Table of Contents
- Professional Special Educator Standards
- Voices from the Field
Excerpt from: Rhode Island College, Academic Integrity and Ethics Across the Discipline, https://library.ric.edu/c.php?g=62216&p=400365
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License unless otherwise noted.
- The Profession
(1) Special education professionals assume responsibility for participating in professional organizations and adherence to the standards and codes of ethics of those organizations.
(5) Special education professionals initiate, support, and/or participate in research related to the education of persons with exceptionalities with the aim of improving the quality of educational services, increasing the accountability of programs, and generally benefiting persons with exceptionalities.
Go to and download the Special Educators Code of Ethics
Professional special educators are guided by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) professional, ethical principles (see below) and practice standards (see below) in ways that respect the diverse characteristics and needs of individuals with exceptionalities and their families. They are committed to upholding and advancing the following principles:
- Maintaining challenging expectations for individuals with exceptionalities to develop the highest possible learning outcomes and quality of life potential in ways that respect their dignity, culture, language, and background.
- Maintaining a high level of professional competence and integrity and exercising professional judgment to benefit individuals with exceptionalities and their families.
- Promoting meaningful and inclusive participation of individuals with exceptionalities in their schools and communities.
- Practicing collegially with others who are providing services to individuals with exceptionalities.
- Developing relationships with families based on mutual respect and actively involving families and individuals with exceptionalities in educational decision making.
- Using evidence, instructional data, research and professional knowledge to inform practice.
- Protecting and supporting the physical and psychological safety of individuals with exceptionalities.
- Neither engaging in nor tolerating any practice that harms individuals with exceptionalities.
- Practicing within the professional ethics, standards, and policies of CEC; upholding laws, regulations, and policies that influence professional practice; and advocating improvements in laws, regulations, and policies.
- Advocating for professional conditions and resources that will improve learning outcomes of individuals with exceptionalities.
- Engaging in the improvement of the profession through active participation in professional organizations.
- Participating in the growth and dissemination of professional knowledge and skills.
Adopted by the CEC Board of Directors, January 2010
Teacher candidates were asked to choose one of the special education teacher standards and discuss how that “looks” in the daily life a special educator. Additionally the standards from Early Childhood Special Education/ Early Intervention Initial Preparation Standards may be addressed by Early Childhood Education/General Special Education teacher candidates.
Standard 1.1 Systematically individualize instructional variables to maximize the learning outcomes of individuals with exceptionalities.
I see this every day in the school where I work. The special educators are constantly meeting with their students, or teachers to supply supports for those that require it, whatever they may be. It all seems seamless, but there are hours of work planning and strategizing that take place behind the scenes. Judith Moore
Tailoring education programs to meet the specific needs of each individual student is at the heart of the IEP. It is incumbent upon us as educators to understand that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t suffice in our field. What works really well for one student may not work at all for another student, even if those students have the same diagnosis on paper. anonymous
Standard 1.3 “Use periodic assessments to accurately measure the learning progress of individuals with exceptionalities, and individualize instruction variables in response to assessment results.”
In the IEP’s for my caseload, each goal that is written comes with assessment direction as well. As an example, I work with multiple students who have their academic goals assessed weekly and monthly and I am in charge of assessing them and noting the data. Depending on the students and their grade levels, these assessments aren’t always the same. Apart from state tests, we operate with formative and summative assessments. My assessment models for my kindergarten students will not look the same as for my 5th grade students as this would be unjust to them. Some students test better verbally and some with written work. This medium of testing can also vary based on the subject. With the information in the IEP and my own notes I determine the best way to assess each student that will be most comfortable for them. During my assessment, evaluation one may use the notes to determine whether or not the method of teaching is appropriate or if the content is applicable to the student’s knowledge-base. Not every student learns the same and it is important for the special educator to understand this, as well as the methods available to teach varying students in order to provide them with the best education possible. (Jacobo Muniz)
Standard 1.4 “Create safe, effective, and culturally responsive learning environments which contribute to fulfillment of needs, stimulation of learning, and realization of positive self-concepts.”
The look of this in everyday life is a classroom where students feel safe and nurtured in their learning environment. It is a classroom where students feel confident enough to participate in classroom activities, a classroom where mistakes or wrong answers are not feared, and a classroom where every student feels as though they are an integral part of the group. anonymous
It is important for special educators to be able to form a positive relationship with their students to give them a safe space and show that they are cared for and supported. This is a huge factor in a child’s ability to grow and learn. When this happens, students are able to gain more self-confidence which allows for more participation in school and even extra-curriculars. Tate Van Valkenburg
Standard 1.6 Use culturally and linguistically appropriate assessment procedures that accurately measure what is intended to be measured, and do not discriminate against individuals with exceptional or culturally diverse learning needs.
There are many ways this can look in the daily life of a special educator. I have watched special educators give assessments orally instead of the child having to write down his/her answers, I have seen them give them more time, or questions rewritten to be at their reading level. I have also seen entire assessments be completely modified to enable a nonverbal child to use his PECS board or communication device to answer. They come up with creative ways for their students to be successful and be able to prove their success and show their knowledge in their own ways. anonymous
When we think about assessing, its usually following a standardized test. However, to fully measure what a student knows the assessment should be relatable to their everyday lives. Therefore, it is important to get to know your students as individuals. This allows you the opportunity to learn and understand their cultural background and beliefs. It is just as important that assessments be provided in the student’s primary language. The same goes for information that is sent home (parents may not be able to read important IEP information if it is not in their native language). Nicole Coonrod
Standard 1.8: Support the use of positive behavior supports and conform to local policies relating to the application of disciplinary methods and behavior change procedures, except when the policies require their participation in corporal punishment.
We use a Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) model of behavior engagement at our school. We believe a behavior is a form of communication. I.E. a student calling his para educator ‘a dummy’ may be his/her way of saying “I don’t know the words to express that I don’t understand the lesson that was just presented.” At my school, our case managers look at behaviors as a form of communication and that is how we work with them. I think this is true with a lot of special educators. Jacqueline Godin
I have worked with positive behavior programs as my role as a paraprofessional. In my role I use a lot of ABA as well as, behavior charts to help students change their behavior. I have found that it is easier to help shape a students behavior through positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement. With one student I worked with I was able to ignore the negative (as long as it was not hurting the student or others) then when the appropriate behavior manifested, I would reward that positive behavior. In my school we try to provide a lot of proactive support versus reactive support. Being proactive helps to eliminate some behaviors. It also shows the student that the people around them care so they are more apt to want to engage in positive behaviors instead of the negative behaviors they were exhibiting. anonymous
It’s hard to imagine that any teacher would inflict corporal punishment on any child, yet students with disabilities face corporal punishment in public schools at disproportionately high rates according to a report by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch. Paula Lombardi
Read more at: American Civil Liberties Union, (2009). Impairing Education, Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public School. Retrieve from https://www.aclu.org/report/impairing-education-corporal-punishment-students-disabilities-us-public-schools
Standard 1.12. “Recommend special education services necessary for an individual with an exceptional learning need to receive an appropriate education” (Council for Exceptional Children, 2015).
In the daily life of a special educator, an example of how this could look is, after a student is in the classroom for a few months of school, the Special Education Teacher voices a concern about a preschool students ability to effectively complete tasks that require a lot of fine motor strength to the occupational therapist. Together they decide that the student would benefit from OT sessions and takes the next steps to getting this put into the students IEP to help the student be more successful. Julia Lewis
Standard 2.6 – “Advocate for appropriate and supportive teaching and learning conditions”
Even though the special educator/case manager will ideally advocate proactively, I believe much of the upholding for this specific standard (2.6), is generated subsequently to a specific matter. This could happen during a conversation with a student’s general education teacher, when there is a need to address performance in their class. Within this conversation, the special educator needs to support working methods within the IEP; ensuring the student’s general education teacher is effectively implementing the outlined accommodations and modifications. While this is truly a collaborative effort between educators, it is the professional responsibility of the special educator to be an advocate for those who hold a diverse set of learning needs.
There are times when teachers rely too heavily on the educational assistant or paraprofessional, by specifically placing much of the modification work on them. Since this is outside of their scope, the case manager has been required to advocate for the student and ensure the IEP is being followed. Ideally, the general education teacher focuses on building out the lesson plan to incorporate scaffolded instruction, so there are “appropriate and supportive teaching and learning conditions” (Anonymous)
Standard 2.7. Advocate for sufficient personnel resources so that unavailability of substitute teachers or support personnel, including paraeducators, does not result in the denial of special education services.
In simple terms, A professional Special Educator must ensure that there are people in place who can deliver the support/services that the child is entitled to. For instance, if the child’s condition requires intermittent catheterization in order to relieve themselves and the child is unable to do this independently (thus requiring support), the duty of the Special Educator is to ensure that there is a staff who is trained and available to assist with this at any time when the student is in school. Anonymous
Standard 4.1 states: Recognize and respect the skill and expertise of professional colleagues from other disciplines as well as colleagues from their own disciplines (Council for Exceptional Children, 2015).
I meet twice a week with general education teachers in my “team.” The team teaches the same cohort of students. I also meet weekly with the Literature Professional Learning Community. In addition, I meet weekly with the Special Education Team. Every group has a different set of priorities to consider. Because I feel like I am brand new again, it is extremely important and helpful for me to consider the expertise of the other team members. I walk away from every meeting having learned something. It is a humbling experience at times, but being open to learning and appreciating the skill of others has been one of the most helpful and accessible tools for me this year. Jessica Warning
Standard 4.4 Collaborate with both general and special education professional colleagues as well as other personnel serving individuals with exceptionalities to improve outcomes for individuals with exceptionalities.
I currently work within a preschool where “collaboration” excels and the students and their families benefit greatly. Our teams are in constant communication with families, providers and with each other. We often sit and have brain storming/problem solving sessions to work on issues we are facing with students. We have teachers and support teams that are open to trying new ideas and changing strategy until we find what works. The best part is, these ideas come from varying places (sometimes paras, specialists, parents or admins). We truly have an open-door collaborative approach. It’s an amazing and supportive environment for the teachers and the children. This is a daily focus and without frequent reminders that we are a team, that collaboration could easily get lost in the daily shuffle. Without collaboration our special educators and case managers would likely feel overwhelmed and potentially lose sight of their responsibilities. Having a team to rely on to deliver individualized instruction and support, or lean on for advice and strategy is key to delivering on our student goals. I am very lucky to have my placement at this school! Deanna Hanley
Standard 4.4, “Collaborate with both general and special education professional colleagues as well as other personnel serving individuals with exceptionalities to improve outcomes for individuals with exceptionalities”
During my time in special education I have come to realize how important collaboration is to best help your students. In special education, collaboration can look many different ways. It could be with general education teachers, occupational therapists, paraprofessionals, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, parents, and the list goes on. The IEP team is a great example of the importance of collaboration. The IEP team is purposefully built to bring people of different specialties to the table so they can help one another build the best plan for the individual student and to identify any specialized help that may be needed. Anonymous
One thing I’ve noticed from watching different case managers is the importance of patience. Another very important characteristic is being able to handle confrontation. Emotions can run high among different staff, and a special education teacher must remain calm and understanding, regulating their emotions. I used to watch my supervisor listen understandingly to teachers who were very upset by some students in the program. He had a way of making everyone feel like he was on their side and looking out for their interests–others in special education, general education teachers, and students. Rachel Stoudt
Collaboration with other teachers, education professionals, and families is essential to a student’s chances at success. Maintaining discussions between these groups of people is essential to a student’s education. Scheduling meetings with parents and having constant discussions with other teachers about a student’s progress, and where they are struggling, help move that student in the right direction. “To improve outcomes” is a part of this standard. This deviates away from just how well the student is doing in the class based off of their grade. How well are they obtaining the information provided? Are they being challenged or are the modifications/adaptations provided making the class too easy or visa-versa? Collaboration is best when a special education is constantly updated on a student’s progress and proper adjustments are made. (Ryan Bernier)
Standard 5.3 Provide ongoing information to paraeducators regarding their performance of assigned tasks (CEC, 2015).
I want constructive feedback from the special education and classroom teachers I work with for my professional development and to have a better understanding of how best to meet the learning goals of the students with whom I work. The special educator is responsible for a lot of “moving parts” and making sure that the paraeducator understands their own role and responsibilities is so important to this process. I have always felt comfortable asking my supervisor questions and for follow-up feedback with how I am applying any interventions, accommodations, and modifications. Having this open communication has been so important because we interact with the students differently, during different times during the day, and in different settings and contexts. Rebecca Foss
Standard 5.1 Ensure that special education paraeducators have appropriate training for the tasks they are assigned.
I believe the paras at my school are fortunate. We do receive professional development trainings during the year on half days and days off from school. I have benefited from each of the trainings. Personally, I would love to be more involved in meetings and trainings with the general education teachers. I believe it would be helpful to sit in on the weekly prep meetings. It would help us to know what the teachers are planning, what issues there might be, and what solutions can be found. Allison Gibson
I could not agree more on the importance of training for paraeducators! I also started my first para position with very little training. I was working one to one with a student and was left to my own to devices. The situation improved greatly when I was pulled into a team that very much included me as a para. The Preschool Teacher/SPED Case Manager was amazing. I was given trainings, worked closely with related service providers and was included in the IEP team meetings. I learned so much and it made all the difference in how I was able deliver services to my students. As paras, we spend more time with the students than anyone else and often have the least amount of training and access to information. Erin Ames
Standard 5.2 Assign only tasks for which para educators have been appropriately prepared.
That one sticks out to me because I know how things happen. For example… John is a para who works with Joey. Joey has a severe medical diagnosis and needs someone with him all day. Let’s say that John is out sick. Jack comes in and has never met Joey before. That can be a struggle for all parties involved: Jack, Joey, the case manager, and the classroom teacher. It would be a struggle because Jack would needed to be given a quick rundown of Joey. Essentially, this standard may not always be the case because life happens sometimes. Not every para is trained or prepared for every student and their needs. TJ Lillis
Standard “5.4. Provide timely, supportive, and collegial communications to paraeducators regarding tasks and expectations” (2015).
Among all of the other responsibilities that come with being a special educator, supervising and supporting paraeducators who work with the special education students is also a priority. In the daily life of a special educator, this standard may ‘look’ like checking in with the paraeducator via email or in person, answering any questions they have about their tasks/responsibilities, and clarifying aspects of the student’s IEP or behavior plan for the paraeducator. They also may be following up on data that the paraeducator has been collecting, and letting the para know if they should be doing anything differently. Caitlin Dubisz
This standard resonated with me because I worked as a paraprofessional for two years and now this is my first year as a case manager, so I have experienced both sides of this professional relationship. I have worked as a paraprofessional under a case manager who did not provide clear explanations of what I was expected to do. On the other hand, I have worked as a paraprofessional under yet a different case manager who always gave me clear explanations, valued my thoughts, and always supported me and helped me follow through with expectations. Now that I am a case manager, I model myself after the latter. I always try to communicate frequently with my paraprofessionals, give them clear expectations, and value their input. anonymous
Standard 6.1 Recognize signs of emotional distress, neglect, and abuse, and follow reporting procedures.
This standard is of particular interest to me as even before I came into my current role in public education, I have always worked with children – in various capacities – and I value the responsibility of being a safe and reliable person in their lives. I take the responsibility of being a mandated reporter very seriously, it is of second nature for me to consider the safety of the students that I work with.
I believe that is easy for children to be mistreated and neglected – more now than maybe ever before. What may be passed off as disciplinary problems – may be a strong indicator for neglect or abuse. It is important that special educators – really any educator – be aware of indicators of abuse in the behavior or misbehavior of students.
It is important that we go to our administration with our concerns so that an investigation is carried out to protect our students. Colleen Mehalko
Standard 6.2, “Actively seek and use the knowledge of parents and individuals with exceptionalities when planning, conducting, and evaluating special education services and empower them as partners in the educational process”,
This is extremely important for Special Educators to execute daily. There are a few ways that families are utilized in their child’s special education. One is simply by using a school-to-home communication book, which is used at my school. It is a method of communication that allows the family to inform the paraeducator and the special educator of any useful information that pertains to the previous night. For example, there is a place where the family can write about anything the child did after school the day before, such as riding bikes with friends, watching movies, playing certain games. This gives the paraeducator a subject to talk to the student about and create a connection. This book also has a section where the parent can state if the student slept well or not the night before (which could explain some behaviors). And it also includes a section on whether the student has breakfast or not. This is all information that’ll help the teachers during the school day. Another way families can be involved is by having them involved in meetings. The families know the children better than anyone and can give great insight on what may work at home and strategies that can be used at school. Chelsea Hoadly
This standard helps to foster positive working relationships and rapport between special educators, students, and parents/guardians. Inviting parents/guardians to meetings and encouraging them to contribute in these meetings is one way to get them involved in their student’s educational process. Encouraging parents/guardians to inform the special educator of any pertinent information, out of the ordinary or typical, via verbal or written communication is also vital to supporting the student. This allows the special educator to inform others (general education teachers, paraprofessionals, specialists, etc) and can help them to better support that student or understand their behavior. Sarah Carroll
This standard in practice is a special educator viewing the parents of a child with a disability, as the expert on the that child. By having conversations with the families or asking them to fill out skill checklists or questionnaires about their child, prior to evaluation is the special educator tapping into the wealth of knowledge that those parents have about their child. This will not only provide useful information, but also help empower families throughout the special education process. Listening to the parents hopes and concerns for their child and using those to help shape their goals and the strategies used in school and at home, will help with collaboration, carryover of skills and overall success. Jillian Mercer
Standard 8.1 “Maintain accurate records and ensure that confidentiality standards are in place and enforced” .
On a day to day basis this would be a teacher keeping track of goals and progress towards goals as well as medical documentation of a diagnosis. This becomes especially important during IEP review time where these records are used and often out on a desk in order to work on the update. The storage of these files is important and where they are placed while in use for IEP updates is also important. Rebecca Cunningham
This starts at the beginning of the school year as I’m reviewing IEPs and student schedules. I make copies of these IEPs and distribute them to all teachers that work with the students on my caseload. Having reviewed these IEPs, I am able to have conversations to prepare classroom teachers to best accommodate the students on my caseload. It is imperative that I also document that the classroom teachers have received and reviewed the IEPs for these students. This is documented on a form signed by the teachers indicating that they have done so and serves as proof of their awareness to each of the student’s needs.
The IEP, as well as general knowledge that a student is on an IEP, is confidential information and should not be openly discussed with anyone that does not directly work with the student. That means that the IEP itself should be kept safe and out of sight from any students that may enter my space to receive services from me or staff that may be collaborating or meeting with me. To ensure that this confidentiality is maintained, educators need to be careful where they have conversations about special education students and need to be careful in using students’ names not only in conversations in classrooms, but also in emails etc.
As a high school educator, many students with IEPs are especially self conscious and sometimes ashamed of needing extra help. Although it can be very obvious to many students and staff who is on an IEP or 504 and who isn’t, we must still do our best to protect the privacy of our students as best as we can to reduce any negative social side effects and stigmas that students may encounter from being on an IEP from students and/or staff. Arthur Rafus