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School Principals and Inclusion: Views, Practices and Possible Signs of Burnout. October, 2007 Ludwigsburg, Germany Gilada Avissar, Ph.D. Two assumptions underlie this presentation:

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School Principals and Inclusion: Views, Practices and Possible Signs of Burnout

October, 2007

Ludwigsburg, Germany

Gilada Avissar, Ph.D.

Two assumptions underlie this presentation:

  • Inclusion is "one of the more complex changes on the current education scene" (Fullan and Stiegelbauer, 1991. p. 41).

  • The school principal, who serves as an educational leader in school life, plays a major function in implementing change.

Searching large electronic data bases (in English) for studies of principals in connection with mainstreaming or inclusion yielded poor results. Relatively few empirical studies have been reported on the subject. As for possible burnout of principals with regard to mainstreaming and inclusion, searches yielded no results.

Education for children with special needs in Israel

During the 2006/2007 school-year, there were 1,755,262 pupils in the Israeli education system. Special education services are provided to approximately 10% of the pupils, with 2% attending special facilities i.e. special schools and special classes within regular schools, while 8% are included in regular classrooms.

The Mission

The Israeli Special Education Law of 1988 and the amendments that followed, reflect a commitment to placing children in the least restrictive environment. This commitment emphasizes the importance of providing support for pupils' special educational needs within regular education settings.

Major patterns of mainstreaming in Israel

  • Individual placement of children with special needs in regular classes.

  • Special classes within regular schools.

  • Special schools with an orientation toward mainstreaming and community integration.

Study # 1: School principals' perceptions and practices with regard to the inclusion of pupils with special needs in Israel

  • What are the principals’ perceptions of inclusion?

  • What are the principals’ practices regarding inclusion?



  • The participating 110 elementary school principals, from the largest school district in Israel, represented 54% of the sample.

  • These schools are of different sizes and characteristics as well as cities, towns and villages, in urban and rural areas. They mainstream children with a wide range of disabilities. The most prevalent disability (over 90%) were students with learning disabilities followed by students with emotional and behavior disabilities.

  • Almost all were female, with over 16 years tenure in teaching and over 7 years as principals. 50% have a B.A. degree, 25% - an M.A. or Ph.D.


A three part Questionnaire for Principals (QP).

Part I - The School’s Profile

Part II. – The Practices of Inclusion:

(a) a scale containing 17 statements about inclusive practices; (b) Six different vignettes, each describing a case study based on a true story. The first part described the problem and the second offered an educational/school solution.

Part III. Background information and personal data


Principals’ Perception of Inclusion

Service Delivery Models

Correlations between principals’ background characteristics, perceptions of inclusion and practices of inclusion

  • The higher the level of education of the principals, the more severe the problem was perceived.

  • Principals with a higher level of education practiced more pull-out programs.

  • The older the principals, fewer full-inclusion practices were implemented while more pull-out programs were used.

  • Principals with more in-service training in the area of inclusion practice more pull-out programs.

“Food for thought”

  • The findings regarding the emphasis by principals on social success rather than academic success is problematic. Learning and academic progress are critical for success in school and in society.

  • Former experience, tenure and seniority tend to affect the willingness to practice inclusive measures namely with more experience and seniority there is less support for inclusion.

Study # 2: Implementing inclusion: signs of burnout among school principals in Israel

"One of the most widespread causes for stress in schools in Israel is the present policy of mainstreaming”. (Reiter, 1996)

Is it?

Unresolved macro-level issues

  • Changing the definition of special education from categorical to functional has not been fully implemented.

  • The increase in the number of paraprofessionals working within both special and regular schools raises an issue of supervision.

  • There is lack of cooperation among the three major ministries providing services for the child with special needs and his family.

  • Referral committees do not always operate in accordance with the regulations.

  • Government action in fulfilling special needs has not kept pace with developments in theory and in practice by professionals and academics.

  • Teachers in the regular education system are not adequately prepared.

  • The expansion of special education services within the regular education system had strengthened the regular teachers' refusal to relate to the child with special needs.

Unresolved micro-level issues

  • Teachers' attitudes toward mainstreaming and toward the child with special needs.

  • The gap between physical integration and social acceptance by teachers and by peers.

  • Stress of the non-handicapped students.

  • Concern of the teachers with regard to potential disciplinary issues in their classes.


  • Participants:

  • 9 female principals of elementary school, and 4 middle-school principals, 1 male and 3 females.

  • Veteran teachers i.e. over 16 years of educational experience.

  • Half have served as principals for over 10 years. One just began.

  • 75% hold a B.A. degree and the others have their M.A. or Ph.D. degree.

  • The Schools:

  • Instrument:

  • Semi-structured interviews.

    The lead questions was: "Please tell me about the implementation of inclusion in your school". Two additional questions were: (1) "What are the difficulties encountered with regard to implementing inclusion?" and (2) "What percentage of your daily work has to do with it?".

  • Each interview lasted for about two hours. It was held in the principal's office and the visit included a tour of the school.


  • No major differences in views were found between principals of elementary schools and principals of middle schools.

  • All the participating principals regard inclusion of students disabilities as the reality of the educational scene.

  • The more favored mode of inclusion is that of "pull-out“.

  • Whereas In study # 1 over half of the principals (of elementary schools) reported a preference for having a special class, in study # 2, all but one reported a preference for mainstreaming in the regular class.

Difficulties reported:

  • A centralized attitude of the Ministry of Education.

  • Not enough resources.

  • Parental pressure.

  • Children with severe behavior problems.

  • Having to respond the teachers' complaints and dissatisfaction

"Too many meetings, too much paper work, not enough hours to go around to cater to the needs and a supervisor who interferes with our decision making processes".

Time consumption:

"Almost 50% to 80% of my time during the first 3 months of the school year and than again during the last two months of the school year is spent on implementing inclusion. During the rest of the school year it is 25%-30% of the time".

Signs of burnout:

  • "I don't feel tired or beat since implementing inclusion is a challenge and in my position as principal I look for challenges".

  • "I am beat by the bureaucracy. It is time consuming and therefore very tiring. Inclusion means dealing with something that is impossible for us to deal with. There aren't enough resources".

  • "I find that implementing inclusion is both frustrating and tiring".

In Summary

  • There are definite signs of emotional exhaustion among the school principals interviewed.

  • The vehement denial of some of them of the possibility of burnout may have to do with the fact that most are females.

  • The two studies are 6 years apart and changes as a result of implementation of inclusion have occurred during this time i.e. less special classes and more inclusion in a regular class.

Thanks for your attention!

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