Understanding the Danielson Framework in Special Education

By: Rethink Ed

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Teaching is an incredibly complex profession. It requires teachers to maintain core skills and the necessary knowledge to help students succeed throughout their academic careers. While the teaching role is difficult and demanding from day to day, special education environments heighten the challenges some teachers face by requiring them to master additional skills. This includes differentiating instruction, implementing behavioral strategies and catering to individualized teaching practices to support students in attaining a certain level of advancement.

In these cases and others, it is vital for teachers to stay abreast of teaching techniques and continue to enhance their skills through ongoing professional development. To support teachers, every school and district should offer ongoing mentorship programs, teaching assistance and performance feedback to ensure teachers are meeting the needs of their students. One useful tool that helps is to make this possible is the Danielson Framework.

The Danielson Framework serves as a guide for coaching and mentoring in schools across the country. Originally developed by Charlotte Danielson in 1996, the framework for professional practice identifies aspects of a teacher’s responsibilities, which are supported by empirical studies and help to improve student learning. Danielson created the framework to capture “good teaching” in all of its complexity. The broad framework was also intentionally designed to capture effective teaching at every grade level and across a wide range of student populations.

Today it helps in different districts and states assist general and special education students and its usefulness in providing guidelines for proper support and adequate instruction is highly praised.

The 22-component framework has undergone several revisions over the years, including a revision in 2013 to respond to the instructional implications of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In some cases – such as in New York City – certain components are used to measure effectiveness in teacher evaluations.

At the very basic level, the Danielson Framework provides a rubric for four levels of teaching (ranging from “Ineffective” to “Highly Effective”) across four domains. These domains include:

  • Planning and preparation
  • Classroom environment
  • Instruction
  • Professional responsibilities

The Danielson Group lists several resources to help teachers and evaluators make meaningful connections between the framework and its application in special education settings. The Danielson Group also outlines a set of scenarios for each component across all four levels of performance to assist those who use the framework.

Key concepts when utilizing the framework in a special education setting include incorporating Universal Design for Learning principles such as:

  • Utilizing data-driven instruction and behavior management strategies
  • Fostering active engagement with the entire educational community (e.g., co-teachers, therapists, counselors, and child study team members)
  • Fidelity of instructional and behavioral practices across team members
Danielson Infographic

In order for any teacher to master the art of pedagogy in a special education setting, it is intrinsically clear that they need to maintain a commitment to assessing student needs and providing highly individualized support for every student.

Teachers should also work closely with fellow team members and engage in ongoing professional development to keep up with current best practices in their field. This is of course an incredibly dynamic and ongoing process, but it is helpful to know that the Danielson Framework is one tool that can be used for support. We encourage you to continue learning more about the framework and its practical use as a tool for instruction.

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