Deep conversations about UDL: The model of mentoring
If you’ve ever had a positive mentor in your personal or professional life, you know how valuable they can be. These are individuals who help you to problem-solve, view situations through a different lens, see both outside and within yourself, learn from your mistakes and celebrate your contributions. This EdWeek article defines the eight qualities teacher mentors should have, including: respect for themselves and for you, the ability to listen deeply, the skill of challenging you, the act of collaboration, guiding you to celebrate, telling the truth, providing a safe environment in which to share mistakes, and the ability to empathize. And, as pointed out during this episode, under all of this is trust. Trust is the base of all successful relationships. But how does the mentor/mentee relationship get started and are there real benefits?
Mentors can be assigned or come about naturally. Either way, research from 2017 shows the positive impact mentoring can have on students when mentors focus on providing guidance in lesson planning and how to analyze student work. That’s why this episode’s conversation with Tracy Pendred and Kimberly Spears is so valuable. They clearly voice the benefits of mentoring. Beyond that, though, they voice the impact mentoring can have on the implementation of UDL.
Teachers often come into UDL already having lots of skills and knowledge but what they don’t always have is a shared language. This can make conversation more challenging. They might be talking about similar ideas, but language gets in the way. They don’t have a term that helps them talk about how differently students learn and react to learning in different settings and across days (i.e., variability). They don’t have vocabulary that lets them clearly communicate how their students persevere and use their coping skills more successfully when they have choice around what they are studying, reading, or investigating (i.e., the Principle of Engagement). They might talk about how they use manipulates to teach a math lesson or show a video to help students understand what they’ve read in a new way, but they don’t get to the depth of why they choose these options or how they can take additional steps to shepherd their students toward deeper comprehension (i.e., the Principle of Representation). Or they talk about how exciting it is when students produce products to demonstrate their understanding, but they miss that every student could have produced a product if they’d all been provided that basic level of access suggested under the Guideline of Physical Action within Action and Expression.
When we combine the act of quality mentoring with the consistent investigation and deep learning that comes when implementing UDL, we create learning environment and lessons where all learners benefit. We create an environment where the expectation is that every learner can grow toward becoming an expert learner.