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Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Implementation
Home > Blog > UDL in 15 Minutes with Shannon Van Horn: The Follow-Up Blog Post

UDL in 15 Minutes with Shannon Van Horn: The Follow-Up Blog Post

It’s in your DNA!

The phrase, “it’s in your DNA” has become a catch-all phrase to recognize that some action, reaction, or outcome is ingrained in who you are. During this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes I use the phrase, “it’s in your school’s DNA,” because I recognize that Westbrooke Village Elementary School is supporting their students through practices and systems like restorative justice and positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) in a way that is part of the school’s day-to-day life. It is part of their normal. It is part of their daily breath as a community. Their DNA has a strand that says, “You are welcome here every day. We accept you as you are. And because we expect you to do your best, we’re going to do our best to teach and support you.” Now I turn the question to you. What is in your school’s DNA?

3D illustration of standing figure holding strand of DNA

That can be a tough question to ask because it can lead to challenging conversations around relationships, expectations, teaching practices, and administrative practices. Your school’s DNA determines hiring practices and hiring decisions, how professional development is decided upon and delivered, whether or not coaching occurs or if it’s on the horizon, and how you’re using your data (e.g., are you using it as the reason to change instructional practices or the reason to keep the things the same?).

Your school’s DNA determines how the administration guides communication, addresses challenges, develops policy and procedures, minimizes barriers for staff so they can try new evidence-based practices, and communicates and works with other levels of the educational system (e.g., state departments). Your school’s DNA is also intertwined within the administration’s ability to shift between straight-forward decision-making that relies on adherence to policy to the much more nuanced decision-making that relies on flexibility, adaptability, and the recognition of human dynamics. There’s a lot in that DNA!

I didn’t make up that list. It comes from the work on implementation science from the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN). I was introduced to their work when I was at CAST and got to work on a project that was eventually called “A Tale of Four Districts.” Colleagues used NIRN’s work to develop that project and the subsequent tools we all created. I then joined SWIFT which also used NIRN’s work to inform their processes and build their tools. I now use NIRN’s work within my own implementation work with schools, districts, and other education entities. If you’re thinking about bringing in a new framework, curriculum, or system, I suggest you take a look at NIRN’s work, too.

But how does this all tie back to Universal Design for Learning (UDL)? First, these are the kind of questions schools and districts interested in UDL need to be asking themselves as they move into and continue with UDL. Beyond these inquiry questions, the facilitated processes connected with implementation science can help schools and districts identify where they are in their journey toward full implementation. Second, these questions and tools help you identify your current DNA and then you can see how that aligns with the UDL framework. With long-term focused work, you can begin to determine whether your school or district is set up to support the practices and mindset associated with UDL and then take specific, planned steps to begin those shifts. Afterall, it’s those practices and that mindset that help us achieve the ultimate goal – to create the pathway necessary for all of our learners to become expect learners.