How Do I Teach Social Justice When I Haven’t Experienced Injustice? My PD Confession

How Do I Teach Social Justice When I Haven’t Experienced Injustice? My PD Confession

Last summer, I had the privilege to speak to a room full of teachers about social justice, as the keynote speaker for the CAST Annual Symposium. The conference was focused on the themes of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an educational framework now endorsed by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and social justice: a perfect match. However, I struggled preparing for the presentation. I have always been on the more favorable side of opportunity and privilege. While I wasn’t raised wealthy, I am white, well-educated, and was born into a family that taught me how to be resourceful, gritty,

Feedback is Critical to Professional Growth [Video]

Feedback is Critical to Professional Growth [Video]

Even the thickest skinned of us can feel like crawling into a cave when we hear a piece of negative feedback. But mastery-oriented feedback is necessary for growth and improvement. When I present, I sometimes pause the session after 20-30 minutes to ask my audience for feedback on my presenting style. I tell them to give me the most negative piece of feedback possible (even if they love me!). I have done this enough times to know what will be coming my way. “You talk waaaay too fast! Can you slow down?” “Your transitions are pretty abrupt. Can you be

A Universally Designed Ride on the Polar Express?

A Universally Designed Ride on the Polar Express?

I experienced something with my six-year-old son last weekend. The incident made me realize that it’s possible… just maybe…that I am nailing this parenting thing. Last weekend, we headed up to North Conway, New Hampshire with my parents, my sister and her family, my husband, and our four kids. In typical Novak fashion, we all purchased matching pajamas, rented a beautiful home called the Tin Mine Lodge lodge and spent hours eating popcorn, M&Ms, and having an epic Christmas movie marathon. On Saturday night, we had tickets to go the Polar Express. On the train car, Christmas music blared through

UDL is a Standards-Based Curriculum Design

UDL is a Standards-Based Curriculum Design

All too often, when I speak with teachers about integrating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into their classrooms, I get feedback that it simply isn’t possible. “I can’t provide options; I teach math.” “I have standards I need to meet, so options are off the table!”  UDL is a standards-based curriculum design. This means it can be incorporated into any learning environment, regardless of subject, content, or standards. Let me explain. When creating a UDL lesson plan, you need to start with the standard. First, determine if your standard is a content standard or a method standard. Content standards are

I’m Thankful for Teachers

I’m Thankful for Teachers

As I sit down at my computer on this Thanksgiving morning, I can’t help but think of how thankful I am for all the teachers in my life. As the daughter of two teachers, my life, from my first breath, was impacted by educators. Now, as I look back, I realize that many of the people who truly mattered to me stood at the front of classrooms. These thoughts are in light of a recent Forbes article which celebrated the “Top 30 Under 30” in education. Not a single classroom teacher made the cut. It would be ridiculous if it

Million Dollar Question: What Does UDL Look Like?

Million Dollar Question: What Does UDL Look Like?

What Does UDL Look Like? I really struggle when someone asks me, “What does UDL look like?” It is not because I don’t know the answer, in theory. It’s because I don’t know what it looks like for YOU. As the brilliant Dr. Liz Berquist explains in UDL: Moving from Exploration to Integration, “Because the implementation of UDL is variable and unique-in this sense it is a model of UDL itself. UDL looks different in every learning environment, just as it looks different in every school, district, and state. Although there are patterns to be found in this variability, there

Announcing Let Them Thrive

Announcing Let Them Thrive

This past year, I often found myself wishing I were blogging more. There is just so much to cover in education, and I want to share everything I can to help teachers and administrators successfully implement UDL and transform education. However, my lack of posts over the last 12 months wasn’t that I wasn’t writing. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I found that while more and more teachers and administrators were getting on board with UDL, the more important it became for parents to understand the UDL framework, why it is being implemented in schools, and how they

Growth Mindset: Teaching Your Students to Be Expert Learners

Growth Mindset: Teaching Your Students to Be Expert Learners

When I taught English years ago, I was dealing out tattered paperbacks of the classics like it was my life’s calling. The whole class read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and then the whole class read Old Man and the Sea. I excitedly circulated the books, week after week, to groaning middle-schoolers slumped in their chairs. After we read, I gave a test and some students got As and others earned Fs and they were all left feeling like being a good student was a prize. Good grades were bestowed upon those students who either a) were proficient readers or b) were creative

Why UDL?

Why UDL?

I often am asked the question, “Why UDL?” and my answer is simple. We are preparing students for their future. We are not preparing them for our past. The way that we have been teaching students for decades will no longer meet their needs because we are preparing them for jobs that don’t even exist yet and technology that is replaced daily. In this new world, we have to teach our students how to be thinkers, love challenge, and commit to innovation. We can not do this when we, as educators, are in charge of their learning. When I first

The Death of Lecturing and Rise of UDL

The Death of Lecturing and Rise of UDL

“Anyone, anyone?” The air is filled with silence. The boredom in the room is palpable. You are the real-life version Ben Stein’s economic teacher portrayal on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and it’s pretty embarrassing. It’s not your fault. Today’s kids are running on empty. They are multi-tasking out of their minds, and are taking part in the 8 billion times a day Americans are checking their phones. Distractions are everywhere and when left to their own devices (literally!), children never have to feel boredom. The rise of technology has made it very easy for us, and our students, to become