Fostering Supportive Work Environments for Special Education Providers

Explore strategies for fostering supportive work environments for special education providers. Learn how leadership, school climate, and tools like Kit can enhance job satisfaction, reduce burnout, and improve retention in special education. Discover actionable tips for administrators to build a positive, collaborative culture that values and supports the special education team.
By Trish Geraghty

As leaders, it’s imperative for us to recognize the critical role that positive working conditions play in retaining educators within the field. A supportive work environment not only enhances job satisfaction but also contributes to the overall well-being and effectiveness of teachers and related service providers. Research, such as that by Billingsley & Bettini (2019), highlights the significance of factors like school climate, manageable job demands, administrative support, and logistical benefits in creating such an environment.

School leaders are primarily responsible for establishing and maintaining supportive work environments. Unfortunately, special educators and related service providers often report feeling unsupported and unclear about job expectations compared to their general education counterparts (Mason-Williams et al., 2020; Rock et al., 2016). This indicates a pressing need for leadership approaches that prioritize service to staff. To cultivate such leaders, it is essential to provide comprehensive leadership preparation and ongoing professional development focused on equipping them with the necessary skills to support their staff effectively. For instance, principals should receive training to demonstrate staff value through individual interactions and to foster collaboration among staff members (OSEP Summit Retain Panel, 2020).

Here are some tips to consider when planning how to support your amazing special education staff!


  • Create a supportive and positive work environment. This might seem like an obvious strategy, but I am continually surprised by how leaders depend on a positive work environment to be created organically. Intentional planning is needed to foster a culture of collaboration, respect, and recognition that enhances the employee experience.
  • Promote work-life balance by encouraging employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance to prevent burnout and promote overall well-being. Here is the second part of this balance; support work-life balance! Saying it does nothing to help your team; you have to live it and support it. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “family first,” which is well-intended. However, if someone needs to leave for the day or take additional time off, their job responsibilities don’t go away, and the work piles up. Consider implementing policies and practices that promote work-life balance, such as flexible work arrangements, additional support for paperwork, wellness programs, and opportunities for stress management.
  • Recognize and appreciate employee contributions by regularly acknowledging their efforts. Intentionally plan for how you will do this and consider a multi prong approach. I added an hour of gratitude daily to my calendar that included: one “happy gram,” one shout and share (this went to the school or team), and one to highlight in a monthly newsletter that shared a promising practice.
  • Seek feedback and address concerns frequently. I can learn more about the culture of a team and school in a twenty minute focus group than I can by spending a week at the school. Create a safe space to share and regularly solicit feedback from special education providers regarding their experiences, concerns, and suggestions for improvement. Follow up with a summary and actions that will be taken. 
  • Give your teams the resources and tools they need to do their jobs! I know this is another “of course we do this!” In my many focus groups with special education providers, the common theme of lacking time and tools for paperwork completion always comes up. One prep period a day is not enough to lesson plan and complete special education paperwork. One special education director recruits and retains speech-language pathologists by providing SLP Toolkit. She has seen an improvement in retention rates. To support teachers and therapists with caseload management and paperwork, check out Kit, which is designed for the entire IEP team. Kit is a collaborative software designed to simplify the workday for IEP teams. The app provides an innovative guided approach to information sharing, data management, planning, assessments, and more. Your teams will thank you for providing a resource that is user-friendly and streamlines their workflows. 
Trish Geraghty
Trish Geraghty, an accomplished educational leader with 20+ years of experience, excels in curriculum development, instructional design, and professional development. Her proven track record includes successful support for schools, districts, educators, and students. Committed to ensuring universal access to high-quality learning, Trish is a visionary advocate for inclusive education. Her innovative approach to curriculum development reflects a keen understanding of evolving standards. Trish's transformative influence extends beyond traditional boundaries, actively contributing to the broader advancement of education. A catalyst for positive change, she inspires excellence in others, shaping the future of education through unwavering commitment and visionary leadership.

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