Tips for Promoting and Supporting Inclusive Programs

by Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.

The reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act 1997 (IDEA ‘97) requires that "to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities ... are educated with children who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily" (IDEA Sec. 612 [5] [A]).

School administrators play a critical role in ensuring that students with disabilities are successfully included in general education settings. The Beacons of Excellence Research Initiative, a series of studies sponsored by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), analyzed the characteristics of high-performing secondary schools, in which all students, including those with disabilities, were successfully meeting high standards. The studies showed that principals in these successful schools:

  • Challenged all students and teachers to meet high standards

  • Built an inclusive and collaborative community of learning

  • Fostered a school culture of innovation and creativity

  • Engaged stakeholders in school leadership

  • Promoted professional development

  • Hired staff who reinforced school values and vision, and

  • Used data for decision-making and school improvement planning (Bartholomay, Wallace, & Mason, 2001).

Similar behaviors were evident in principals of successful inclusive elementary schools. Principals at such schools were characterized as self-directed risk takers who were willing to try new initiatives. These leaders invested in relationships with staff, parents, and the community. They were accessible to staff and students and were willing to spend time with them. In addition, they used reflective strategies to create a strong sense of direction and then acted decisively to turn vision into reality (Salisbury & McGregor, 2002).

In addition to emulating the leadership behaviors listed above, school leaders who want to support inclusive programs should consider the following:

  • Building school-level planning and leadership teams

  • Planning early for the next school year

  • Recruiting and supporting capable participants during the early implementation stages of inclusion

  • Providing ongoing professional development to teachers and staff

  • Creating balanced classroom rosters (i.e., approximately 10 to 20% of the students in a classroom are in need of special assistance such as English as a second language services, special education services, or other support due to low academic performance)

  • Providing scheduled collaborative planning time

(Walter-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin, & Williams, 2000)

IDEA '97 mandates that students with disabilities be educated with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent possible. It is a school leader's responsibility to ensure that inclusive programs are successful. For further information on creating inclusive schools, see Considerations: Strategies for Creating Inclusive Schools. This free T/TAC W&M publication and others may be ordered online at


Bartholomay, T., Wallace, T., & Mason, C. (2001). The leadership factor: A key to effective inclusive high schools. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.

IDEA '97 law and regulations. Retrieved September 20, 2004, from

Salisbury, C.L., & McGregor, G. (2002). The administrative climate and context of inclusive elementary schools. Exceptional Children, 68(2), 259-274.

Walter-Thomas, C., Korinek, L., McLaughlin, V., & Williams, B. (2000). Collaboration for inclusive education: Developing successful programs. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Date: November/December 2004