When I first started working as a district administrator, I pondered the results of a statewide survey that asked teachers to reflect on the quality of the professional development they received, among other things. Less than half of Massachusetts educators reported that there were sufficient resources for teachers to take advantage of professional development (47 percent) and only 40 percent agreed that adequate time was provided for professional development. In my own district, only 9% agreed there were sufficient resources for professional development. Yikes!
This back to school year has been a tough one for many of you. Between staffing shortages, ongoing changes in procedures, and the need for many of us to start wearing "work pants" again, you are likely already exhausted and overwhelmed. Adding one more thing to your already full buckets can feel overwhelming at best and like a total waste of your time and effort, at worst. Now, when things are added to your plate without adequate resources or adequate time to reflect, collaborate, and learn, you are likely ready to burst like a confetti cannon. Especially when there seem to be so many new things. You know the cycle - focus on UDL one month then move on to social emotional learning, restorative practices, and how to use the learning management system. All of these “one and done,” presentations always made me feel like expertise was something that could be developed in an hour, opposed to over the course of a career.
While things will continue to evolve and change and learning new things is important- it is important that we continue to advocate for professional learning that is ongoing , integrated, well resourced, and that is flexible enough to meet our needs. As districts, we need to set firm goals and we need to prioritize those goals and support them through purposeful scheduling, spiraling, and by ensuring that educators have access to high quality resources, professional development providers (especially colleagues in district who are early adopters!), and time to explore, reflect, and co-plan.
A single PD session on UDL (or even a full year of UDL PD!) isn’t going to move the needle much. Changing practices takes much more time than that. UDL is an evidence-based educational framework (designed nearly 30 years ago) that supports teachers in identifying barriers to learning and proactively designing instructional methods, materials, and assessments that are flexible enough to challenge and support all learners as they access grade-level instruction. It is here to stay.
If your district isn’t new to UDL, that doesn’t mean it is time to move on to the next shiny object. You need more time and more resources (like co-planning, high quality curriculum, student feedback data, and meaningful data protocols) to ensure that you are truly eliminating barriers and optimizing expert learning.
Your UDL work can continue through multiple years as you learn about the barriers that students face. A UDL practitioner needs to learn more about culturally responsive pedagogy, trauma-informed teaching, restorative justice, linguistically appropriate practices, and blended learning to minimize barriers to learning and meet the needs of all students. But goodness gracious, this doesn’t happen overnight and each of these frameworks must be interconnected and be supported by meaningful professional development, instructional coaching, and strategy over time.
As for that district I worked in? After five years of focusing on lesson design, revising schedules, elevating and celebrating teacher voices, modeling universally designed professional learning, and incorporating blended learning best practices into our offerings, that 9% “adequate PD” number grew to over 85% (no joke!). If we want to optimize learning for all students, we have to support our teachers. Wondering where your own teachers are at? Consider creating a Google Form and ask your colleagues to respond to questions about the quality of their professional development. We have drafted the following prompts that align with the UDL framework. Feel free to adapt or create your own.
- The district has provided me with support and resources to help me feel prepared to design and teach learning experiences based on grade-level standards so that all students have equal opportunities to demonstrate their learning.
- The district has provided me with support and resources to help me feel prepared to support all students in reaching the learning goals based on grade-level standards, even if they do not speak English.
- The district has provided me with support and resources to help me feel prepared to support all students in reaching the learning goals based on grade-level standards, even if they are significantly disabled or are significantly behind their peers.
- The district has provided me with support and resources to help me feel prepared to support all students in reaching the learning goals based on grade-level standards, even if they have significant behavioral challenges.
- The district has provided me with support and resources to help me feel prepared to engage all my students in learning by giving them choices and autonomy by incorporating their interests into the subject area/s I teach.
- The district has provided me with support and resources to help me feel prepared to build authentic, real-world learning activities where students have choices to share what they have learned in authentic and meaningful ways.
Next, use those results to commit to long term change and continued growth. And that is worth true confetti cannons.
I could talk all day about this topic but would love to hear from you @KatieNovakUDL.