Alanis Morrissette penned the song, “Isn’t it ironic?” Not to date myself, but when I was in high school, my friends and I rocked out to that song. If I could go back in time, I would tell Alanis to add a line about UDL professional development. It would go something like this, “It’s like rain, on your wedding day. It’s a free ride, when you already paid. It’s the sit-and-get of UDL PD. Who would have thought? It figuuuuures.” (It’s catchy, isn’t it?)
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is best practice for all students because it focuses on providing all learners with options so they can take ownership of their learning, become motivated, self-directed problem solvers, and reach their goals. UDL isn’t about the acquisition of knowledge. It’s about learning to learn which is an active process that is different for every single learner. So why, when we’re rolling out UDL as a school or district, do we serve up “one-size-fits-all” PD? In UDL Now, there is a section on “bad PD,” and what I call the Anti-Guidelines. The Anti-Guidelines have the power to disengage any educator within a one mile radius because the PD designed using these Anti-Guidelines doesn’t allow teachers to take ownership of their UDL journey, become motivated, or creatively eliminate the barriers that will affect successful implementation. Instead, it’s a lot of, “sit here and listen to how you’re going to have to implement UDL.” Because there are no choices and there is no attempt at building engagement, these PD sessions model the opposite of UDL. Isn’t it ironic; don’t you think?
Fighting the Anti-Guidelines
So, how can you fight against the Anti-Guidelines? Implement large group engagement strategies; provide educators with options to share their perspectives, self-assess and set personalized goals. Here are a few options to get started, but there are plenty more.
- Pass the Plate. Stole this idea from a rock star teacher/friend, Tara Trainor. The activity is called “Pass the Plate.” Provide educators with a prompt, as in, “What are all the current initiatives you feel responsible for implementing in your classroom?” Then, put teachers in groups of 4-5 and give every person in the group a marker and one cheap paper plate. Set a timer for 2 minutes and have groups feverishly write their ideas as they pass their plate around. Activities like this ensure participation from all group members and provide the option for physical activity. When the two minutes is done, collect and display the plates. Allow everyone to take a quick learning walk to view everyone’s answers before coming back and beginning a discussion. This is a great way to build background knowledge, optimize reflection and build community – in only a couple of minutes.
- Walk Across the Circle If… This is technically a team building exercise, but it’s a great way to highlight the effective practices that are happening in a school or district and begins to build collaboration and community as educators can see who is a leader in specific areas. To start, get all educators in a giant circle. Then, based on the goal of the meeting, you ask educators to, “Walk Across the Circle If…” they meet a particular criterion. For example, “Walk across the circle if you’ve ever asked students to give you feedback on how to improve your teaching…” When educators walk across, this provides a starting point for meaningful conversations and helps educators build connections. It’s always fun to throw some other team building prompts in as well, such as, “Walk across the circle if you ever received a detention in high school.” To minimize threats and distractions, you can always amend to, “Walk across the circle if you’re comfortable sharing that….”
- QR Code. When teachers come into a meeting, have a QR code waiting for them that brings them to the Google Doc with multiple options for them to explore resources before a meeting starts. Instead of the dreaded, “Now we’re all going to read an article,” lead them to a page that notes, “You will have 10 minutes to explore a resource to build background knowledge on UDL. You can watch a video, view a sample lesson, read an article, etc…”
- Entrance Ticket. As teachers walk into a meeting, have an entrance ticket where they have to complete a sentence like, “I really hope that I have an opportunity to [fill in the blank] during this meeting as it will increase my engagement.” Arrange all the tickets on the wall and thematically code them by grouping like answers together. This is a great opportunity to model reflection live and then say something like, “Okay… I’m going to be flexible here and provide an option to go outside since a number of you identified that.” This allows you to be responsive, flexible, and engaging in real time, just like we want our teachers to be.
- Create an Action Plan. In your next PD, help educators see that all expert learners are capable of designing their own learning experience. At the beginning of a session, project a slide that highlights the goal of the meeting. Ask groups of educators to create an action plan so they can meet the goal, list the information and resources they need, and also identify a project that they could submit to show that they met the goal. Then, be a coach and walk around the provide feedback while they are learning.
- Create Analogies. Analogies are a great way to highlight important information and allow educators to translate their knowledge to their practice. Consider taking any random object (old post cards, junk from your draw, stickers, etc….) While mid meeting, ask educators to make an analogy between what they are learning and the object. (i.e, UDL is like a paperclip because…”) Encourage sharing in a visual, in writing, or sharing aloud. It’s always a blast and helps to build creative problem-solving.
The ideas above are only a starting point, but they provide a couple of examples of how to leverage the UDL Guidelines by modeling them for teachers. No learners should have to “sit and get,” anymore as the best practices in teaching and learning don’t just affect students, but teacher learning as well.