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I’m a Leader and I Want to Scale UDL: Where Do I Start?

Katie Novak
Katie Novak
April 4, 2021

I have always been a long-distance runner. There is something so peaceful about being the first one up, pulling on sneakers, plugging in earbuds, and hitting the pavement. I first got hooked on running freshman year in high school, and from then, I didn’t stop. Until I got pregnant with twins. I know that many people run when they are pregnant, but I just didn’t do it. And so in the nine months of carrying my babies, I got woefully out of shape. A couple of months postpartum, I dreaded running again. I knew it would be hard as I hadn’t run in over a year. It seemed like too much work to get back to 20 miles. Walking a mile to start seemed pointless. Why start if that’s all I can do? Spoiler alert: You have to start there.

So often, district and school leaders think about everything they have to accomplish and it’s so difficult to know where to start. We are staring down the proverbial 20 miles of frameworks and initiatives. There is so much to do: create multi-tiered systems of support, implement Universal Design for Learning (UDL), become more culturally responsive and trauma-informed, learn how to facilitate blended, remote, hybrid, and concurrent learning. It’s so overwhelming that we feel maybe it’s just easier to wait until there is a better time to start. It’s a trap. Don’t do it. Now is the time to start. But where can you begin?

Establish a Baseline

At the beginning of your journey to create a more equitable and inclusive system, it's sometimes great to create a baseline for staff understanding of UDL. It gives you a place to target strategic planning so you know which route to set out during your "first mile". Here are a couple of tools that you can use to establish a baseline.

  • If you need to get staff on the same page about the importance of inclusion and equity, consider sharing research on the Opportunity Myth. Read or listen to the short article on the Opportunity Myth. To read in another language, you can copy/paste content into Papago.
  • Consider administering the Teacher Self-Assessment survey on multi-tiered systems and inclusive practice. You can learn more about areas where teachers feel confident and where additional support would help to increase feelings of efficacy.
  • The school-wide UDL self-assessment helps to determine systemic gaps and may be helpful for future planning and will give you an idea of a training plan as you continue on your journey.
  • Check out the Massachusetts Inclusive Practice look-fors (p.2) and consider the strengths/weaknesses of your inclusive model. Equity and inclusion are more than what educators are doing. We have to focus on what students and learners are doing and the types of classrooms and environments we are creating. 
  • Consider your staff mindset about inclusion. Here is a great research study that looks at beliefs about inclusive education. You can read the whole study. Here is the link to a Google Form (the link will require you to make a copy of it so you can edit, send out and see results), if you would like to give it to your colleagues electronically.

Think of Yourself as the Coach

Once you can determine areas where educators may need more support, you can begin to choose resources that help you to universally design a model for faculty meetings and PD so you can model the equitable and inclusive practices you want to see. Think of yourself as the coach! Here is a blog I wrote that is paired with a resource you can download that helps you consider how to model UDL in professional learning. Again, you can model strategies in the areas where they feel like they would value more support. 

Listen to Your Team

It's also helpful to begin by talking to teachers about the barriers they are facing. Starting a meeting with a question like, "What are some of the barriers that are preventing students from learning at high levels?" is a great way for educators to brainstorm how to minimize those barriers. For example, if someone notes, "Students aren't reading at grade-level," then you can discuss options like providing students with the choice to read independently, or with a small group or the teacher. Alternatively, teachers, or students, can use vocaroo.com to make an audio recording so students could read or listen to the content. To add to that, teachers can pre-teach vocabulary with visuals, offer ongoing "scavenger hunt" type questions about the text, etc... Doing an activity like this helps educators to realize they have many of the strategies they need to focus on equity and inclusion. They just need a framework that helps them to be more intentional about using those strategies to address barriers.

Each of the options above can be the first step on your implementation journey. Even though it doesn’t feel like a lot, the steps will add up. On my first run postpartum, I set out to run a mile. I couldn’t do it. I ran about a half a mile and had to walk. But every day, I tried to run a little longer than the day before. It took me four years before I would run a marathon, but I got there. And damn, it felt good.

Gain confidence in leading others in growing their UDL practice. Learn more about "Coaching and Supporting UDL Implementation". 

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