When there aren’t enough teachers trained to teach students with disabilities, we fail the vulnerable students who most need educators’ help.
We must help teachers get the training they need to be able to teach all of their students, including students with disabilities.
I witnessed this need firsthand during my 20-year tenure as Maryland’s state superintendent of schools. And I knew before I retired from government service that I wanted to devote the next chapter of my life to this issue. The Kennedy Krieger Institute was already engaged in a similar pursuit. Joining forces, we established the Center for Innovation and Leadership in Special Education.
Related: Willing, able and forgotten
For the past five years, the center has offered fellowships to teachers who join us from across the country. During their year with us, fellows study the neuroscience of learning and the learner; the principles of behavior change; and educational law, administrative leadership and effective resource appropriation. Fellows are also prepared to develop, acquire, translate and use scientific evidence to design and implement high-quality lesson plans that will benefit students of all abilities.
All of the program’s faculty members have experience working in the broad fields of neuro-developmental disabilities and education. Each one holds an academic appointment at The Johns Hopkins University, in its School of Medicine, Bloomberg School of Public Health or School of Education. Fellowship graduates are consistently in demand by school systems in Maryland and beyond.
One of the things that makes this program so effective is that each of its fellows completes two separate internships, both of which emphasize leadership in special education. Fellows often go on to assume key leadership roles in public and private schools.
One fellow is working as far away as Hawaii, while another is in constant demand as a speaker in multiple states, advising school systems on everything from behavioral interventions and universal design for learning to classroom organization and successful academic presentation skills.
This means we have a multiplier effect. Our graduates go on to provide instruction and advice to potentially hundreds of teachers, who are then prepared to support, collectively, thousands of students with disabilities. As the years go by, we hope to have a tremendous impact on teaching and learning across the country. This success would not be possible without Kennedy Krieger’s extraordinary faculty members, and their collective dedication and contributions to the program.
Recently, based on demand for the program and the need to scale it up to accommodate larger numbers of teachers who cannot study with us for an entire year, we developed a second learning model that, once implemented, will include both face-to-face time with Kennedy Krieger faculty and online learning opportunities. Fellows completing this model will receive a certificate of completion from an affiliated institution of higher education.
This second model will allow the center to expand its geographic reach and increase the number of educators with whom it works directly. We hope it will benefit not only teachers but also educators in leadership positions, such as special education department chairs.
The depth and quality of this model’s coursework will be the same as that of the first. As in that model, fellows will collaborate with researchers and with one another in manuscript and grant preparation, in school consultations, in research opportunities, and in preparing and giving presentations at regional and national meetings.
Collectively, our graduates will have an incredible effect on thousands of children with disabilities — both in the classroom and throughout their lives — because all of them will have an equal chance at succeeding in school.
Nancy Grasmick is the co-director of the Center for Innovation and Leadership in Special Education at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, an internationally renowned organization in Baltimore that provides medical, therapeutic and educational services to children with disabilities. She is also incoming chairwoman of Kennedy Krieger’s board of directors.