Building Trust and Responding to Conflict in Special Education

Authored by: Barbara J. Lake , Art Stewart

Handbook of Leadership and Administration for Special Education

Print publication date:  June  2012
Online publication date:  May  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415872805
eBook ISBN: 9780203837313
Adobe ISBN: 9781136869693


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An under-researched but critical area of study for special education leaders is conflict and conflict resolution. Collectively, school districts across the United States are spending more than $90 million per year in conflict resolution (Mueller, 2009). Due to its costly nature (both in terms of financial costs as well as emotional costs), it is important to understand the specific complexities that accompany special education conflicts. Stakeholders have vested interests in resolving conflicts as economically and as expeditiously as possible; however, data indicate that few of the stakeholders (parents, special educators, and school administrators) have had formal or sufficient training in understanding and responding to conflict (Schrag & Schrag, 2004). While research in special education conflict resolution is limited (Lake & Billingsley, 2002; Mueller, 2009; Nowell & Salem, 2007; Reiman et al., 2007; Schrag & Schrag, 2004), there is robust dialogue conducted in on-line environments, at conferences, and in trainings focused on enhancing practice and effectiveness in resolving special education disputes. There is mounting concern for the prevention of relationship-damaging conflict as well as careful handling of conflicts to preserve present and future parent-school relationships. Developing and protecting collaborative working relationships between parents and school personnel have been identified as key elements in the success of special education programs, leading to improvement in educational outcomes (Nowell & Salem, 2007).

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