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UDL in 15 Minutes with Kade Friedman

“It Takes 2 Minutes”

Supporting our students’ social-emotional learning (SEL) is a key part of my conversation with Kade Friedman during this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes. As they point out, “You know, it takes two minutes at the beginning of class where we do an SEL check in.” So why is it so hard for some educators to adopt this practice? There are lots of reasons discussed in the field and even ways to help educators adopt SEL practices, but I’m going to speak from my experience which boil down to context and variability.

Leading an SEL check-in might feel like a slippery slope. Hearing your students’ struggles can feel overwhelming. For that reason, some teachers seek advice from others on the issue. Advice is never hard to come by. Most of it comes from personal experience. Some of it might be backed by quality information. Some of it might even be backed by quality research. Ultimately, though, it is shaped by the giver’s experiences and attitudes.

When colleagues told me not to overextend myself and dive too deeply into providing social-emotional supports for my learners, they were telling me to not get too deep into the lives of my students. Especially those students whose lives were “more complicated.” Here are the two things I did with that advice based on inexperience as a teacher and a human and how UDL could have helped me (and can help you).

First: I took on their advice. That means I repackaged the advice based on my own background and beliefs. That’s what we all do. Stopping there was the problem. That’s because I needed to take a second step. I needed to repeatedly reflect on how the advice bumped up against or sat well with my own experiences and beliefs. Repeated reflection is the key here and here’s how Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can direct our thinking.

UDL guides us to offer our learners opportunities to reflect. Just look at the guideline of Self-Regulation and the checkpoint of develop self-assessment and reflection. What we know is that learners need practice across multiple contexts to gain the skills associated with self-assessment and reflection. So do we. Specific to this blog, we need to take advice (like not overextending ourselves) and weigh that out over multiple contexts (e.g., settings, relationships, hours of the day) to see what that means. Ultimately, I learned that my definition of overextension was very different from that of my colleagues. It was not better or worse. It was mine. This leads me to the second thing I did with that advice based on inexperience.

Second: I held onto my definition. After all, it was my definition so it rang true. Know thyself, right? Here’s the mis-step. I didn’t know that I experience variability. I didn’t know that my definition of self would consistently and constantly evolve if I was willing to take time for self-reflection (to give grace, this was back when the science community didn’t know about variability). I also didn’t understand that my definition should and would be challenged across contexts.

Here’s where UDL and understanding variability helps. While it’s true that I created my definition for overextension, I needed to see my own variability and own that my definition should and would change based on experience and context. I read, watched, and listened to resources that gave me new information. Because of this, I expanded my thinking. Through conversations with colleagues, I saw new points of view. I expanded my thinking. All of that new thinking allowed me to interact with my students differently, but I got stuck in my own definition of self rather than allowing myself to experience my own variability. I knew I could interact with my learners differently, but I stayed in the safety zone of my old definition.

Thankfully, I shed my definition of overextension at the end of my first year and learned how to engage with my learners to support them as social-emotional learners. I learned that my relationship with each of them was different and that the relationship could and would shift. I did overstep my skillsets on occasion, but that helped me become more resourceful.

Ultimately, I have learned how to take advice that others offer me and apply UDL to my own processing and application of the information. I have learned how to utilize my skills as an expert learner. Hopefully, you are doing that, too.