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Gaps in the Inclusive School Leadership Literature

Contributors: Esther Brockett, Sandy Falco, Henok Yosief and Sarah Thomas

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This summer, the Lead to Include team has grown to include a group of research assistants and students working together to conduct several large reviews of the literature in the area of international, inclusive leadership. The purpose of these reviews is to uncover and map the major themes and trends in recent research, an exciting but weighty undertaking! One of our current projects, which I would like to highlight here, has the team engaging in a comprehensive review of the literature from the past 5 years around inclusive school leadership in North America.

As you can imagine, this is a large body of research, and our team has spent several weeks wading through all the major databases searching for relevant research. This process strongly resembles searching for treasure – frequently we feel like we are wandering around in the dark, unable to find a thing, and then, all of a sudden, an unexpected clue or keyword unlocks the door and a flood of golden articles fall at our feet! After navigating the ups and downs of the world of searching databases, our team has identified over 90 key articles. Our next task, of course, is to read all these articles in order to dive more deeply into the findings and conclusions revealed within them.

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As we engaged in these database searches, we found ourselves both answering existing questions and uncovering new ones. This experience, in particular the way in which we kept asking ourselves new questions the more research we found, was somewhat unexpected – though I expect more sage researchers would have warned us to expect it! These questions are both informing our current research and may also engender future projects as they indicate gaps, or opportunities for new projects, in the research on inclusive school leadership.

A common theme emerging from the literature has been the concept of principal preparation, and specifically principal preparation for leading inclusive schools. However, we have discovered little to no research on principal preparation in Ontario, where we are working from, or even in Canada. Therefore, as we read articles comparing, and often criticizing, American principal preparation programs and their lack of focus on inclusion and special education, we ask ourselves:

· How does the Principal Qualification Program compare to 5+ years ago?

· Have the programs in Canada changed to include more specific topics around special education and inclusion- beyond the legal components?

· From the articles that reference United States, it appears that a university program is required to become a principal. Is this consistent in all areas of the country and how does the university program differ from Canadian qualification requirements?

· Also, why is there such a lack in literature based on the Canadian perspective?

Another question confronting us as we consider the above issue of principal preparation is the concept of ongoing professional learning or retraining, and whether or not principals are expected to engage in this, particularly in the area of building inclusive schools. Do school boards and administrations offer meaningful and effective opportunities for their principals to engage in ongoing learning in these areas?

Looking beyond the idea of school principals as an isolated group, we also find ourselves pondering the role of the multitude of other players involved in building and sustaining an inclusive school, for instance, the other school administrators, the teachers, the parents and, lest we forget, the students themselves. While our literature searches have not been focused on these other players, we have noticed several trends, generating questions such as:

· Why are there so many more articles focused on teachers’ training and experience on inclusion versus other players?

· How does the concept of the ecology of inclusive schools, which considers the greater context of a school and all the many groups involved in the daily life of a school, help us better understand the issue?

· Why is there such minimal consideration of the role of parents and students in contributing to building inclusive classrooms and schools? Are they also not incredibly key participants in creating and maintaining an inclusive school environment?

We have already generated all these questions and many more, and we are still in the early stages of our review of the literature! Who knows where we will find ourselves as we near the end, but that is one of the many exciting aspects of our work! The sky is the limit…

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