Universal Design for Learning
Five Steps International Education Leaders
Can Take to Support Interest and Build Momentum in Your Schools
Beth Stark, UDL Expert and Inclusionary Practices Strategist for International Schools
The world of education is never short on acronyms, or new initiatives for that matter. So, what makes UDL (Universal Design for Learning) worth our interest? As we all work to develop a deeper understanding of how we can deliver on the promise of inclusive education, Universal Design for Learning is impossible to miss. It is the research-based gold standard for supporting schools in delivering on the promise of learning and environments designed to foster belonging, value learners for all that makes them unique, and support rigorous outcomes for all learners. Here are five steps leaders can take to support and encourage interest in the systems, skills, and beliefs of UDL, and build momentum toward implementation in your school.
Universal Design for Learning: “About Universal Design for Learning.” bit.ly/419qfYm
1. Start with the “Why’s”. Yes, there is more than one!
Inviting discussions and creating space for multiple perspectives, especially for educators who are hesitant or skeptical, are important steps toward increasing readiness for transformational change in schools; and UDL implementation is no exception.
One resource that supports productive discourse is a “Why Guide”. A “Why Guide” assists leadership teams in sharing a narrative that is clear, authentic, and consistent. As interest begins to build, consider asking for a team of volunteers to come together to create a text and graphics that illustrate how the “Why’s” for UDL align with your school’s mission, vision, and values.
FIVE UDL "Why's"
The goal of UDL is to support all learners to grow as Expert Learners.
Universal Design for Learning improves outcomes for all learners.
Universal Design for Learning is a systematic design approach that reduces barriers and fuels inclusive and equitable experiences and spaces for all learners. The UDL Framework blends and amplifies other research-based pedagogical practices that are centered around nurturing the strengths of learners, honoring all aspects of their identity, incorporating multisensory approaches, fostering complex problem-solving, and developing learner agency through self-determination.
Aligned with the United Nations Rights of the Child (Articles 28, 29, and 30), The UN defined the attributes of inclusive education, and has given educators and school leaders directives for how to create inclusive learning engagements and learning environments; through the adoption and implementation of Universal Design for Learning.
The International Baccalaureate is committed to embracing learner variability and aims to meet the principles of equity and inclusive education by designing and developing a universally designed curriculum.
“When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before.”
— David Thoreau
2. Begin by Unlearning
The systems, skills, and beliefs of Universal Design for Learning calls for adaptive and technical changes that challenge some of our most deeply held beliefs as educators. “Unlearning”, written by Katie Novak and Alison Posey, is a truly engaging and accessible book that invites us to examine our own thoughts about learners, learning, and our roles as educators. If you are interested in hosting an “Unlearning” Book Club, you can access a helpful Book Club Guide, shared by Novak Education: Unlearning Book Club Guide – Allison Posey, Katie Novak.
Unlearning: Changing Your Beliefs and Your Classroom With UDL, written by Allison Posey and Katie Novak (CAST).
3. Build Shared Understandings through UDL Credentialing
Learning Designed, a virtual learning space that is part of the CAST Institute, offers three UDL Credentials. The Level One Credential is an ideal place to start. At a price of 30 U.S. Dollars, this asynchronous professional learning opportunity offers a terrific collection of resources and research to give a comprehensive overview of the foundations of UDL, and opportunities to see UDL in practice. UDL Associate Credential – Level 1 | Learning Designed.
4. Reduce Barriers and Model Expert Learning
Facilitating Professional Learning and Inclusive Professional Approaches
In Kasia M. Derbiszewska and T. Nicole Tucker-Smith’s book, Supercharge Your Professional Learning: 40 Practical Strategies that Improve Adult Learning, we learn how to leverage the power of UDL in the design of professional learning. If you apply their strategies when designing workshops and professional learning engagements, you will be amazed at the higher energy levels, synergy, and deep thinking you observe. James McKenna's book, Upskill, Reskill, Thrive provides insights and practical approaches for cultivating an inclusive work culture that empowers all members to thrive as expert learners.
Sharing through Social Media
Alexa Heinrich has created an informative site, Accessible Social, which demystifies how to write helpful Alt Text, Image Descriptions, accessible Hashtags, and many other steps to increase the accessibility of Social Media messaging for your school.
Communicating with Stakeholders
Consider using a platform like Smore for Newsletters to connect with your stakeholders. Smores make it easy to communicate through multiple means of representation, which can lower the cognitive demand for readers and support better comprehension. When readers access the hotlink in their browser, a menu of accessibility features is available to reduce perception barriers.
5. Grow with UDL in Mind
As you reflect on the tools teachers and leaders select from to support professional growth, protocols for walk-throughs, and your go-to prompts for candidates during teacher recruitment season, consider the role that Universal Design for Learning can play in how you refine and reframe your processes.
Grow with UDL in Mind Resources:
The Danielson Framework for Teaching and Universal Design for Learning Crosswalk lists critical teacher attributes that align with the guidelines and principles of UDL across multiple domains.
Novak, Katie, and Woodlock, Michael. UDL Playbook for School and District Leaders. CAST Incorporated, 2021.
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education: UDL Interview Questions for Candidates.
Universal Design for Learning “Look For’s” Capture Sheets and Resources for Implementing Learning Walks from Montgomery Public Schools.
The Open Access Project, featuring the UDL Lesson Study and Instructional Rounds Protocol.
About Universal Design for Learning. (2022, February 8). CAST. https://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-udl
Consulting, N. E. (n.d.). Unlearning Book Club Guide. Allison Posey, Katie Novak. Retrieved from https://info.novakeducation.com/unlearning-book-club-guide
Convention on the Rights of the Child. (n.d.). OHCHR. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-child
Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD). (n.d.). Division for Inclusive Social Development (DISD). Retrieved from https://social.desa.un.org/issues/disability/crpd/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities-crpd
Derbiszewska, Kasia M., and T. Nicole Tucker-Smith (2020). Supercharge Your Professional Learning: 40 Concrete Strategies That Improve Adult Learning. Cast, Incorporated.
Heinrich, A. Accessible Social. Retrieved from https://www.accessible-social.com/
McKenna, J., and Grant, K. (2023). Upskill, Reskill, Thrive: Optimizing learning and development in the workplace. Cast, Incorporated.
Novak, K., & Woodlock, M. (2021). UDL Playbook for School and District Leaders. Cast, Incorporated.
Posey, A., and Novak, K. (2020). Unlearning: Changing your beliefs and your classroom with UDL. Cast, Incorporated.
Smore. Smore. Retrieved from https://www.smore.com/
UDL Credential 1: Mindset. (n.d.). Learning Designed. Retrieved from https://www.learningdesigned.org/udl-landing/17348
UNICEF. (n.d.). Inclusive Education: Understanding Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/eca/sites/unicef.org.eca/files/IE_summary_accessible_220917_0.pdf
United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (2016, November 25). General comment No. 4 (2016) on the right to inclusive education. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/crpd/pages/gc.aspx