The education of individual learners is a science as well as an art. Applications of the scientific method and established principles of learning are critical for improving the educational outcomes for all individuals, regardless of disability or demographic status. Education extends beyond the cognitive domain to include speech and communication, physical development, social skills, activities of daily living, and vocational training. Likewise, education goes beyond classroom settings as learning continues in social contexts, residential settings, and the workplace. The education of every individual must consider that person's specific strengths, desires, and needs and be planned in the context of the individual's family, community, and legal rights.
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The special education practitioner, therefore, must be prepared to be more than a competent instructor. The special educator must be equipped to communicate well with other professionals, to provide informed and ethical advice to families, and to act as an advocate for the full inclusion of all individuals within the culture. Leadership in the special education profession is established only when the special educator also continues to be a scholar and researcher, capable of critically evaluating teaching strategies and materials, careful in identifying effective procedures and aids, and skillful in communicating these findings to the professional community.
Leadership in special education is established through rigorous training in the fundamental language and legal issues of the profession, in assessment and evaluation, in data-based best practices, in communication with families and professionals, and in applied research and critical analysis of research. Training must emphasize experience and application with learners who are typical, as well as atypical, and must be accompanied by continuous monitoring and feedback. Finally, such leadership preparation is successful only when it is carried out by committed, practicing professionals who model these values, skills, and qualities of leadership.