Thursday / December 8

7 Essential Skills of Special Educators

Your position as an Education Specialist involves challenges and balancing high demands. Not only does your role involve teaching along with organizing and monitoring requirements for each student’s Individual Education Program (IEP), but it is interwoven into a number of aspects involving the whole school. Because the students you serve range across grade levels, school- and community-wide relationships are necessary to implement your designed program.  Therefore, as an Education Specialist it is critical to routinely develop your communication, collaboration, and coordination skills.

Below are the essential skills with descriptions/examples contained in the categories of communication, collaboration, and coordination. These can act as a guideline for ongoing professional growth objectives.

1. Self Reflection

Self-reflection provides opportunities to understand the needs of students and make adjustments in your teaching. In addition, your reflections on interactions with others, resulting in the development of building relationships, are necessary to be more effective in this position. One example of self-reflection is journal writing. Your journal writing entries could include entries under headings such as:

  • Personal Learning
  • Environment (including support from colleagues)
  • Collaboration
  • Student Learning

2. Communication Skills

By implementing the Principals of Effective Communication you are enhancing your leadership role and providing a model for all team members who play a part in IEPs. In addition to face-to-face, phone conversations, and electronic contacts, Education Specialists communicate in writing through means such as parent information letters, IEP summaries, and progress reports. These effective Communication Principals are important to be contained in all methods of contacts. These principals embrace:

  • Mutual Respect & Trust
  • Acceptance
  • Listening
  • Use of Plain Language
  • Questioning Strategies
  • Encouragement

3. Development of Relationships

Your development of relationships is indispensable in order to accomplish tasks and achieve desired outcomes. There are a number of people with whom you need to build relationships. Most of these collaborative relationships intersect with one another. The following graphic organizer illustrates this idea.

Graphic Organizer

Previously published by Georganne Cavataio in Academic Exchange Quarterly, Winter 2005.

4. Collaborative Skills

Opportunities for continuous learning result from collaborative efforts. Foundations for collaboration include time, training, and nurturing and result in student success. Within IDEA, collaboration is a cornerstone of services to individuals with disabilities with the goal of equalizing educational opportunities. Qualities of collaboration involve:

  • Knowledge of Curriculum
  • Knowledge of Pedagogy
  • Student Management
  • Student-Centered Instruction
  • Ability to Reflect on and Adapt Instruction

5. Effective Instructional Strategies

A variety of models of service are considered when designing programs to meet needs of students and school communities. Often a combination of the following models is implemented in order to best serve individuals and school cultures:

  • Push-in
  • Co-teaching
  • Pull-out
  • Mainstreaming
  • Inclusion
  • Tiers of intervention
  • Collaboration

6. Organizational Skills

  • IEP: a year long process versus an event

When you approach an IEP as a yearlong process versus a one-time event, your ability to support students’ progress towards goals is enhanced. Instead of preparing for IEP meetings close to the deadline date, engage in ongoing opportunities for being a liaison and advocate for students through classroom observations, informal contacts with parents, teachers, specialists, and administrators, attending Parent/Teacher Conferences, and updating IEP summaries on a regular basis.

  • Organizing and Managing

Life as an Education Specialist can be challenging. IEPs include a great deal of paperwork and a variety of timelines need to be met. Caseloads of students at various grade levels, skills & abilities, and qualifying eligibilities need to be scheduled, instructed, and managed. Paraprofessionals and 1:1 aides need to be supervised and directed. Creating systems is key to accomplishing the diverse tasks and roles you take on in this position.

  • Beginning of the School Year

You begin your job before the school year starts. You devote time to: coordinating with general educators and specialists that serve your students, learning about students on your caseload, developing a schedule, planning instruction, developing an ongoing communication system for you and paraprofessionals, setting up the classroom, organizing materials, and parent communication.

  • End of the School Year

As the school year is coming to a close, need for your organizational skills seem to be accelerating. Tasks such as Transition Meetings, progress reports, IEPs, classroom placements, summer packets for student resources, and student recognitions for achievements occur. You’re grateful for all of the systems you’ve developed and implemented.

7. Leadership Skills

Your role of an Education Specialist involves leadership skills in a number of areas. One is in the organizing, managing, and facilitation of IEP meetings.  You also will be a resource to general education teachers and often providing professional development training in the areas of instructional strategies. You will be a team member on school-wide meetings such as Student Success or Response to Intervention teams. Therefore facilitative skills, ethical actions, integrity and follow through are crucial.

Next Steps:

Reflect on the skills that have been addressed in this article. Which one do you feel most confident in your abilities? Which one do you feel you need the most growth? What is a next step for your professional development of those skills?

Please share your ideas in the comment area below.


Written by

Georganne Schroth-Cavataio is a veteran teacher of 30 years in both general and special education. Ms. Cavataio’s educational background includes a Masters degree in Education from San Jose State University (SJSU) with an emphasis on cross-cultural literacy for an equitable society. Additionally, her educational credentials include: Education Specialist, Reading Specialist, and Multiple Subjects. Within these many educational capacities, Ms. Cavataio has had opportunities to work with diverse populations ranging in ages from preschool through adult. She has mentored both special education and general education beginning teachers in grades K-12 locally and nationally with The New Teacher Center eMSS online mentoring program and Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project. Ms. Cavataio has supervised student teachers and Interns for the Department of Special Education at SJSU. She has published with the education journal Academic Exchange Quarterly, and co-authored articles for the National Teacher Education Journal, and NASSP: Principal Leadership. Georganne is the co-author of Mentorship of Special Educators.

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  • Excellent overview article!!

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