The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

Educational Administration and Leadership, K-12: Ed.D.


Educational Administration and Higher Education


School of Education

First Advisor

David Lund

Second Advisor

Heidi Hahn

Third Advisor

James Johnson

Fourth Advisor

Frances Kayona

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

special education, job satisfaction, attrition, retention, support practices, principal support, principal professional development


National trends in research and across Minnesota have shown many special education teaching positions go unfilled and a third of special education teachers leave the field within their first five years of employment (MN PELSB, 2017). Special education teachers indicate a need or desire for support from principals; however, principals have a history of limited understanding or training in special education (Weiss, 2001; McHatton, Boyer, Shaunessy, & Terry, 2010; Fall & Billingsley, 2011; Lynch, 2012; Pazey & Cole, 2012; Christensen, Robertson, Williamson, & Hunter, 2013 Horrison-Collier, 2013; Mehrenberg, 2013; Sheldrake, 2013; Fenski, 2017). Past research demonstrates administrative support is important for special education teacher job satisfaction (Prather-Jones, 2011; Benjamin & Black, 2012; Berry, 2012; Horrison-Collier, 2013; Cancio, Albrecht, and Johns, 2014; Bettini et al., (2016); Conley & You, 2017; Kelchtermans, 2017; Koonkongsatian, 2017; and Bettini et al., 2020).

This study analyzed survey results from Minnesota special education teachers and principals pertaining to leadership practices principals use that impact special education teacher job satisfaction. The principal survey also investigated principal confidence in understanding, training, and supporting special education teachers and programs, as well as their professional development practices in the area of special education.

Two-thirds of participating principals indicate being unprepared for supporting special education and related programs. Principals want special education teachers to use informed practices; however, special education teachers want to be trusted to teach how they determine is necessary. Principals also report higher job satisfaction in special education teachers compared to what special education teachers report.


Supporting special education teachers has been a passion of mine over the past 10 years, knowing that many special education teachers become burned out early and leave the educational field. I further developed concerns as I experienced circumstances in which unqualified individuals became hired to provide services to our neediest and most vulnerable population without the pedagogy and/or mental health understanding that many special education students require. This prompted me to dive into the literature with the encouragement and dedication of my dissertation committee, and cohort 9, I was able to deepen my understanding and explore the impacts in Minnesota.

Across coursework and my dissertation journey, each committee member helped guide my understanding of leadership and broadened my perspective on the approaches necessary in supporting staff across various levels and across various district sizes. A huge thank you to Dr. Dave Lund for continuously providing encouragement and moving me forward when I could have easily trailed off in many different directions and continued writing without narrowing my focus to the topic at hand. I appreciate the additional time Dr. Frances Kayona provided in deciphering and organizing the data in a meaningful way and for checking in on my well-being throughout the pandemic. Dr. Heidi Hahn’s dissertation helped pave the way for identifying ways principals support teacher job retention. Between Heidi and Dr. James Johnson, I was also provided broadened perspectives of feedback and the significance of my findings impacting principals and special education teachers in Minnesota.

Finally, I owe a lot of gratitude to my friends and family for their patience and support. My parents, Jeff and Minda, always question my continued college related ambitions; however, I know they are extremely proud. A special thanks to Margarette for making some final edits to ensure I am coherent and spell things correctly. I can hear grandma Millie say, “I did it!”



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