Implementation of UDL may be a change in practice for the school team members involved. Implementing this change needs to happen at both the micro and macro levels. At the microcosm level, it starts with the classroom, with its teacher and students; at the macrocosm level, efforts at the district level needs to be made to support all classrooms making the attempt to implement UDL.
UDL and technology are mutually supportive. Technology provides flexible options for students to access curriculum, engage in lessons and demonstrate their learning. With technology, it is critical that the necessary network infrastructure as well as a plan for using the technology is in place for any of the technologies in the classroom. From simple supports like making sure there is a convenient power source for the devices being used to more complex systems like ensuring network connections are in place for students to be able to access stored files or print their work – a classroom technology plan that is supported by the overall school and district plan is critical.
Having a technology implementation plan in place provides clarity around who is responsible for what technology support tasks; it helps everyone understand what is expected and when that expectation needs to be met. Implementation plans also identify any tasks we may not have considered and may help break a long term goal (like iPad access for all students) into manageable and attainable goals for each school year.
Every BC school district employs district Information Technology support staff. However, IT support services and protocols vary widely from district from district. As the amount of technology being used in schools has exploded in the past fifteen years, district IT support staff are often overwhelmed with demand for their work. The clearer you can be about what IT support is needed to implement your UDL initiatives, the easier it will be for your IT support to create the solutions you and your students require in a timely manner.
Having an IT department that is supportive of and sensitive to educational efforts is not only important, it is crucial when using technology to support UDL in your classroom. Consider that the mandate of the IT department is different from that of educators and there may be times when you don’t understand decisions made about district or school technology implementation. This can happen if what you are hoping to implement has implications on overall network security. The IT department’s focus is to provide functioning and secure network supports for all schools around the district. While you may have discovered the ‘perfect’ technology solution for your students, the IT staff may feel it creates a network security risk so may not initially support its integration. Having a supportive administrator and a good working relationship with your IT support staff helps maintain the open dialogue necessary to find a workable technology solution for everyone involved.
You’ll find that including your IT support staff in your planning meetings at school and welcoming them into classroom activities when possible will make for much more effective technology implementation in your UDL-based classroom.
The attitude of administrators at the school and district level can really help schools cultivate a sense of a learning community, one where teachers and students alike feel safe to take risks with both their teaching and their learning. Encouraging flexibility amongst their teachers will lead to optimal learning environments being created in their classrooms.
For these and other reasons, it is clear why administrators play a crucial role in UDL implementation. They can:
In classrooms where UDL is being implemented successfully, the Student Services Teachers (e.g. Learning Assistance Teacher, Learning Resource Teacher, Behaviour Intervention Specialist, Speech Language Pathologists, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, ESL Teacher, etc.) endeavor to spend more time in the classroom and supporting a variety of students as needed. While pulling students out for extra support still happens from time to time, removing students from the classroom environment is considered carefully and used only to target students who need specific help related to the topic being covered in class.
Supporting students in the classroom environment no matter what their needs sends a clear message that the classroom is where everyone belongs. Sending students out on a regular basis for pull-out support blocks labels students unnecessarily. For example, having 8 students leave the classroom every morning at 9:15 am for ESL resource support time labels the students as ‘ESL students’. Having the ESL Resource Teacher supporting students in the classroom by co-teaching with the classroom teacher, modeling strategies that work for students learning English as a Second Language, and providing adapted material can have a powerful impact on the whole class. Students who may not have been identified as ESL learners may also benefit from the strategies used by the ESL resource teacher. This approach creates a learning community that clearly includes everyone and minimizes instances of ‘othering’.
In a UDL-based school and classroom environment, special educators work to find their place in the general education classroom and support not only those students who require individual support, but the classroom teacher supporting all students in the primary learning environment. The collaboration required to achieve this is obvious, the rewards compelling. Educators supporting each other on a daily basis, sharing information, co-teaching all students, and working together to create the classroom learning community.
Nancy Snowden is a Resource Support Teacher at Birchland Elementary School in Coquitlam, BC. She supports students in the classroom and, in this video, describes how UDL has changed how she uses pull-out times with students who need extra support. She and other teachers share their views on redefining the role of the Special Educator and rethinking the current pull-out support model.
“It’s so much more friendly with two.” Winnie the Pooh
We are social beings – we need interaction in order to thrive. We learn from each other when we learn with each other. What is true for our students, is true for us as educators when planning and implementing curriculum. Teachers are full of fantastic ideas and coming together to share is a great way to learn from each other to advance our own practice.
Many teachers feel most comfortable in their own classrooms, with or without a closed door, interacting alone with their students. Unfortunately, this can result in stagnation of teaching practice. When we don’t stretch beyond our comfort zones, beyond what we have ‘always done’ there is no forward movement for us as educators and for our students as learners. We run the risk of becoming ineffective. Evolving brain research on learning, ready access to a variety of technologies, and the diverse nature of our classrooms necessitates, now more than ever, teachers coming together, collaboratively, to plan, create, and deliver relevant curriculum.
The perception is that planning with others takes a great deal of time. This is often seen as a barrier to teachers collaborating – there never seems to be enough time in the week (or month) to schedule planning meetings with others. But, the reality is that collaborating with somebody can actually cut your planning time in half or more. And collaboration does not have to happen at formal meetings – to implement UDL effectively, teachers need to open their doors and invite students services staff or other teachers in during lessons. Once the lesson is complete, brief discussions can take place and lead to more effective practices for individual students and the class overall.
In other areas of this course, teacher collaboration is highlighted. With many schools who have been successfully implementing UDL, teachers began collaborating out of necessity, sometimes with just one or two teachers who wanted to talk about what they were trying. In all cases, teachers report that the activity of collaborating with colleagues is one of the most satisfying and rewarding aspects of their UDL implementation.