provides to their students. Special educators often work with students who exhibit a range of academic, emotional, and behavioural challenges. Special educators who experience more supportive working conditions reported more manageable workloads, less emotional exhaustion and stress, and felt greater self-efficacy for instruction—contributing to more frequent use of evidence-supported instructional practices to address student needs. —Ayla Reau

This paper by Michelle Cumming (Florida International University), Kristen Merrill O’Brien (George Mason University), Nelson Brunsting (Wake Forest University), and Elizabeth Bettini (Boston University) explores how the working conditions of special educators relate to the provision of effective instructional or behavioural management practices for students with emotional behavioural disorders (EBD) in self-contained settings. 

Note that: 

  • “Working conditions are the contexts of teachers’ work, including the demands placed on them and the social and logistical resources they have for meeting those demands.” 
  • Students with EBD tend to “demonstrate low academic achievement and problematic behaviours that impede success.” These needs can be met with; 1) effective research-support instruction “characterized by frequent opportunities to respond to academic prompts, evidence-based practices, and high rates of feedback;” 2) highly effective behaviour management strategies; 3) feedback like praise or token economies to acknowledge positive behaviours. 
  • Self-contained settings are schools and classes that are specifically designed for students who need intensive services to address significant behavioural needs.

The purpose of the study was to “investigate how working conditions related to SETs’ [special education teachers] affective outcomes (workload manageability, emotional exhaustion, stress, and self-efficacy) and reported use of effective instructional and behaviour management practices.” The authors of this study choose to focus on the working conditions of: 

  • demands (i.e., instructional groups, instructional responsibilities)
  • social resources (i.e., administrative support, school culture, and paraprofessional support), and 
  • logistical resources (i.e., instructional resources, planning time)

Analysis of the data collected from a national (United States) survey of SET’s with students with EBD in self-contained settings found that “SETs who experienced more supportive working conditions (i.e., stronger logistical resources, lower demands) rated their workloads as more manageable, experienced less emotional exhaustion and stress, and thus felt more efficacious in using effective instructional practices.” This finding aligns with the “growing body of research in educational leadership and policy [that] indicates that working conditions may be powerfully related to the quality of instruction teachers provide.” 

While the study did have limitations and the authors were unable to find “predictors of self-efficacy for reported use behaviour management practices, and social resources did not demonstrate good model fit when included,” the findings do still present implications for policy and practice. When SET’s feel their workloads are less manageable they are less likely to use effective instructional practices—this would have a significant impact on students who benefit from this research-supported instruction, such as students with EBD. The authors suggest that school leaders and administrations should consider how best to support SETs, in particular by protecting planning times and ensuring that SETs have access to the curricular resources they need to meet their students’ learning needs. They also encourage leaders to provide instructional supports, such as training in the use of resources, in addition to behavioural supports to SETs in self-contained settings. 

It is crucial that school leaders address SET’s working conditions “both to improve their experiences, and to ensure that students with EBD receive the kinds of effective practices necessary to improve their outcomes.”

Summarized Article:

Cumming, M. M., O’Brien, K. M., Brunsting, N. C., & Bettini, E. (2021). Special Educators’ Working Conditions, Self-Efficacy, and Practices Use with Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disorders. Remedial and Special Education, 42(4), 220–234. https://doi.org/10.1177/0741932520924121

Summary by: Ayla Reau—Ayla is excited to help continue to grow the MARIO Framework, seeing the potential for it to impact all students across any educational context.

Key Takeaway: Co-teaching has the demonstrated potential to positively impact the experiences and academic performance of students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms, yet numerous studies have demonstrated that without sufficient training, planning time, or instructional feedback, the potential gains are not consistently realized in practice. —Erin Madonna

What Was Shared: The purpose of Yazeed Alnasser’s study was to draw out general and special education teacher’s thoughts around co-teaching in inclusive classrooms, allowing for the identification of perceived barriers to effective co-teaching. Four co-teaching pairs, eight teachers in total, were observed and interviewed at a public elementary school in Colorado, USA. The study centered three questions:

  1. “How is co-teaching implemented in an inclusive elementary school classroom in Colorado?
  2. How do co-teachers justify their preferences regarding the models of co-teaching they utilise?
  3. How do co-teachers perceive the barriers that exist in the co-teaching environment of the inclusive classroom?”

Alnassar provides a thorough literature review that elucidates the following understandings:

  • Co-teaching refers to the inclusive practice of at least two educators delivering core instruction in partnership to a heterogeneous group of students within one setting.
  • Despite encompassing multiple models of delivery, the one teach and one assist model is the most commonly used approach to co-teaching.
  • Students with disabilities, who receive instruction in inclusive settings from a co-teaching team, outperformed like peers in segregated settings who did not receive co-teaching instruction.
  • Co-teaching is an approach which has been shown to benefit diverse populations of students, including English language learners and at-risk students.
  • Additional benefits of co-teaching include reduced stigma, increased access to the general education curriculum, a reduction of disruptive behaviors, and increased stability for teachers as they are working with peer support.
  • Thorough training is necessary in order for co-teaching pairs to provide highly effective instruction.
  • Limited planning time negatively impacts the quality of instruction co-teaching pairs can provide. 
  • Special educators often do not have equal status in co-teaching classrooms, with mutual respect and trust lacking in multiple studies. Consistently, in the reviewed studies, general education teachers took primary responsibility for the content while special educators supported through reteaching, providing accommodations and modifications, and managing behavior. 
  • Preparation prior to entering into a co-teaching relationship, including conversations around potential challenges, may mitigate threats to a functioning partnership.
  • “Despite rapid increase in popularity and use, co-teaching remains one of the most commonly misunderstood practices in education.”

Research Question (1): Three themes were drawn out of the observation data:

  • The number of students with IEPs in each classroom felt unmanageable, with every classroom having at least eight students receiving special education services.
  • Adjustment of the general education curriculum through accommodations, modifications, or differentiation, was largely the responsibility of the special educators with shared responsibility for providing these services only present in one observation. Almost universally, the teachers delivered verbal instruction and wrote on the white board without providing differentiation or sufficient accommodation or modification.
  • A one teach-one assist model was used in all observations, despite the model having limited support in literature. Parallel teaching was used for only 10 minutes in one observation.

Research Question (2): One primary theme arose from one-to-one interviews with the teachers:

  • The teachers justified their preference for the one teach-one assist model by pointing out that it was possible to implement without increased planning time, that it met their understanding of the roles the general education teacher (content delivery) and the special education teacher (adapting content) play, and that it was the easiest model to use.

Research Question (3): Four themes addressing barriers arose from one-to-one interviews with the teachers:

  • All teachers struggled to identify the vision or goal of co-teaching in their school.
  • The teachers shared that they either did not have shared planning time at all or that the amount of time they had was insufficient to effectively plan together.
  • All teachers shared that they would benefit from instructional feedback and coaching, with clear expectations in place. They did not feel that this level of administrative support was currently in place.
  • All teachers felt that they had insufficient professional development around co-teaching topics.

Alnasser discusses the following points and suggests actions that may improve the efficacy of co-teaching in inclusive classrooms:

  • When administrators are lacking knowledge of effective co-teaching, it is impossible for them to provide quality feedback or coaching to their staff.
  • In-depth professional development for both teachers and administrators is needed if implementing a co-teaching model.
  • “To make co-teaching successful, it is important to provide time for teachers to engage in co-planning.” Careful attention should be paid during scheduling to the balance of all learners within an inclusive setting to ensure caseloads are manageable.
  • “None of the participants were able to identify the school’s vision for co-teaching.” Developing a clear vision for co-teaching with actionable goals is necessary for success.

Co-teaching has the potential to be a transformative practice in inclusive classrooms if quality professional development and adequate planning time are provided, if administration engages in regular feedback cycles with their staff, and if the relationship between general education and special education teachers is collaborative and mutually respectful.

Summarized Article:

Alnasser, Y. A. (2021). The perspectives of Colorado general and special education teachers on the barriers to co-teaching in the inclusive elementary school classroom. Education 3-13, 49(6), 716–729. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004279.2020.1776363

Summary by: Erin Madonna—Erin philosophically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s deeply rooted conviction that all learners are capable, and she firmly believes in MARIO’s commitment to the use of evidence-based practices drawn from the field of current multidisciplinary research.

Key Takeaway: Mueller illuminates key gaps in the present educational system that inhibits disability identity development; educators, administrators, and school staff should collectively work to counteract the lack of curriculum representation, community, and disabled staff in effectively teaching and empowering learners with special needs.—Emmy Thamakaison

Carlyn O. Mueller (University of Wisconsin) shares her qualitative interview study exploring disability identity development and its relationship to educational experiences. Nine adults with special needs were asked to reflect on their schooling experiences through a semi-structured interview process.

Disability identity is defined as “a sense of self that includes one’s disability and feelings of connection to, or solidarity with, the disability community.”1 It is generally accepted that the development of one’s disability identity is heavily influenced by educational experiences during youthful years; more often than not, those with disabilities are “often positioned such that they are likely (and even encouraged) to reject identifying as disabled”2 during their schooling. 

After the current study’s participants reflected upon their past educational experiences in relation to their disability identities, several unifying patterns emerged: firstly, all of the participants noticed a lack of disability representation in both special education and general education curriculum. 

  • Planned or guided discussions around disabilities were minimal if not nonexistent during their schooling years, as one participant noted, “it did not come up. It wasn’t shown in any of the history, or social studies, or multi-media, or anything else… there’s no word for [disability], no vocabulary.” 
  • Though the relationship between curriculum representation and disability identity may be influenced by extraneous factors (ie. stigma), the participants still implore for “more direct, explicit discussion around disability identity” in the schooling system; representation of disability culture and history may help mitigate negative experiences that are beyond the control of schooling and allow individuals with special needs to relate to themselves and others in the community better. 

Furthermore, the participants recalled a lack of disability community during their education. Connection with fellow individuals with special needs, perceived role models, or simply a sense of membership were often “actively discouraged,” as one participant recalled, “I remember them telling me, ‘…don’t associate with those people [other students with intellectual disabilities]’… even though those people I relate with the most.”

  • Importantly, special education spaces often foster “under-developed” disability communities, with their “segregated nature” and narratives that “there was something fundamentally wrong with their bodies, minds, or ways of being.” 
  • To this end, Mueller calls for the identification, correction, and counteraction of such narratives, as well as opportunities for students to “grow and learn around other children with disabilities”3 in a special education context.

Participants also unanimously agreed that there was a lack of school staff with open relationships with disabilities. Not only does this represent a missed opportunity for student empowerment through role-modelling, it also leads to educators being forced to “make their own assumptions, [which] produces really undesirable outcomes.” One participant states that “I would often get yelled at by some of my teachers when I was doing . . . normal autistic stuff, weird for neurotypicals,” and another recalls, “the special ed system didn’t really prepare me for adulthood in a lot of ways . . . it’s not built by people who understand what it’s really like.” 

  • In mitigating these present outcomes, Mueller suggests including disability history, pride, and community in teacher preparation programs; not only would this prime educators for teaching curricula with disability representation, it would also push teachers to challenge and expand their own beliefs about disabilities and commit to anti-ableist approaches that translate to a classroom setting. 
  • Active efforts to include educators, administrators, and paraprofessionals with disabilities into educational spaces are also vital. These individuals would potentially bring “a unique and powerful set of experiences and insights into the needs of children, youth, and families they serve.”4 

Ultimately, Mueller’s study illuminates gaps in the current general and special education system, in relation to students with disabilities. Through the words of individuals with special needs themselves, Mueller calls for a transformation of services and contexts that shape the disability identities of millions across the globe. Schools should make an active effort to “intentionally strengthen and name disability as an identity experience” so that future students look at the world and see a place for themselves in it.

Summarized Article:Mueller, C. O. (2021). “I Didn’t Know People With Disabilities Could Grow Up to Be Adults”: Disability History, Curriculum, and Identity in Special Education. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, 44(3), 189–205. https://doi.org/10.1177/0888406421996069

Summary by: Emmy Thamakaison — Emmy is a recent high school graduate attending Stanford University and is an enthusiastic advocate of MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

  1. Dunn, D. S., & Burcaw, S. (2013). Disability identity: Exploring narrative accounts of disability. Rehabilitation Psychology, 58(2), 148–157. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031691
  2. Annamma, S. A., Connor, D., & Ferri, B. (2013). Dis/ability critical race studies (DisCrit): theorizing at the intersections of race and dis/ability. Race Ethnicity and Education, 16(1), 1–31. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2012.730511
  3. Linton, S. (1998). Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity. New York University Press.
  4. Council for Exceptional Children. (2016). CEC’s Policy on Educators with Disabilities. Exceptional Children, 82(4), 407–408. https://doi.org/10.1177/0014402916651880

Key Takeaway: Special education teachers experience universal challenges when it comes to professional development (PD). Effective PD should be sustained over time, involve coaching or collaborative communities, and include specialized and role-specific content. —Ayla Reau

Sarah L. Woulfin and Britney Jones from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education (2021) conducted a phenomenological study on special education (SpEd) teachers’ experiences with professional development. They found that “professional development (PD) is one component of SpEd teachers’ working conditions which plays a role in building teachers’ capacities and enabling teachers to conduct their work.” However, SpEd teachers in particular encounter some universal challenges while trying to engage in professional development.

Some challenges the authors outlined included:

  • Induction programs were not effective due to SpEd teachers not receiving role-specific guidance through the program.
  • Portfolio assessments as part of the induction programs felt like “busy work;” these tasks seemed artificial.
  • PD sessions were often introductory or repetitive in nature, ignoring any preexisting knowledge. “Generic PD sometimes failed to match the realities of their work.”
  • The opportunities regarding co-teaching and how to engage with general education teachers were limited.
  • SpEd teachers were often isolated from general education teachers in PD sessions.

Woulfin and Jones (2021) hone in on three tenets of effective PD for SpEd teachers: “extended duration, involving collaborative and contextualized learning, and addressing specialized content.”

  • Educational literature states that PD must be sustained over time in order to change the nature of teachers’ instruction. “Extended-duration PD allows for increased opportunities for planning, observing, feedback, reviewing student work, and aligning standards and goals.”
  • Schools can use coaches or professional learning communities (PLCs) to support teacher development.
  • Research also acknowledges the benefits of specialized PD (relevant content as opposed to generic or content-neutral). “When SpEd teachers receive targeted, relevant PD, they report greater levels of confidence in working with students with disabilities.”

Effective PD for special educators also would include the following elements: “rely on experts from the district; incorporate technology; infuse content standards and special education curriculum; provide useful strategies and sample lessons; facilitate collaboration with general education teachers; create opportunities for reflection; and give feedback.”

The findings from their study suggest that many SpEd teachers felt a disconnect between their daily work and what was addressed in their current PD opportunities. Ultimately, this is why specialized training matters. The study offered suggestions for how practitioners could improve PD for special educators. As Woulfin and Jones summarize, it helps to develop an “understanding of norms, routines, rituals and the language of [the SpEd] profession.”

Summarized Article: Woulfin, S. L., & Jones, B. (2021). Special development: The nature, content, and structure of special education teachers’ professional learning opportunities. Teaching and Teacher Education, 100, 103277. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2021.103277

Summary by: Ayla Reau—Ayla is excited to help continue to grow the MARIO Framework, seeing the potential for it to impact all students across any educational context.

Key Takeaway: For students with disabilities to be successful in inclusive classroom settings, teachers must implement evidence-based, high-leverage practices to help students meet the required social, emotional, and behavioural demands in the general education classroom. Social, emotional, and behavioural skills must be explicitly taught, just like academic skills, to create effective learning environments where all students can thrive both academically and socially. —Bernadette Gorczyca

In 2017, The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and the Collaboration for Effective Educator, Development, Accountability and Reform Center (CEEDAR) at the University of Florida published a list of 22 evidence-based, high-leverage practices (HLPs) to help teachers reach and improve the outcomes for students with disabilities in the general education classroom.1

In their article, Mabel O. Rivera (University of North Carolina, Department of Educational Specialties) and Glennda K. McKeithan (University of Kansas, Special Education Department) focus on the practical application of four social/emotional/behavioural high-leverage practices (HLPs 7-10) identified by the CEC and CEEDAR that teachers can use to help students with special needs improve academic achievement and social skills. Research findings show that “the use of evidence-based practices can produce a moderate-strong effect on academics and behaviour.”2,3 To reach students with diverse needs in less restrictive environments, teachers must be prepared to teach “foundational skills in order [for students] to master content objectives and develop the social, emotional, behavioural skills needed to work collaboratively with others, problem solve, consider different perspectives, accept constructive feedback and appropriately resolve conflicts in school and in life.”4

HLP7: Establish a consistent, organised, and respectful learning environment Teachers can create effective, safe learning environments through direct instruction of culturally responsive rules, procedures, and expectations. When teaching and reviewing rules and procedures, teachers should explain why a rule is needed and provide examples and non-examples alongside what students can gain from learning the skills being taught.5 “Teachers can integrate instructional routines that reinforce active listening, cognitive engagement, working memory, self-advocacy and respectful interactions as they plan and deliver instruction across settings.”6,7

Examples of practical application of HLP7:

  • Explicitly teach organisational and time management skills.
  • Assign notebook buddies so students can share responsibilities and collaborate to improve note taking and organisation skills.
  • Employ non-confrontational methods when redirecting students.
  • Use intentionally assigned seats.

HLP8: Provide positive and constructive feedback to guide learning and behaviour “Consistent, ongoing assessment and evaluation of student needs linked with purposeful, ‘teacher talk’ during instruction is a key component of a quality learning experience which is directly linked to academic and social/behavioural success.”8,9 Feedback should be aimed to, “minimise embarrassment and maximise the potential.”

Examples of practical application of HLP8:

  • Feedback should be goal-oriented and allow students to recognise their strengths and reflect on their needs.
  • Explicitly teach students the difference between negative and constructive feedback and how to respond to critical feedback.
  • Celebrate students’ abilities.

HLP9: Teach social behaviour Social behaviour should be taught explicitly by teachers and students should be provided with opportunities to develop age-appropriate social and communication skills “to reinforce the awareness of the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of others.”10

Examples of practical application of HLP9:

  • Teacher talk/think-aloud.
  • Include direct instruction for interpersonal, communication and self-management skills, as well as culturally responsive classroom and school-wide behaviour expectations.
  • Model respectful relationships with your students and between students.
  • “Be aware of the ‘psychosocial aspect of adolescence’ as many students at this age are easily embarrassed and may lack academic and/or social confidence.”11

HLP10: Conduct functional behavioural assessments to develop individual student behaviour support plans When students with disabilities do not respond to typical instructional strategies, McLeskey et al. (2017)3 recommend conducting a Functional Behavioural Assessment (FBA) to develop a Behavior Support Plan (BSP). An FBA will provide a formal assessment of behavioural data for an IEP team to understand the reasoning behind an interfering student behaviour. A subsequent BSP will identify evidence-based practices to target the function of the behaviour. For this process to be successful, general and special educators must collaborate effectively to collect accurate data on the interfering behaviour, meaning that “documentation of what happens right before (antecedent), during (behaviour), and directly after the behaviour occurs (consequence) is essential.” Only then can the IEP team work together to create, “a hypothesis statement…to identify the function of the behaviour…”12 If the function is not accurate, then the BSP will not be effective.

Summarized Article: Rivera, M. O., & McKeithan, G. K. (2021). High-leverage social, emotional and behavioural practices for students with disabilities in inclusive settings. Educational Review, 73(4), 436-450.

Summary by: Bernadette Gorczyca—Bernadette loves the MARIO Framework because it centers student voice and choice, empowering students to take ownership over their personalized learning journey to become confident, self-directed learners.

Additional References:

1. Ball, D. L., & Forzani, F. M. (2011). Building a common core for learning to teach: And connecting professional learning to practice. American Educator, 35, 17.

2. Cheryan, S., Ziegler, S. A., Plaut, V. C., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2014). Designing classrooms to maximize student achievement. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 4–12.

3. McLeskey, J., Barringer, M.-D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., . . . Ziegler, D. (2017, January). High-leverage practices in special education. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center.

4. Bryant, D. P., Bryant, B. R., & Smith, D. D. (2019). Teaching students with special needs in inclusive classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

5. Suskie, L. (2018). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley & Sons.

6. Holzberg, D. G., Test, D. W., & Rusher, D. E. (2018). Self-advocacy instruction to teach high school seniors with mild disabilities to access accommodations in college. Remedial and Special Education, 40, 166–176.

7. Hueske, A. K., Endrikat, J., & Guenther, E. (2015). External environment, the innovating organization, and its individuals: A multilevel model for identifying innovation barriers accounting for social uncertainties. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 35, 45–70.

8. Andersson, C., & Palm, T. (2017). The impact of formative assessment on student achievement: A study of the effects of changes to classroom practice after a comprehensive professional development program. Learning and Instruction, 49, 92–102.

9. Riley, N., Riddell, S., Kidd, E., & Gavin, R. (2018). Feedback in a future-focused classroom. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, 26, 31. ISSN: 1320-5692.

10. Johns, B. H., Crowley, E. P., & Guetzloe, E. (2017). The central role of teaching social skills. Focus on Exceptional Children, 37. doi:10.17161/fec.v37i8.6813.

11. Domitrovich, C. E., Durlak, J. A., Staley, K. C., & Weissberg, R. P. (2017). Social-emotional competence: An essential factor for promoting positive adjustment and reducing risk in school children. Child Development, 88, 408–416.

12. Sam, A., & Team, A. F. I. R. M. (2015). Functional behavior assessment. Chapel Hill, NC: National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder, FPG Child Development Center, University of North Carolina.