Principal sensemaking and special education discipline : a multiple case study of secondary building-level administrators
This multiple case study -- utilizing an application of educational sensemaking theory -- aimed to examine how building-level administrators made sense of disciplining students with disabilities. This study collected data from seven building-level administrators over four secondary schools within one school district. A three-part, in-depth interview protocol was undertaken with each administrator in addition to document collection and analysis. The findings suggested that the building-level administrators were constrained more heavily by certain aspects of sensemaking. Specifically, they (1) did not have the background knowledge/training in special education to draw from, (2) had previous experiences that reminded them of worst-case occurrences, (3) were given high amounts of autonomy in decision making with very few opportunities to increase knowledge outside of own initiative, and (4) relied on relationships with teachers to help shape their actions. These findings uncovered gaps in how administrators ultimately perceived their roles as leaders of special education and how that impacted their sensemaking when disciplining a student with disabilities. Finally, these findings suggest that districts create practices that identify and fill administrator knowledge gaps, that principal leadership preparation programs concentrate on more special education content, and that awareness be raised that building-level leaders are leaders of special education.
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