Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching, Leadership & Professional Practice

First Advisor

Patricia Mahar

Second Advisor

Michelle Griffin


The critical nationwide teacher shortage (Billingsley et al., 2019), puts increasing pressure on educator preparation programs to train candidates in less time. Special education personnel are more likely to leave the field when they feel inadequately prepared for service (Mason-Williams et al., 2020), and are less likely to leave the field when they feel connected with schools that promote inclusion, multi-disciplinary teaming, and collective responsibility for all students (Billingsley et al., 2019). Educators perceive their training inadequate for supporting children who demonstrate disruptive and destructive behaviors in the classroom (Mason-Williams et al., 2020). Despite significant research for evidence-based methods for students with behavioral needs, implementation and sustainability of such practices has limited success in classrooms and school settings (Beam & Mueller, 2017). With the growing demands and responsibilities placed on teachers to educate students in inclusive environments, it is imperative that educator preparation programs address the research to practice gap to improve student outcomes and teacher self-efficacy in supporting students with special needs. Therefore, intentionality must be applied to online course design and educator preparation programs. This body of work consists of three separate projects connected by intentionality. The notion of intentionality was first applied in the book chapter co-authored by the researcher (Nind, 2023), specifically to Garrison’s (et al., 2001) Community of Inquiry theory of student engagement: intentionality of teaching presence, intentionality of cognitive presence, and intentionality of social presence in online qualitative research methods courses. In addition, two phenomenological studies were conducted. The researcher aspired to give online learners and special educators a voice in what types of training they need, the inter-disciplinary support/s they need, and how online courses and programs could be designed and developed to prepare them for the complexity of teaching and supporting students with special needs. Intentional use of teaching pedagogies and appropriate coursework that explicitly teaches educators how to locate evidence-based practices and operationalize those practices in their classrooms can be useful for addressing the research to practice gap. Also, developing intentional communities of inquiry that include interdisciplinary coursework, activities, and real-world problem-solving projects can address behavior plan implementation fidelity across team members in schools. This project can help preparation programs to understand what special educators need to support students with significant behaviors in schools. Taken together, the findings in this project can help preparation programs be more intentional with online course and program design that includes relevant content, learning activities, and developing communities of inquiry that will help candidates meet the complex demands of supporting students with special needs in schools.