Reflections on the PHI Credential:
Part 1

Sherwood J. Best & Kathryn Wolff Heller

The History

This article is the first in a series of four written in 1999-2001 by two members of the Executive and Critical Issues and Leadership Committees of the Division for Physical and Health Disabilities (DPHD) of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). Issues regarding teacher certification within states, research on national trends in teacher certification, and input from others in the field of physical and health disabilities prompted this writing. We undertook these articles because we believe there is an ongoing crisis in our field that will have a negative and lasting impact on students with physical and health disabilities. We also believe that these articles have as much relevance today as they did when they were first published. Language specific to DPHD and CEC has been omitted from this edition.

The Articles

Each article addresses the issue of teacher certification from a different viewpoint. In the first article, we offer an “identity quiz” to provide a framework of concerns in teacher certification in physical/health disabilities. In the second article, we will discuss the problem encountered by many teachers who find that their roles have been obscured by related services (such as occupational, physical, and speech therapy). The third article examines state and local policies and practices that support or undermine disability specific certification.The final article articulates activities that can be undertaken to address the crisis in teacher certification.

A Caveat

Not every reader will agree with the position of the authors. Since dialogue provides a healthy avenue for change, we encourage input from readers for publication in the CAPHI Newsletter. Be active and add your voice.

Can You Identify?

We have all read those quizzes in popular magazines that uncover the key to our true temperamental natures, identify our work styles, or help us decide our path to personal fulfillment or the perfect relationship. The following “Identity Quiz” was developed to provide a framework for further discussion regarding disability-specific certification in the field of physical/health disabilities. Read the following questions and award yourself one point for every “Yes”. Then check your total score with the descriptions at the end of the Identity Quiz.

1. Have you noticed that fewer educators, related services personnel, or professors are hired in your school district, county office, or institution of higher education with specific training in physical/health disabilities?

2. Are educational placements in your district/SELPA for students with physical/ health disabilities restricted in scope, such as only general education, special day classes, or itinerant service options?

3. Does your school district/SELPA fail to provide home/hospital school services?

4. Does your district/SELPA fail to provide a clear policy for reintegration of students who have been hospitalized?

5. Are you unaware of how your district/SELPA provides services to the 0-3 population who are solely low incidence?

6. Do special educators who teach students with physical/health disabilities in your district lack the PHI credential?

7. Do you work with administrative personnel who confuse the roles of teachers who serve students with physical/ health disabilities with the services offered by professionals in the related fields of occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech/language therapy, and adapted physical education?

8. Do you work with administrative personnel (local or district level) who are unaware of the PHI credential and/or who believe that this credential is irrelevant?

9. Are you unable to name your representative(s) at the California State Department of Education with expertise in the area of physical/health disabilities?

10. Do you have difficulty finding someone to answer questions at the state level or institution of higher education related to policy and procedures for serving individuals with physical/health disabilities?

11. Are you concerned that a greater number of teachers in your district and state will be asked to provide specialized health care procedures without adequate training and attention to universal precautions?

12. Did you know that current National Board Certification in “Exceptional Needs Specialist” is offered in the areas of Early Childhood, Mild/Moderate Impairments, Moderate/Severe Impairments, Visual Impairments, and Deaf/Hard of Hearing but NOT Physical/Health Disabilities?

13. Have you become the expert on physical/health disabilities at your school site or in your school district not only because you are incredibly talented and skilled, but also because you are the only one with disability-specific training?

Total Score:

0-4: Good news. You work in a school district and/or SELPA that recognizes the importance of disability-specific training and educational services for students with physical/health disabilities. You work with colleagues with similar and complimentary knowledge and skills, and you enjoy a multidisciplinary and collaboratively focused exchange with related services personnel. You may work as a special class, hospital, itinerant, or consultant teacher, because there is a range of educational options that meets the needs of the students you serve.

5-8: Losing focus. Students with physical/health disabilities may receive adequate services in your district/SELPA, but you wonder if their needs are getting a little “lost”. It is difficult to find other educators who have a knowledge base in physical/health disabilities because the required PHI credential may not be enforced at the district/SELPA level. It can be difficult to interact much with therapy and other related services personnel because they are not as available to you (and your students) as you would like. It is flattering to be the local expert in your field, but you wish you could turn to someone at a local college/university or at the state level with legal and policy questions.

9-13: It's lonely out there. You have few (if any) colleagues with whom to share knowledge about instructional strategies and adaptations for students with physical/health disabilities. The district/county office where you teach has probably dropped disability-specific training for more generic topics, and you wonder if other teachers in your district will know anything specific about physical/health disabilities when you retire. University/college professors are committed to generic special education training. You encounter administrators who believe that you can be replaced by related services personnel or more generically trained special educators because students with physical disabilities are “like any other kid, but in a wheelchair”. You are concerned about the disarticulation between school and hospital programs (what hospital programs?). You wonder whether your concerns are shared at your state or even the national level.

The point of this exercise was to highlight concerns regarding the loss of a specific knowledge base for teaching students with physical/health disabilities when there is decreasing local and state-level support for the PHI credential that provides the structure for ensuring that knowledge base. Teachers in states with generic certification may have received pre-service training at a college or university with professors who have an interest in physical/health disabilities. They may be lucky enough to work in school districts that provide specific in-service training. They may have expended the extra effort to acquire a support base of individuals and/or organizations to answer their questions and to whom they can refer parents and others. They may have maintained collaborative relationships with therapy and adaptive physical education personnel who are no longer immediately available. However, establishing a knowledge base that is individually constructed will not assure the uniformity that would come from a solid foundation of specific knowledge and skills. Furthermore, it shifts the creation of a knowledge base to teachers, who may not even know where to begin acquiring specialized skills. How can they know what they don't know? This deficiency in teacher knowledge has the greatest negative impact on students with physical/health disabilities. Continue the dialogue and work toward a stronger voice in physical/health disabilities through the following activities:

Request specific training at your district/SELPA level on the following topics:
  • Adaptation of core curriculum for students with motor, speech, and cognitive impairments
  • Specialized strategies for teaching reading and math to students with motor and speech impairments
  • Assistive technology and software support for academic content learning
  • Augmentative and alternative communication
  • Feeding techniques
  • Collaborative consultation
  • Transition services and activities for students with physical/health disabilities
  • Incorporation of therapy techniques in the classroom
  • Psychosocial aspects of physical/health disabilities
  • School/hospital interface
  • Specialized health care and universal precautions
Become informed. Buy the latest edition of What Every Special Educator Must Know: The International Standards for the Preparation and Licensure of Special Educators from CEC. Read the specialized competencies in physical/health disabilities and address gaps in your knowledge base. Check out the standards for the California PHI Education Specialist credential and ask yourself if you feel competent to meet every standard.

Serve on your school district employment committee. When new teachers are hired to serve students with physical/health disabilities, insist that they have an appropriate credential and/or disability specific training. Make yourself available to provide mentor services.

Contact your local college or university teacher preparation program and inquire about whether they train teachers to serve students with physical/health disabilities. If not, check how instructional competencies are addressed in other their special education teacher preparation programs.

Contact your State Department of Education or Commission on Teacher Credentialing and become acquainted with the consultant(s) on staff who has specific expertise in physical/health disabilities. Introduce the parents of your students to these individuals. Ask them to investigate issues that trouble you regarding credentialing and/or services to individuals with physical and health impairments in your district/SELPA.

Become active in CAPHI, AECMN, DPHD, CEC, and/or your local CEC chapter. Attend CAPHI conferences and network with other interested professionals. If you attend CEC conferences, lobby for sessions of specific concern to individuals with physical/health disabilities and their service providers. Write for the CAPHI Newsletter and/or become involved in CAPHI leadership. Contact Sherry Best at for information about CAPHI leadership activities.

Pursue an active policy of school reintegration for students who are hospitalized. Contact hospital teachers when your students are admitted for treatment and provide them with information about meeting educational needs. Visit the hospital program in your area and consider joining the Association for the Education of Children with Medical Needs (AECMN). Check to see if your district/SELPA has a well-articulated policy for school reintegration and make that a priority.

Bring a new member into CAPHI. We are stronger when our numbers are larger.

These are only a few of the steps that CAPHI members can take to add relevance to their careers and provide excellent educational services to infants, children, and youth with physical and health impairments. It is a lot of extra effort to become an active leader in your field, but the reward is high. The field of physical and health impairments is low incidence, but not low importance!

This article is from the CAPHI Newsletter, Fall 2005.