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School Leadership in Inclusive Education

This research reviews the literature to determine school leaders’ roles in promoting an inclusive education culture in learning institutions. Education is an essential human right and an integral component of sustainable development. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 emphasises the need to ensure equitable and inclusive education and create opportunities for lifetime learning for all. According to Al-Mahdy and Emam (2017), inclusive education (IE) is among the most significant global challenges school systems face. Different countries have shown a growing interest in promoting IE. Australia is among the signatory nations to the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persona with Disabilities, Article 24: Right to Inclusive Education, implying the country is committed to providing IE in all schools (Carrington & Kimber, 2020). While legal frameworks are vital in inclusive school cultures, scholars agree that school leadership, which is essential for school effectiveness and organizational success is core to successful IE (Al-Mahdy & Emam, 2017; DeMatthews et al., 2020; Khaleel et al., 2021). School leaders, especially principals and administrators, are effective agents of IE. In other words, schools function inclusively because the leaders create a favourable culture to support students of determination (SOD). They determine how teachers, students, and the community interact to incorporate students with special needs into classes.

Principles of IE

Before delving into the roles school leadership plays in enhancing inclusivity, it is imperative to understand the principles that define IE. First, IE is marked by classroom diversity to strengthen and enrich education. Each learner is unique, and student groups are different. Therefore, diversity is unavoidable in schools due to different experiences, values, cultures, and beliefs (Grove et al., 2019). Although diversity can be challenging for parents, students, and teachers, it creates opportunities for better connections in social, academic, and personal achievement as well as growth. Inclusive teachers draw on student experiences and knowledge, are flexible, and embrace classroom diversity. These teachers focus on the needs and strengths of each student.

Secondly, IE involves a personalised and strength-based curriculum. Strength-based strategies are central to IE because they recognise that each learner has inherent talents and strengths. Educators must consider these needs and strengths when planning and implementing curriculum (Grove et al., 2019). This maximizes learning opportunities. A personalised and strength-based curriculum improves learners’ motivation, engagement, and academic achievements.

Third, IE centres on student engagement, voice, and agency. Seeking students’ perspectives inspires them to contribute meaningfully to their educational and schooling experiences. The ability to contribute influences student agency and participation. Evidence suggests that the key to listening well is developing relationships of respect, trust, and belief in learners’ abilities (Grove et al., 2019). When students get a platform to share their opinions, schools have a better understanding and knowledge about their experiences. Student engagement is crucial. Therefore, educators should engage with students as critical stakeholders and facilitate different ways for them to be heard. The inclusion should consider other stakeholders like parents and community members.

The fourth principle is that IE stresses engaging with all relevant stakeholders. An IE is where all learners of different capabilities have learning and growth opportunities. This implies providing parents and students with up-to-date and accurate information through ongoing summative and formative assessments (Grove et al., 2019). Schools can model positive feedback and behaviour while offering improvement areas. This strategy enhances positive community perception and raises public awareness about a desirable school culture. This means teachers should collaborate with communities and identify areas of improvement.

Lastly, inclusive educators need practical skills, knowledge, and commitment. Good teaching includes all students. Teaching in diverse and inclusive settings requires commitment, practical strategies, and critical knowledge. Thus, teachers must commit to including all students in order to benefit all students (Grove et al., 2019). Besides, IE also benefits educators through improved professional satisfaction. Teachers require critical skills, knowledge, and evidence-based strategies (peer tutoring, cooperative learning, and learning assessment) to teach diverse students (Grove et al., 2019). Teachers with these attributes are effective for all students. Hence, teachers must commit to lifelong learning to foster classroom inclusion and diversity.

The Role of School Leaders

Engage Students as Citizens

School leaders can foster a culture of inclusion and teamwork by treating students as citizens. This approach recognises the importance of fostering interactions and relationships marked by trust, appreciation, openness, and respect. An investigation targeting five school principals found that dialogue with students and staff was a productive strategy used by school leaders to address issues that threaten inclusion, such as racism, poverty, behavioural diversity, and labelling (Osiname, 2017). Carrington and Robinson (2006) affirmed that the approach encourages students to contribute meaningfully to a school community to promote support, cooperation, and participation. As such, school leaders must power differences between them and students and teachers by valuing and respecting students as school community citizens (Carrington & Robinson, 2006; Carrington & Kimber, 2020). For instance, school leaders can invite students to be co-creators and constructors instead of acting as passive consumers. Including students’ perspectives, experiences, and cultures in curriculum development fosters IE. Besides, this engagement promotes social capital, leading to active connections characterized by trust, shared values, and mutual understanding. This binds students, teachers, and leaders, creating a sense of belonging and tolerance.

Plan for Teacher Professional and Capacity Development

Close collaboration between teachers and school leaders is core to facilitating a whole-school approach to IE. In some cases, teachers feel unprepared to meet the demands of diverse students, especially those will special needs. School leaders can encourage IE by creating opportunities for professional development to offer the training teachers need, primarily in effective behavioural and instructional intervention strategies to address students’ diverse needs (Black & Simon, 2014). Effective and successful leadership means influencing others through shared values and shaping, managing, and developing collective activities to promote collective effort (Poon-McBrayer & Wong, 2013). In this context, professional development for IE should start with giving teachers platforms to acquire new knowledge, skills, and feedback from colleagues and trainers.

Building teacher capacity equips educators with the procedural and craft knowledge needed to differentiate teaching in response to the learning needs of diverse learners, including those with disabilities. Educators have varying proficiency and self-efficacy conceptions. School leaders strengthen teachers’ capacity by providing training activities that help them gain skills to deal with diverse students. Research shows that capacity building allows instructors to view all students as their own and consider it their professional obligation to teach them (Black & Simon, 2014). Teachers use the strategies learned from capacity-building initiatives to drive school-wide IE. They also obtain additional skills and knowledge through workshops and other courses, enabling them to deal with multiple contexts. Building capacity draws on the diversity of competencies and strengths in schools, promoting knowledge exchange (DeMatthews et al., 2020). School leaders should identify opportunities to build teachers’ capacity and foster professional development to cultivate a culture of IE.

Ongoing job-embedded professional development is also crucial to IE. School leaders must facilitate practice-derived and embedded professional development that is school-based, ongoing, and developed in a setting that motivates teachers to try new strategies and integrate them into school reforms. Khaleel et al. (2021) found that regular training and professional development sessions significantly affect SOD’s adaptation in schools. School leaders should develop and execute support systems that enhance consistent development to produce changes in instructors’ practices and beliefs to create an inclusive environment for all students (Black & Simon, 2014; Carrington & Robinson, 2006). Teachers will likely embrace instructional methods when they receive professional development emphasizing specific practices. School principals and administrators should provide opportunities to encourage embedded professional development to support IE. School leaders must acknowledge that professional development and capacity building is vital for all stakeholders, including themselves.

Building Connections Between Communities and Schools

School leaders who strive to achieve IE must understand the embeddedness of learning institutions within communities and neighbourhoods where they are located and within the institutional and organisational networks through which learners move. Effective administrators and principals appreciate the community and inter-organisational dynamics and position schools to leverage the community’s positive resources to foster IE. In Australia, the National Safe Schools Framework stresses the need for sustained positive strategies that appreciate how social values and attitudes affect student behaviour in school communities (Carrington & Robinson, 2006). As such, school leaders must collaborate with and value broader communities and parents to achieve whole-school shared decision-making, positive nurturing of school culture, and teamwork. The idea is to develop a sense of belonging for all people alongside coordinated planning, action, and review of school policies (Carrington & Robinson, 2006). Value-based planning involving the community and parents develops IE by scrutinizing what makes up school life. This leads to coordinated services that meet the needs of all students (Riehl, 2000). School leaders should include the community in designing an inclusive vision, mission, values, and teaching practices. Shared decision-making fosters cohesion among diverse groups.

Besides, school leadership must make decisions by collaborating with parents, teachers, and students. Principals must value shared responsibility and dialogue in creating an inclusive school culture. Dialogue encourages cohesion, school-wide improvement, and focus. Open dialogue and shared decision-making create opportunities to identify IE problems (DeMatthews et al., 2020). As such, people agree about what should be done to ensure all students’ needs are met in classes. School leaders facilitate strategies that support inclusion and diversity through open dialogue with students, teachers, and parents. This shows that open individual conversations address inefficiencies, leading to better instruction processes that address the needs of SOD.

Promoting Inclusive Practices in Schools

IE is hinged on school leaders’ efforts to promote inclusive school practices. Leaders must consistently communicate a vision for inclusion and celebrate inclusive practices. This task involves two dimensions: promoting inclusive learning and teaching and molding inclusive cultures (Riehl, 2000). School leaders promote inclusive learning and teaching by providing constructive feedback, supporting staff members, protecting teachers from teaching intrusions, and encouraging continuous improvement. These efforts promote culturally responsive instruction. Principals and administrators also promote IE by acting as role models for students, parents, and teachers. As molders of inclusive cultures, school leaders demonstrate explicit devotion to social justice (DeMatthews et al., 2020; Taylor & Sidhu, 2012). Social justice celebrates cultural diversity within schools. Students are encouraged to acknowledge their capabilities and heritage and embrace tolerance and appreciation of others. Here, literature underscores the role of school leaders in creating an environment where acceptance and acknowledgment are core values.

Promoting inclusive practices also entails aligning purpose with structures. Consideration of individuals responsible for instructing SOD and establishing equitable routines and structures for delivering services is core to IE. Studies have shown that implementing inclusion requires a change from bureaucracies to professionalised adhocracies able to construct fluid support systems (Black & Simon, 2014). Obtaining resources like technology, aides, and financial support is a crucial leadership role in acquiring structures needed to support IE (Black & Simon, 2014; Khaleel et al., 2021). School leaders’ functions in strategically marshalling information to motivate and support teachers to work with all students despite challenges and external influences is the foundation of making instruction work for all students in schools.

Moreover, promoting inclusive practices requires school leaders to communicate a new meaning of diversity. Implementing IE demands significant changes in values, practices, and systems. Educational change analyses have shown that school reforms can only work if teachers, parents, students, and the public understand and commit to changes (Riehl, 2000). School leaders can define issues and their meanings and share policy changes that bolster IE (Riehl, 2000; Poon-McBrayer & Wong, 2013). School principals and administrators are better positioned to influence the meaning of things. Administrators can employ different dialogic and rhetorical approaches to communicate new understandings during official ceremonies, meetings, and public relations programs. This promotes a democratic discourse and inclusivity in school communities.


Education is a fundamental human right that contributes to sustainable development. Countries worldwide, including Australia, are committed to actualising inclusive education, mainly by providing equal learning opportunities for students with disabilities. Five principles underlie IE: (i) classroom diversity to strengthen and enrich education, (ii) personalised and strength-based curriculum, (iii) student engagement, voice, and agency, (v) need for need practical skills, knowledge, and commitment among educators, and (v) engaging with all relevant stakeholders. The literature reviewed in this investigation shows that school leaders are instrumental in building a culture that values inclusion and diversity. School leaders’ role in promoting IE includes engaging with students as school community citizens to ensure their views are included in major decisions. Since teachers are central to school-wide IE, leaders must provide professional development and capacity-building opportunities to enable teachers to address the changing needs of diverse students, especially SOD. Other school leaders’ functions include building connections with communities and schools and encouraging inclusive practices. School leaders are facilitators and role models to students, parents, and teachers. They articulate a clear vision ad set shared values for achieving inclusion. In the future, school leaders should propose policy imperatives that strengthen inclusivity. The policies must consider the opinions of all stakeholders, including students. A rights-based approach can also protect the interest of all students.


Al-Mahdy, Y. F. H., & Emam, M. M. (2017). “Much ado about something” how school leaders affect attitudes towards inclusive education: the case of Oman. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 1–19. doi:10.1080/13603116.2017.1417500

Black, W. R., & Simon, M. D. (2014). Leadership for all students: Planning for more inclusive school practices. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation9(2), 153-172.

Carrington, S., & Kimber, M. (2020). Ethical leadership for inclusive schools. Australian Educational Leader42(2), 10-14. file:///C:/Users/ADMIN/Downloads/AEL%20-%20Vol%2042%20Issue%202%202020%20-%20Lead%201.pdf

Carrington, S., & Robinson, R. (2006). Inclusive school community: why is it so complex? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 10(4-5), 323–334. doi: 10.1080/13603110500256137

DeMatthews, D. E., Serafini, A., & Watson, T. N. (2020). Leading Inclusive Schools: Principal Perceptions, Practices, and Challenges to Meaningful Change. Educational Administration Quarterly, 0013161X2091389. doi: 10.1177/0013161×20913897

Grove, C., Sharma, U., Laletas, S., Laktionova, A., & O’Toole, T. (2019). Five principles of inclusive education. Monash Education.

Khaleel, N., Alhosani, M., & Duyar, I. (2021). The role of school principals in promoting inclusive schools: a teachers’ perspective. In Frontiers in Education. Frontiers. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2021.603241

Osiname, A. T. (2017). Utilizing the Critical Inclusive Praxis: The voyage of five selected school principals in building inclusive school cultures. Improving Schools, 21(1), 63–83. doi: 10.1177/1365480217717529

Poon-McBrayer, K. F., & Wong, P. (2013). Inclusive education services for children and youth with disabilities: Values, roles and challenges of school leaders. Children and Youth Services Review, 35(9), 1520–1525. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2013.06.009

Riehl, C. J. (2000). The Principal’s Role in Creating Inclusive Schools for Diverse Students: A Review of Normative, Empirical, and Critical Literature on the Practice of Educational Administration. Review of Educational Research, 70(1), 55–81. doi: 10.3102/00346543070001055

Taylor, S., & Sidhu, R. K. (2012). Supporting refugee students in schools: what constitutes inclusive education? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 16(1), 39–56. doi:0.1080/13603110903560085


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