Students with Disabilities

In this Institute, school leaders learn the latest research, and gain leadership strategies on effective interventions and inclusive learning environments for students with special needs.

Explore the Students with Disabilities Institute


The three-day Students with Disabilities Institute gives school leaders the knowledge they need to develop and implement a school-wide action plan that puts students with disabilities on a solid path toward proficiency and productive lives.

Closing achievement gaps for special education students requires principals to be instructional leaders. This Institute covers the research-based leadership strategies that improve learning for students with disabilities:

  • Providing ongoing professional development for special education teachers
  • Integrating students with disabilities into regular classes
  • Promoting early identification and referral of special education students
  • Maintaining strong lines of communication with parents
  • Supporting collaboration between special education and general education teachers

The institute includes a gap-analysis tool to help educators benchmark their school against best practices and evaluate their school’s or district’s ability to support a complete and inclusive program for students with disabilities. This institute also helps leaders assess the benefits and risks to different approaches to instruction and inclusion.

Learning to Make an Immediate Impact

The Institute’s course content is broken down into specific units supported by readings, discussions and hands-on learning activities that are targeted to the needs of busy school leaders. Teaching methods include case studies, role-playing exercises and interactive computer-based activities to complement lectures and group discussions

Learning Objectives

  • Assess their schools’ special education population and services, and then develop a vision and action plan for high standards and improved student achievement.
  • Identify leadership strategies to promote fair assessment.
  • Lead educators in identifying and implementing effective intervention and acceleration programs.
  • Promote the incorporation of instructional best practices into learning curricula.
  • Develop strategies that increase teacher capacity for the instruction of students with disabilities and, by extension, the student body as a whole.
  • Lead the school community in adopting a unified approach for students with disabilities.

Key Questions

  • How do I evaluate my school’s readiness for supporting a complete and inclusive program for students with disabilities?
  • What steps must I take to overcome the cultural and structural barriers to achievement that exist within my school community in addressing the learning needs of all students?
  • How does an instructional leader promote the importance of ongoing opportunities for students to learn throughout the school year?
  • What do high standards and fair assessments for students with disabilities look like in the work of students and in the practice of teachers?
  • What approaches work best in ensuring the alignment and coherence of instruction for students with disabilities in inclusionary programs?



The Students with Disabilities Institute comes complete with a rich set of learning materials that address every aspect of supporting inclusion for students with disabilities. In addition to an interactive CD-ROM, course handbook and handouts developed by NISL, participants will receive copies of:

  • What Every Principal Needs to Know About Special Education, by Margaret J. McLaughlin and Victor Nolet
  • Effective Teaching Strategies That Accommodate Diverse Learners, by Michael D. Coyne, Edward J. Kame’enui and Douglas W. Carnine
  • New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice, by Thomas Hehir

Agenda: How Strong Leadership Can Make a Difference

Day One Agenda

SWD Setting the Stage: What School Leaders Need to Know

  • Introduction to SWD Institute Day 1
  • Equity, Demographics, and Legalities
    • History of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
    • Understanding the Basic Rights and Services for SWD
    • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Inclusive Practices and Continuum of Placement
    • The Equal Educational Opportunity Movement
    • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Response to Intervention (RtI)
  • School Culture and Parent Engagement
    • Building a Culture of Acceptance of Diversity
    • Parents of SWD Engagement
    • Benefits of Exemplary Inclusive Benefits
  • Q&A and Feedback

Day Two Agenda

SWD Steps To Action: What School Leaders Need to Know

  • Standards-Based Instructional Systems and Fair Assessments
    • Implementing a Multi-Level System of Prevention within a SBIS
    • Fair Assessments
    • IEP Case Study
    • District Case Study
  • Professional Development
    • Structure for Professional Development
    • Design an Action Learning Project
    • District Case Study
  • Q&A and Feedback

Day Three Agenda

SWD Fine-Tuning Practices: What School Leaders Need to Know

  • Day 1 and 2 Reflection: Walkabout Interview
  • Instructional Practices, Safety Nets, and Academic/Nonacademic Resources
    • Academic Instructional Practices, Safety Nets, and Resources
    • Nonacademic Practices, Safety Nets, and Resources
  • Action Learning Project Updates
  • Q&A and Feedback

Delivery Models to Fit Your District’s Needs

NISL Faculty can train participants directly, or, for districts or states that want to train multiple cohorts, NISL can train several district leaders to become certified NISL facilitators. This method allows organizations to build internal capacity while reducing the cost of training.

NISL can conduct the Institute at a school district facility or work with you to find a suitable off-site venue. The Institute costs do not include facility rental fees, lunch or refreshments, IT services, or travel or lodging expenses for participants.

The cost of the three-day program is $25,000 for up to 25 participants to receive training directly from NISL faculty. Additional participants can be added for $600 each.

For districts that wish to develop their internal capacity to deliver the training, NISL will train and certify their staff for $1,100 per trainer. Certification requires that candidates spend several extra hours with NISL Faculty before, during and after the Institute. A NISL Faculty member then attends the candidate’s first session as facilitator to observe and coach the trainer candidate. Once certified, the trainer can train other principals for just $425 per participant. This covers the cost of materials plus a license to use the training materials.