Principal leadership for students with disabilities in effective inclusive schools

David DeMatthews, Bonnie Billingsley, James McLeskey, Umesh Sharma

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

    26 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose: Creating inclusive schools for students with disabilities is a major leadership responsibility for principals throughout the world. Each national, regional and local context is different, but every principal can help create and support inclusive schools. The purpose of this article is to describe the evolving context of inclusive education and school leadership in the United States aligning what is known to an established leadership framework (Hitt and Tucker, 2016), as there are similarities between the Hitt and Tucker domains and the work of leaders in inclusive schools. The authors emphasize that inclusive leadership is consistent with existing conceptualizations of principals' work. The authors consider specific policies and organizational conditions that support inclusive schools and highlight successes and continuing challenges for principals that can be applied throughout the world. Design/methodology/approach: This paper utilizes an exploratory approach to review the US policy-related and empirical literature on school leadership for effective inclusive schools. The authors draw across time from research syntheses in school and inclusive leadership from leading journals in educational leadership, special education and edited volumes focused on school leadership. The authors analyze common themes centered on leadership practice, organizational and social conditions and challenges. Findings: The research review identified effective leadership practices that support inclusive education in the United States and provides a critical discussion of how these findings relate to international research and practice. Practical implications: The paper considers the relevance of national policy contexts coupled with a review of school leadership for inclusive schools that is insightful for policymakers and practitioners seeking to create more inclusive schools throughout the world. Originality/value: The paper offers a situated review of leadership for inclusive schools in the United States. As such, this review lays the foundation for a comparative and international conversation on school leadership for inclusion.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)539-554
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Educational Administration
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


    • Inclusion
    • Leadership
    • Principals
    • Special education
    • Students with disabilities

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