By Martin Silverman

This is the fifth article in a series. Read the other articles in the series.

I am not more than a casual baseball fan, but growing up in New York City I did love going to Yankees games a few times per season. One of the things I always found interesting was the construction of an effective pitch. Essentially one guy throws a ball toward another guy who attempts to whack it with a piece of wood. From a distance, it all looks repetitive…the same thing done the same way each time. Of course, when you look more closely you realize that pitching is an art AND a science. Different elements of physics work together to create different types of pitches that do different things designed to confound the batter.

Teaching is like that as well. We are given a curriculum, a scope and sequence calendar, a mess of TEKS, and sometimes a boxed program or textbook and then we teach. We are throwing the ball toward the students, and they are attempting to whack it with a piece of wood. As professional educators, we know this one size fits all approach is not effective, and so here come the special programs!

Our students come to us from all different starting points. The depth of their strengths and struggles is unique and based on various factors. Think about things like language differences, socioeconomic factors, identified special needs, etc. We address those different needs through our special programs such as Title I, SPED, Gifted & Talented, ELL/Emergent Bilingual services, Counseling, 504, and a host of other acronym services intended to provide opportunities for students to access the curriculum equitably.

Leading with the mind when it comes to special programs requires us to be aware of several different factors. For example: 

  • We need to understand all the rules and regulations that govern these initiatives. There are state and federal guidelines, local policies and procedures, spending protocols, service alternative protocols, etc. These are the kind of things that seem proportionally more important than they should. We are warned that violating an obscure regulation is going to get us “in trouble,” and that is the truth! Taking the time to read and research federal and state program guidelines will go a long way to understanding the rules and regs of all the different support streams. 
  • We need to know which special program provides service for which identified need. For example, what do you do with a student with ADHD? There is no one answer to that as there are a variety of special programs (or no special program) that specifically addresses every particular need. We would need to know if the child was receiving services through Special Education, has a 504 plan, etc. 
  • We need to understand the intent of each special program. Title I funds are intended to level the playing field for economically disadvantaged students and schools. Title III funds are intended to provide support for ELL students, and IDEA funds support students with identified special education needs. We must be careful to use the correct support for the correctly identified students. 
  • Master scheduling of services is an important consideration. How do you ensure full access to the curriculum when you also pull students out for services? When a student is pulled out for Gifted and Talented services or for a Resource class, we need to ensure they also get the grade level skills they are required to learn. This is one of the biggest issues with special programs. When do you pull kids out of class when everyone wants to teach reading first thing in the morning?

With all the procedures and regulation pertaining to state and federal programs intended to support students, it definitely involves the work of the mind to keep everything organized, legal, scheduled, and delivered. But leading special programs is also a work of the heart. There are some very basic underlying assumptions that come into play when we consider the additional supports we provide for our students. Some of the considerations when leading special programs with the heart include: 


  • Special programs are intended to support the general education curriculum, not replace it (supplement vs. supplant, anyone?). We always should consider building from a place of strength in the core of our classroom instruction before we pull kids out for additional support. We must consider the strengths of the student before we focus on the weaknesses. When we communicate about special programs, we should work toward verbalizing the support and enhancement aspect rather than the deficit aspect. For example, services for ELL students are designed to build their language skills in a second language, as opposed to communicating that they lack ability in English so they receive these services. 
  • We must be cognizant of the fact that students who need to move the least often move the most. When providing support in Special Education in particular, we must consider the effect of having multiple teachers for multiple supports. Consider the fact that a student might have a homeroom teacher, a special education paraprofessional, a special education teacher, a speech therapist, and an RTI teacher all with different styles. We need to recognize and do what we can to support students who need stability when they are being served in multiple programs. This can be accomplished with either a strong case manager who considers the academic AND social needs of the students to create an effective plan. It might also require us to provide services within the same physical space (an aide or co-teacher, for example). 
  • When a student is pulled out of a general education classroom for any reason there is often a stigma attached to the act of leaving. I remember being pulled for a Speech class in elementary and thinking about what I was going to miss while I was gone. This practice may not be totally avoidable, but it needs to be considered when creating a service plan for our students. Acknowledging the fact that being pulled out could potentially cause an issue and actively working to combat the stigma is vital to a successful heart-led special programs menu!

Our goal will always be to provide an array of instructional services to our students. By incorporating both the mind and the heart, we can create a differentiated set of options that will ensure that our students receive all the support they need to become successful. Moving our mindset from deficit to growth will create the kind of culture we all strive to maintain as mind and heart leaders!

Judson ISD principal, Martin Silverman is committed to providing the best educational experience for students and families at Salinas Elementary. His interests are in creating and nurturing school culture, providing enriching experiences for students and families, and developing future teachers and administrators. He hosts a podcast called “The Second Question,” which highlights educators and provides them a forum to discuss ideas and to honor the teachers who have influenced their lives. A longtime TEPSA member, Silverman is also part of a trio of Texas educators who host the podcast “The Texan Connection.”

TEPSA News, November/December 2022, Vol 79, No 6 

Copyright © 2022 by the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association. No part of articles in TEPSA publications or on the website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association.

The Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), whose hallmark is educational leaders learning with and from each other, has served Texas PK-8 school leaders since 1917. Member owned and member governed, TEPSA has more than 6000 members who direct the activities of 3 million PK-8 school children. TEPSA is an affiliate of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

© Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association

Sign up to receive the latest news on Texas PK-8 school leadership.