20 Books Every Special Education Teacher Should Read

One thing we all know as teachers, is that we need to keep up with the changes. Changes in curriculum, in best practice, in society, etc. As special educators, we need to keep up with this plus a lot of individual specialties, such as disabilities, technology, legal rights, etc.

In the United States, it feels like things change constantly in the special education world. We’re either getting a new IEP platform, or the laws around qualifications have changed, plus more. 

Staying on top of trends can feel overwhelming, but reading professional development books can help us stay up to date on how best to serve our students. 

The books I’m sharing aren’t just targeted to students with autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disabilities. They are helpful references in any inclusive classrooms, for any student receiving special education services. 

These books are great supports for new special education teachers as well as the veteran teacher. As the special education profession as a whole continues to ask more and more of us, we can become teacher leaders. We can do this by taking our professional development into our own hands and finding resources that empower us.

Below is a list of the 20 best books for special education teachers that is broken up into 4 categories:

  • IEP Writing
  • Behavior & Classroom Management
  • Teaching Reading
  • Lesson Planning

IEP Writing

1. “The Intentional IEP” by Stephanie DeLussey

  • Summary: This comprehensive guide offers practical strategies for writing effective IEPs, with a focus on including all stakeholders. It helps teachers create individualized plans tailored to each student’s unique needs that saves time, reduce stress, and create better student outcomes.
  • Why We Love It: It’s a practical, user-friendly resource that makes the IEP writing process more manageable and effective.

2. “The IEP from A to Z: How to Create Meaningful and Measurable Goals and Objectives” by Diane Twachtman-Cullen and Jennifer Twachtman-Bassett

  • Summary: This step-by-step guide provides detailed instructions on crafting high-quality IEPs, emphasizing the creation of measurable and achievable goals. It’s an essential resource for ensuring student success.
  • Why We Love It: The clear, structured approach demystifies the IEP process, making it accessible for all educators.

3. “Writing Measurable IEP Goals and Objectives” by Barbara D. Bateman and Cynthia M. Herr

  • Summary: This book offers detailed explanations and examples to help teachers write clear, measurable goals. It ensures that student progress can be effectively tracked and communicated.
  • Why We Love It: Its practical examples and straightforward guidance make it a valuable tool for educators.

4. “How to Write Effective and Understandable IEP Goals” by Barbara Drasgow and Rita J. Silvestri

  • Summary: Simplifying the process of writing IEP goals, this book provides templates and examples to help educators create clear and actionable objectives. It’s a user-friendly resource for busy teachers.
  • Why We Love It: It makes writing IEP goals less daunting and more effective with practical, easy-to-use templates.

5. “The IEP Checklist: Your Guide to Creating Meaningful and Compliant IEPs” by Kathleen Winterman

  • Summary: This practical checklist guides teachers through the IEP development process, ensuring compliance and meaningful goal setting for student success. It’s a handy reference for any educator.
  • Why We Love It: The checklist format is incredibly practical and helps ensure nothing important is overlooked.

Behavior & Classroom Management

“Better Than Carrots or Sticks: Restorative Practices for Positive Classroom Management” by Dominique Smith, Douglas Fisher, and Nancy Frey

  • Summary: This book explores restorative practices for improving classroom behavior, focusing on empathy and understanding to build a positive classroom culture. It provides actionable strategies for teachers.
  • Why We Love It: It offers a compassionate approach to discipline that fosters a supportive learning environment.

“Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them” by Ross W. Greene

  • Summary: Greene addresses the root causes of behavioral challenges in students and offers a collaborative problem-solving approach to help them succeed. It’s a thoughtful guide to understanding and managing behavior.
  • Why We Love It: Its focus on empathy and problem-solving makes it a transformative read for teachers.

Conscious Discipline: Building Resilient Classrooms” by Dr. Becky A. Bailey

  • Summary: This book integrates social-emotional learning with discipline strategies, helping build connections and manage emotions within the classroom. It’s aimed at creating a resilient, emotionally supportive classroom.
  • Why We Love It: It provides practical tools for fostering emotional intelligence and resilience in students.

Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom” by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall

  • Summary: Offering strategies for creating a trauma-sensitive environment, this book supports students with trauma histories to help them thrive in school. It provides practical, actionable advice for educators.
  • Why We Love It: Its focus on trauma sensitivity is crucial for creating an inclusive and supportive classroom.

“The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students” by Jessica Minahan and Nancy Rappaport

  • Summary: Minahan and Rappaport provide a practical guide to identifying and addressing challenging behaviors, with effective interventions and strategies. It’s a must-read for managing difficult classroom situations.
  • Why We Love It: Its practical, evidence-based strategies are immediately applicable in the classroom.

Teaching Reading

Equipped for Reading Success: A Comprehensive, Step-by-Step Program for Developing Phonemic Awareness and Fluent Word Recognition” by David A. Kilpatrick

  • Summary: Kilpatrick’s step-by-step program helps develop phonemic awareness and word recognition, essential for improving students’ reading skills. It’s a detailed guide for educators.
  • Why We Love It: Its clear, structured program makes it easy to implement and see results in student reading proficiency.

“Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level” by Sally Shaywitz

  • Summary: This book presents science-based strategies for addressing dyslexia, offering practical tips and techniques for supporting dyslexic students. It’s a comprehensive resource for educators and parents.
  • Why We Love It: Its science-based approach provides credible, effective strategies for helping students with dyslexia.

“The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers” by Jennifer Serravallo

  • Summary: Serravallo’s book is a comprehensive collection of reading strategies designed to be easily implemented in diverse classrooms, helping develop skilled readers. It’s a go-to resource for reading instruction.
  • Why We Love It: The practical strategies are easy to understand and apply, making a real difference in students’ reading abilities.

“Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read” by Stanislas Dehaene

  • Summary: Dehaene provides neuroscientific insights into the reading process, explaining how the brain learns to read and the implications for teaching reading. It’s a fascinating look at the cognitive aspects of reading.
  • Why We Love It: Its blend of science and practical advice offers deep insights into effective reading instruction.

“The Fluent Reader: Oral Reading Strategies for Building Word Recognition, Fluency, and Comprehension” by Timothy V. Rasinski

  • Summary: This book offers strategies for building reading fluency, focusing on improving word recognition and comprehension through oral reading techniques. It’s an essential tool for literacy instruction.
  • Why We Love It: The focus on oral reading makes it an effective and engaging approach to building fluency and comprehension.

Lesson Planning

“Universal Design for Learning in the Classroom: Practical Applications” by Tracey E. Hall, Anne Meyer, and David H. Rose

  • Summary: Introducing the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), this book provides practical applications for lesson planning to accommodate all learners. It’s an essential guide for inclusive education.
  • Why We Love It: Its practical applications make UDL principles accessible and easy to implement.

“Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom” by David A. Sousa and Carol Ann Tomlinson

  • Summary: Sousa and Tomlinson explore brain-based strategies for differentiated instruction, offering practical tips for creating inclusive and learner-friendly lesson plans. It’s a blend of neuroscience and pedagogy.
  • Why We Love It: The integration of neuroscience with practical teaching strategies makes it a valuable resource.

“The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners” by Carol Ann Tomlinson

  • Summary: Tomlinson’s guide to differentiated instruction provides comprehensive strategies for meeting the diverse needs of all students in the classroom. It’s a foundational text for modern educators.
  • Why We Love It: Its thorough approach to differentiation helps teachers effectively reach every student.

“Morning Meetings for Special Education Classrooms: 101 Fun Ideas, Creative Activities and Adaptable Techniques” by Dr. Felicia Durden

  • Summary: This book provides teachers with a variety of engaging activities and techniques for effective morning meetings in special education settings. Covering communication skills, emotional regulation, sensory integration, and academic readiness, the book offers 101 adaptable ideas to ensure all students can participate meaningfully.
  • Why We Love It: The book’s activities are easily adapted for diverse learning abilities, ensuring every student can engage and benefit.

“Visible Learning for Literacy, Grades K-12: Implementing the Practices That Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning” by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie

  • Summary: Fisher, Frey, and Hattie present evidence-based practices for lesson planning, focusing on strategies that effectively accelerate student learning outcomes. It’s a research-backed guide to literacy instruction.
  • Why We Love It: Its evidence-based strategies are proven to enhance student learning, making it a trusted resource.

Tips & Tricks

How to Carve Out Time for Reading

  • Set a daily or weekly reading goal
  • Integrate reading into your routine (e.g., during lunch, before bed)
  • Use audiobooks, if that’s your jam

Tips for Implementing What You’ve Learned

  • Take notes and highlight key points
  • Discuss insights with colleagues and bring them into team meetings
  • Apply one new strategy at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed

While your head may be spinning with instructional strategies, special education law, the latest research on child development, and early intervention supports, these books are a great way to incorporate specific strategies into your practice. 

Staying informed about our industry and the changes we should be making based on new research is so important for our special needs kids. The way we provide classroom accommodations, to the way we teach reading and organizational skills, will continue to evolve. Getting practical guidance from books in specific areas are an invaluable resource to us.

Special education programs continue to change and evolve. Sometimes we may not even like where things are going. 

I hope these resources empower and inspire you. Remember this isn’t a list of professional development books you absolutely have to read. Find one or two books that interest you in areas you’d like to keep growing in.

Happy reading!

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