During each of my podcast interviews, I ask the guest to describe the students in his or her learning environment. Rachel’s school, Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School, serves students who have disabilities as well as students who are ethnically, socioeconomically, and linguistically diverse. As she began to describe why she loved teaching these students and teaching at her school, she named characteristics that not only pointed to the culture she established within her classroom, but it also pointed to the culture of the school. I asked her to talk about that school culture and this is what she shared:
Yeah, I think that it’s a big part of our staff and the fact that many of our teachers feel, um, have this desire to really foster these core character traits in our kids. Um, you know, like I said, the school is a small school and, you know, everybody knows everybody. And our principal, you know, really enforces this idea of it takes a village and we all are looking out for all of these children. And so those core values, that’s what we call them in my classroom, core values, things like curiosity, reflection, kindness, and grit, and persistence, um, are things that are felt throughout the school and, um, as well as you know really trying to work on those social emotional learning needs of our kids and restorative justice practices. Many teachers in our school use those practices as well, which really, you know, really tackle that whole child approach to, to our kids.
A positive and strong school culture is crucial to the full implementation of UDL. Sure, students can go into a few select classes designed using the UDL framework and have a positive, deeply affective, challenging, rigorous, experience, but when they leave those environments, they lose the opportunity to become expert learners and it’s in that shift that we can lose them. The disconnect is dangerous.
Most students experience multiple teachers/educators and learning environments throughout the day. Think of it as a giant puzzle that students put together every day. Each learning environment is another piece in their day. They know when those pieces connect and when they don’t. So, how do we create a culture where those pieces connect?
Just as Rachel described, when each educator feels they are part of a positive collective and understand their connection to the collective, that connectedness is communicated to their learners via common expectations, support structures, and norms. The school and district leadership lead that development, including the development of norms around the implementation of UDL. Where do you start?
Suggested tools that can guide leadership to establish a strong and positive culture can be found at www.swiftschools.org in their Guide.
Specific to UDL, these videos are of building and district leaders who have brought UDL to their districts and schools and are making UDL implementation part of the collective culture. See what’s possible in your environment.
UDL is a powerful framework, but its power grows exponentially when it guides the design of a school or district’s culture. Imagine a district where families, students, and community members know that the entire environment is designed so every learner can become an expert learner. Now, that’s a positive culture!