Paper Type

Doctoral Dissertation


College of Education and Human Services

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EdD)


Leadership, School Counseling & Sport Management

NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Leadership, School Counseling & Sports Management

First Advisor

Dr. Jeffery W. Cornett

Second Advisor

Dr. Richard H. Chant

Third Advisor

Dr. Deborah S. Reed

Fourth Advisor

Dr. A. Samuel Kimball

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Anne K. Swanson

Department Chair

Dr. Christopher A. Janson

College Dean

Dr. Marsha H. Lupi


This study examined exceptional student educators’ (ESE) personal practical theories (PPTs) and how they impact complex decision-making when it comes to students with disabilities and their families. A case study methodology was selected to explore how four ESE teachers and leaders developed their PPTs as well as how they planned, interacted, and reflected upon decisions made during one workweek. The guiding questions of this study were: what are the PPTs of ESE leaders and teachers, what factors influence the development of PPTs, and how do PPTs impact special educators’ work with students with disabilities? To address these questions, four participants were selected based on their role within the district, their experiences working with students with disabilities, and their reputation for being high quality educators. Data were collected using a PPT workbook as well as in-depth, semi-structured interviews. The results of this study included five PPTs for each participant and eight common themes. These themes included: care for students and families, safety of students, administration and teacher professional development, ensuring high expectations for students, personal and professional advocacy, mentoring and collaboration, reflection and problem solving, and problems with inclusion. These results are presented in this dissertation in support of an argument for the need for increased pre-service and in-service for ESE educators, increased professional development for administrators, and increased training for inclusion teachers working with students with disabilities. Engaging in a practice of exploring and refining teacher and leader beliefs and assumptions using the PPT process may increase the reflective practice of teachers and perhaps result in a more appropriate form of evaluation for educators.