Appropriate Leadership Practices

  • Appropriate leadership practices with special needs groups can facilitate use of students’ gifts and help leaders find a comfort zone.
  • These leadership practices were designed for use with groups of students with special needs who were not mainstreamed, but they are also valuable practices for leaders of typical groups who have special needs students in the group.
  • When used for leadership training or personal coaching, these guidelines form ideal discussion starters.


1. Consider your leadership role a spiritual one no matter what your management style is. Working with person with special needs is a “God job” that needs prayer and spiritual thought.

2. Define the roles of leaders.

Use the gifts of a volunteer as a buddy or mentor, records keeper, parent liason, aide, assistant. Persons have separate roles but function as a team.

3.  Work as an informed leadership team.

The team should know what will happen next and what is expected of them as individuals. Review your planning schedule from the last meeting. Post a schedule. Knowing what comes next makes for a comfort zone.


4.  Know the purpose of any activity. Is it socialization, learning, fellowship, worship or ____?

Review the needs of students as they relate to the purpose of an activity, and alter plans appropriately.

5.  Have all supplies out and grouped before beginning a project.

Some students have a gift for helping get things ready, and it gives them a sense of leadership.

6.  Tell the group the purpose of an activity or project.

If it something to be made, show what a project will look like when finished or say, “We are going to make _________ and it will be ___________ when we are finished.” If it is a project, say, “We are going to pack health kits for earthquake victims. This is what goes in the kit.”

7. Help a group focus by giving one direction at a time and completing one project or activity before beginning another.

8. Stay on focus with the subject being presented.

One person is in charge of each session with help from others. It is confusing to have more than one person giving directions unless the group has been sub-divided with a leader in each group. As always, remember that the needs of students override any subject being taught.



Use students as helpers or leaders when possible even if a specific adult must help them perform that helping act. Suggestions:  Posting, handing out, reading, singing, acting, assisting another student, getting the room ready. Have a person with a voice device program the device to call the roll.

10.  Use teachable moments, even if they are off the subject.

The leader decides, but members of the teaching team may find this valuable in a smaller group. Ask a volunteer to describe what is happening to a student who is blind.

11.  Use worship moments when they occur.

Use simple quiet pauses, clap, tack a thank you God note on the bulletin board, pray, sing or hum a praise song. Have cheerleader pom-poms visible for someone to grab and lead a cheer for God – perfect for someone who is non-verbal.

12.  Learn calming strategies for individuals in the group.

Discuss these with other teachers after class and after students have gone home. Persistent meltdowns require input from parents. Always phrase information seeking in such a way that parents cannot think you are complaining about behavior. Many parents are super-sensitive having suffered from past complaints.

13.  Use conversation with students as a teaching tool; be a good listener.

Offer options for persons who have difficulty expressing themselves, such as signing interpreters, word cards from which a person selects a card, picture boards and hand signals for yes and no.


13.  Always leave your time with students on a positive note.

14. Evaluate the session after the students leave.

Share insights about students as well as effectiveness of an activity.