As with any subject or classroom, the most important thing to consider is the well-being of each and every student. In the case of students with special needs (emotional, physical, and learning disabilities), each student in the special education program possesses an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). It is of the utmost importance that the IEP is followed in both the special education and general education classroom (if student included in general education classrooms). Teachers must insure they apply with all modifications named in the IEP.
As for nurturing the self-esteem and self-determination of a student with special needs, it is good practice to set goals which the student can meet easily. This is not to say that all goals must be simple, but some challenges need to be easier in order to insure success on the part of the student. With each success, the student's self-esteem and self-determination will raise. If the student meets failure after failure, he or she can become disappointed and fail to (or refuse to) try.
In regards to nurturing self-advocacy in students with special needs, one must be sure that the student can accurately communicate his or her needs. In some cases, the student possesses mental or physical impairments which make it impossible for the student to voice concerns regarding his or her education. In this case, either the parent or special education case worker will determine what is best for the student.
If the student possesses the capability for voicing concerns, the concerns must be examined for appropriateness. Some questions which need to be asked are as follows. Is the student capable? Are the goals too low? Too high? Are the students expectations reasonable? These questions and answers need to be discussed with the student to insure he or she possesses good self-advocacy skills.