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Mapping the terrain of educational leadership and inclusive education in Canada

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Leading inclusive schools successfully is a significant undertaking which directly impacts the quality of education students with exceptional learning needs receive. As discussed by Brockett, Falco, Yosief, and Thomas in their blog post “Gaps in the Inclusive School Leadership Literature”, very little literature exists on the topic of inclusive education in educational leadership programs in Canada. In fact, inclusive education is seldom, if ever, a required focus of educational leadership programs at major universities across Canada.

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A sample conducted for my graduate work in 2017 indicated that Acadia University, McGill University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia, the University of Manitoba, the University of New Brunswick, the University of Ottawa, and the University of Saskatchewan all offered graduate degrees in educational leadership but not one program required candidates to complete any coursework in inclusive education. The lone exception was the educational leadership program offered at University of Prince Edward Island, with the caveat that the program’s target audience was teachers preparing for a resource room teaching position. A brief review indicated that the requirements have not changed.

Educational leadership programs without a focus on inclusive education is overall not all that surprising: University faculty with research interest and teaching focus on educational leadership will likely be guided by such ongoing interest when university courses in programs for administrators-in-training are created. Co-teaching or co-development of courses that would blend leadership and inclusion would seem ideal.

The lack of focus on inclusive education in university educational leadership programs is mirrored in the varying formal requirements for principals found in various Canadian jurisdictions. I was fortunate enough to be able to explore this issue in greater depth in my article in Exceptionality Education International called “K–12 Administration of Inclusive Schools in Canada: A Literature Review of Expectations and Qualifications of Formal School Leaders”.

Some jurisdictions only require principals to hold valid teaching certificates. Others require successful candidates to have several years of successful teaching experience, in addition to the completion of graduate programs in educational leadership and to complete locally developed programs on educational leadership. All jurisdictions in Canada can be placed somewhere along this spectrum of formal qualifications.

Given so many jurisdictions have few, if any, formal academic requirements for principals, it should come as no surprise that many principals are under-qualified to handle the task and responsibility of ensuring students with exceptionalities receive the quality education they deserve in an inclusive school setting. Such an assertion is well supported by the literature.

Research indicates that few newly trained principals are well-equipped to successfully support

inclusion of students with exceptionalities in their schools.

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What does this mean and how can improvements be made?

With few, if any formal requirements for post-secondary coursework in inclusive education, principals learn how to lead inclusive schools while on the job. Consequently, professional development is necessary and could help update principals’ inclusive education skillset. The professional development could include approaches such as mentorship and collaboration, while also including specialists such as special education teachers and learning support teachers. Going beyond professional development, however, the development of educational leadership program with a focus on inclusive education would be a significant improvement. Such an improvement would be even more significant if educational jurisdictions start requiring such formal qualifications.

With the research being done around inclusive educational leadership, we will continue to learn what is working and where improvements are needed. What is the best way to lead an inclusive school? Is the principal the most important component of successful inclusive education? I remain hopeful that these questions can be answered.

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