Understanding CEC's High-Leverage Practices and Practice-Based Teacher Education

Understanding CEC’s High-Leverage Practices and Practice-Based Teacher Education

Special education practices have undergone dramatic changes over the past two decades. As our knowledge of children with special needs grows, our methods must change to meet educational goals.

In the fall of 2014, the Council for Exceptional Children approved a set of high-leverage practices for special education teachers. These new guidelines assist educators in getting the most out of the children they teach.

What are these practices? Read on to find out more.

What Are High-Leverage Practices?

There are four areas for special education teachers to focus on. Inside of these four areas, there are 22 practices to aid in the development of exceptional children.


To meet the needs of special education students, teachers need the expertise of a wide range of professionals. The practices in this area help teachers determine how to communicate with those who can help the student’s development.

Teachers should work together with special needs educators, support staff, and behavioral therapists. Teamwork helps students reach measurable goals and build the confidence they need to go out into the world.

Effective collaboration means that each person comes up with ideas. The team listens to and questions these ideas, plans out their implementation and shares results.

Educators need to work with family members to identify what special needs each child has. They also need to have a concrete understanding of the family’s goals and the progress family members see towards reaching them.

Teachers then meet with professionals to go over these goals. They look at the needs of the child to work out an effective plan that produces results. These professionals also determine if they have students that need special accommodations. In these cases, it’s important to work with decision makers to get the needed resources.


Every child has their strengths and weaknesses. The job of a special needs educator is to recognize both, shore up areas that need improvement, and use the child’s strengths to their advantage.

There are two types of assessments that aid in this process. The first is formal assessments. These are the statewide and national level exams that test a child’s academic progress.

There are also informal assessments that teachers use. These include analyzing the teacher’s methods and making corrections where needed.

To put together a student profile, educators use different sources. Special education teachers use information from other professionals, the student’s family, and experts.

The student profile makes it easier to identify a child’s strengths and weaknesses. The teacher must take language, culture, and poverty into account when developing a student’s profile.

From there, the teacher interprets this information for stakeholders (family members, the educational institution, etc.). Educators develop an action plan using this data and give regular updates to the stakeholders the child’s progress.

It’s important to analyze the profile and methods used to reach the goals laid out during the process. Teachers should keep and reuse effective methods and get rid of ones that do not work.


Student success depends on having a safe and respectful learning environment. Teaching students social skills is an important part of the educational experience.

Teachers aren’t only responsible for the students in their care during classroom hours. The job of a special ed teacher includes giving students the tools they need to perform outside of the classroom.

To do this, superstar teachers give personalized specific feedback. They use evidence-based practices and a team-based approach. Most importantly, they provide students with the stability of a positive teacher-student relationship.

A practice-based teacher provides age and culturally appropriate expectations. These expectations become reinforced through routines, reinforcement, and procedures practiced year-round. Providing positive and constructive feedback is one of the most powerful ways a teacher can reinforce good behavior.

Special ed teachers that follow high-leverage practices also teach communication skills and self-care. They prepare their students for life and build upon the child’s present strengths. They then check the success of their program and determine what works and what doesn’t. Remember, teachers must continue to evolve their methods over time.


Instruction that works towards a goal is the most effective form of learning for students with special needs. Special education students need to know their long-term plan is and have a roadmap to success. This helps them understand how their education benefits them and reinforces positive growth.

Establishing individualized goals for students allows teachers to provide feedback and measure success. Teachers then guide students towards these goals through the selection of materials and tasks for each student.

Using technology and recognizing the required foundational needs of students is a must. A student’s roadmap should include a list of pre-requisites that help them proceed towards their next goal.

Through the use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies, teachers support memory and attention. Students learn how to track their own success and provide feedback to teachers on what works best for them.

Teachers, in return, use powerful tools to support this growth. They use methods until the student reaches the desired outcome and then remove those methods when they aren’t needed. The methods of instruction change based on the student’s needs.

Advance Your Career

Are you interested in advancing your career as a special education teacher? If you can follow these high-leverage practices and have a desire to help others, we can assist you in reaching your goals.

Check out our website for job postings and industry news to keep you up to date on the latest teacher education resources.

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