Filling a Special Ed Need in WELS Schools

We’re pleased to introduce Dr. Alanna Lienig ’05. She’s teaching two courses in the special education emphasis of our MS-Ed program: Teaching Children with Learning Disabilities and The IEP Process and Professional Practice, a course she developed herself.

Dr. Lienig is filling an important need—for MLC and for WELS. “There is a need for WELS schools to be prepared to serve students with disabilities,” she says. “Teachers who have a background in special education are tremendous assets in WELS schools, whether indirectly or directly. Special education teachers can lead their coworkers in best practices or provide services to students with disabilities. WELS schools want to serve all students so that everyone can grow in their faith and hear about Jesus.”

Dr. Lienig began her ministry in a WELS school, serving as a long-term substitute at St. John-Sleepy Eye MN. Then she entered the world of special education in the public school system.

“I pursued special education because I wanted to know more about how to help students with disabilities improve their social, emotional, behavioral, and academic skills,” she says. “I wanted to use best practice, based on research, in my own classroom. I also wanted to share what I learned with my colleagues, who were also struggling to support students with disabilities.”

In the public schools, she served first as a special education teacher and then as a special education administrator, diving into the legal aspects of special education and also doing a great deal of teacher training, both in general education and special education.

From there, she moved to a principalship, leading a PK-12 Setting 4 program for students with severe emotional, behavioral, and intellectual needs. (Settings 1-8 refer to how much time a student spends in a regular classroom as opposed to a special education classroom. A larger number of special education minutes correlates with a higher-number setting. The IEP team determines a student’s optimum setting.)

During these years, Ms. Lienig furthered her own education as well, earning her MS in Special Education with Licensure in Emotional/Behavioral Disorders & Learning Disabilities (Southwest Minnesota State University) and her EdD in Educational Leadership with Director of Special Education Licensure (Bethel University).

Her doctoral dissertation, “A Reading Motivation Intervention for Students with Learning Disabilities, Students with ADHD, and Their Nondisabled Peers,” is available here:

As a public school teacher and administrator, she felt she “was able to make a difference in the lives of children every day both academically and by letting my light shine.”

Now she has brought her experience back to the world of Lutheran education. Since 2016, Dr. Lienig has taught education and special education courses full-time for Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato.

There she helped create a special education undergraduate program with an Academic and Behavioral Strategist (ABS) licensure that spans five disabilities, covering emotional/behavioral disorders, developmental cognitive disabilities, other health disabilities, and autism spectrum disorder. The first cohort of BLC students eligible for this licensure will graduate in June 2019.

Martin Luther College offers this ABS major to undergraduates as well, and Dr. Lienig taught one of that program’s courses, The Exceptional Learner, as an adjunct when Dr. Alan Spurgin was ill in 2017 and 2018.

Now she’s instructing MLC graduate students, most of them inservice teachers who want to know more about some of their students’ special needs and how to meet them. She speaks highly of MLC students, both undergrad and graduate.

“MLC students stand out—as do BLC students,” she says, “because they are hardworking, they care so deeply about students, they are willing to do whatever it takes to help students succeed (even staying after hours), they typically go above and beyond assignment expectations, and they participate fully because of their desire to learn. They are so kind to one another and willing to help. And they are also respectful and ask great questions.

“MLC sets high standards in their programs,” she continues. “This is very evident in the students’ daily work and meaningful participation. I also enjoy the friendly professionalism from students and faculty alike, which isn’t quite the same at other public universities.”

As Dr. Lienig shares her expertise with MLC students, her focus on our mission is clear.

“It is critical,” she says, “that teachers are prepared to support students and families with special needs so that these children have the option to attend the WELS school. It is very sad when a family decides to move their children to the public school because the WELS school wasn’t able to meet their needs.

“Some children will be best supported in the public setting,” she continues, “due to the nature and severity of their needs, but WELS schools can support students with mild—and sometimes mild to moderate—needs with the resources they already have.”

We’re grateful that Dr. Lienig is working hard to assure that more and more WELS teachers have the training and resources necessary to serve their students with special needs.

Personal: Dr. Lienig says, “My husband, Gary, works full-time for the Minnesota National Guard in unit readiness. We live in New Ulm, Minnesota, with our children Brianna (12) and Blake (9), whose activities at St. Paul’s Lutheran take up a good amount of our time. My favorite pastime is reading, and I also enjoy interior design. As a family, we enjoy traveling, visiting museums, golf, tennis, and board games.”

In addition to her teaching at MLC and BLC, Dr. Lienig serves as an adjunct for Western Governors University and as an official scorer for edTPA. She’s a member of Minnesota Administrators for Special Education and Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

Written by Laurie Gauger-Hested