Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


Leadership Studies


Organization & Leadership EdD

First Advisor

Darrick A. Smith

Second Advisor

Emily Nusbaum

Third Advisor

Danfeng Koon


Practitioners and researchers have interpreted and debated the concept of the least restrictive environment creating the operational practices of mainstreaming and inclusion to adhere to the laws of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Despite the laws to ensure equal access to general education classrooms, and the vast body of literature on the technical implementation of inclusive practices, students with disabilities continue to be segregated and educated in a separate and unequal system of special education.

The purpose of this study was to better understand the competing tensions and conflict in inclusive education that elementary school principals navigate on a daily basis while making a school wide shift from providing special education supports and services to inclusive education. This study intended to make explicit the competing tensions and conflicts principals must navigate from the institutional, district, school, and personal levels in addressing the academic and social needs of students with disabilities.

The main questions that guided this research were: a) What are the everyday conflicts that elementary school principals experience on a daily basis while transitioning from providing special education services and supports to inclusive education? b) How do elementary school principals navigate the everyday conflicts that occur while transitioning to inclusive education? A focused autoethnographic design, with the addition of semi-structured interviews, was used to answer these research questions. This research identified conflict through a social justice leadership perspective. Identifying conflict, through an equity framework is a critical step that allows for productive change and the advancement of discussions around inclusive education.

Conflicts were found in the areas of roles and responsibilities; skills, knowledge, and experience; time and resources; and placement. This study provided recommendations to school leaders to address the identified everyday conflicts in inclusive education.

In order for schools to become inclusive, school leaders must clearly communicate the basic shifts required for inclusive education to happen, but must also address the contradictions in the current educational system, and the individual ideologies that continue to segregate and stigmatize students with disabilities.