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Professional & Ethical Communication in Special Education

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are going to become a special educator, learning some of the norms and expectations for communication is important. This lesson discusses professional and ethical communication issues in the special education setting.

Becoming a Special Education Teacher

After completing a master's program in special education, Amanda is ready to begin her first job. She will be working as the special education teacher in an inclusive fifth grade classroom, one where students with special needs learn side-by-side with typically developing peers.

Amanda is really excited to start her job. She knows a lot about how to teach reading, writing and math to students with disabilities, and she understands their social and emotional needs as well. Amanda is also starting to think about her specific obligation to communicate with students, families, and colleagues.

She knows that professionalism, or behaving like a mature, knowledgeable expert, will be important in order for her to garner respect. She also knows that ethics, or having a moral compass to guide her work, will help make her an excellent educator.

Treating Students and Families with Dignity

One way that Amanda will show professionalism and ethics in her communication has to do with how she treats the students and families she works with. She takes this task very seriously, knowing she will treat children and families with dignity. This means remembering their full personhood in every communication.

She will also treat students and families with respect, authentic admiration for their strengths and the specific ideas they have to contribute to every communication.

One way Amanda works on this is to be sure to use first-person grammatical structures, or 'I-statements', speaking from her own point of view. She also tries to remain attentive to cultural, temperamental, and socioeconomic differences when she talks with students and families.


Amanda also understands that as a special education teacher, she has an obligation to advocate, or speak up for, her students in a variety of circumstances.

For instance, when she hears colleagues making stereotyped comments about disabilities, she firmly but respectfully corrects them. She makes sure that specialists understand her students, their needs and their learning styles, and she helps families develop advocacy skills as well.

Ethical Decision-Making

Another aspect of ethical communication has to do with the many decisions Amanda must make each day. She knows, for example, that she must protect students' and families' confidentiality, keeping specific information private, when talking with others about their needs. For example, Amanda would not discuss her student's disabilities with friends or family members.

She also must weigh both sides of every complicated decision so that she is able to think through it morally and with a sense of perspective. For example, if Amanda is frustrated that a family has not followed up with the school psychologist for testing, she must decide whether to call them in for a mandatory meeting.

On the one hand, Amanda knows that the family is stressed, overwhelmed, and sometimes mistrustful of the school. On the other hand, she really wants to ensure that the child receives appropriate services. She thinks through both sides of the scenario carefully before making her final decision.

When Amanda is in doubt about what is the ethical decision to make, she talks it through with an advisor and asks for a little extra time in making the choice.

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