“Change Happens One Conversation at a Time” #UDL4Justice

I’ve thought A LOT about what I’m going to share with you – how to format it, how to clearly and succinctly share, how to be appropriate instead of fangirly and how to speak my truth. This is the sentence I started with on Monday –

This is a bit outside of what I’ve been writing about lately. But I would be remiss if I didn’t share the ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE experience I’ve had this week.

except – nothing I am sharing in this post is outside of what I’ve shared lately. Providing opportunities, creating a safe space and doing the hard work for kids to have choice and voice are EXACTLY what we talked and worked through this week. I was also going to preemptively apologize for my wanderings and excitements and possible confusion that gets created – and instead there are no apologies. I’m exhausted from these days, but I’ve also had some more life breathed into me. I will say that I’m going to try and organize this in some way.


So a bit of background, there’s this wicked cool organization called CAST and they help coordinate and dispense with this AMAZING framework and all the research and learning and support for students called Universal Design for Learning. (That might literally be the worst description of both of these things…but… I’ll share some cool links that will give you a better picture).

CAST organized a Symposium for Social Justice which is where I’ve been all week. And somehow in my brilliant (ha) mind 6 months ago when I saw what this was about, I thought to myself, not only do I HAVE to be at this symposium, maybe I can present something. Then I got scared… and asked my buddy and boss Timmary to present with me. Soooo… we submitted a proposal. And then was accepted. Ok so now to the good stuff.


So we drove into Boston today with a car filled in your face social justice artwork created by our kids and easels. We arrived early and started setting up the artwork. It looks fabulous. I was nervous as can be – putting the work up, intimidated by all the people, and the thought of presenting in the afternoon.

The two keynote speakers on Monday – Katie Novak and Mirko Milk started us off. Katie Novak is no fuss, no muss… but throws it down completely. She talked with us about mirrors and windows and ensuring that students had mirrors within the content as well as windows into other worlds. She talked to us about being uncomfortable with social justice and the topics and that that discomfort is where real change occurs. She shared this amazing ted talk which I will definitely be utilizing with my students.

“You don’t need to self regulate if you are comfortable” -Katie Novak

“Good intentions aren’t good enough.” -Mirko Chardin

Then Mirko Chardin spoke with us. He is the Principal of the Putnam School in Cambridge. He shared his story of growing up in Dorchester and how teachers and adults spoke to him and told him he would never amount to much. He shared how he overcame many of these things through a variety of factors. He also shared 3 things that stuck with me: Impact over Intentions; Voice, Vision and Visibility; and Reality Pedagogy. That these things he keeps in the forefront as a School Leader.

“Know your story, own story, your story is your power.”

I then stayed for a discussion with him. He spoke about PD and his hiring practices. He spoke about trust and community building.

The next session I attended was about Implicit Bias by Safire DeJong and Suzanne _____. WOW. WOW. WOW. Way to feel uncomfortable and start to have some difficult conversations. We looked at the UDL Framework and how we use it. Then we looked at some White Supremacy Evidence and really dug into what those things were. This was incredibly eye opening for me and really made me pause.

In the afternoon Timmary and I presented. Wow. Another incredibly experience. Watching Timmary facilitate Visual Thinking Strategies is like watching a master artist at work. She is so wonderful at allowing participants the space to see, to connect and to share. It was masterful. Then I shared about my practices and some of my students stories. We received some positive feedback and the day was done. Here’s the powerpoint for our presentation – although it might not make a tremendous amount of sense. Symposium Presentation



Tuesday was another incredible day. It started with a keynote from Kathleen King Thorias and Federico Waitoller. And wow. They were INTENSE. In a great way and in a way that I just wasn’t ready for. They made me uncomfortable – which in this setting is so perfect. They were discussing their work in academia about cross pollinating UDL with Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies. To be completely honest I had no idea what that meant initially and I’m still not entirely sure. Culturally Sustaining/Reponsive Pedagogy and that terminology is relatively new in my brain and I’m certainly going to look into it more. But it was a thought provoking way to begin the day.

I went to a few technology focused sessions which is a bit outside of comfort zone but also something I’m constantly trying to figure out and expand in my classroom for my students. This lovely gentleman Jason Carroll from texthelp showed his products that are Google Extensions. At first it definitely felt like a giant commercial or sales pitch…BUT THEN… he showed us this AH-MAZING thing called equatio. It’s a free google extension and it’s for math. I know, I know, I don’t teach math, but this could really help students. It is technology for math because you know, it’s so hard to use a computer to write a math problem – this predicts what word you want to use. You can LITERALLY type in 2xover4squared and it becomes the mathematical equation and you can use it to create a google sheet or put it into a google slide or…get this.. A GOOGLE FORM. it also has text to speech, so kids can say the equation. WHAT?! mind completely blown. And I downloaded it onto my computer.  The other technology one I went to was facilitated by this amazing woman Sarah Schroeder. She used peardeck for her presentation which was interactive – like it was on the screen and ON MY PHONE and had capabilities of me interacting and her taking the temperature of the room. The best things (for me) was digging into symbloo where I can create a technology “choice board” where the kids can just click rather than typing in a really long url; seesaw which I have read and looked at before, but it clicked a bit better for me, I can foresee using it as a portfolio option; and flipgrid which is a video discussion board – INSTEAD of a written discussion board. How awesome.

“Just sticking a laptop on a students’ desk doesn’t mean we are teaching them 21st Century skills.” – Sarah Schroeder

The session that really began to breathe life into me was by Alexis Reid on Healing School Wounds – Executive Function through a UDL Lens. This woman was… so many things… but fantastic is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Not supporting and scaffolding Executive Functions is like taking someone’s glasses away.” – Alexis Reid

She shared so many things about executive function skills that I can’t even begin to share them – but basically – consistently planning, practicing, scaffolding and sharing with students a variety of executive function skills can save kids lives. WHOA.

“Executive Functions help build stronger relationships and trust.” – Alexis Reid

“What you don’t see is the struggle” -Dr. Goodloe

I missed part of this amazing presentation by Dr. James Etta Goodloe – but when I walked in she was discussing her story of how her story could’ve been very different. She spoke about the fixed mindset and what teachers and other people might see and the potential within her (the growth mindset). She talked about how we needed to take time to know our students’ stories (which was a common and really important theme this week). She also charged us with the question

“What fabulous struggle are you working on?”

And discussed the code words and language people (teachers, educators, community members) use to describe students – “those kids” – which almost always refer to children of color.

To end my day, we went to a session led by two incredible educators from Revere, Massachusetts. They spoke about their implementation of UDL in their school and district. They shared some powerful videos of kids talking about their learning needs. They also discussed how they needed to reframe teachers thoughts from

“WHAT they were teaching instead of WHO they were teaching.”

They shared the feedback from students and how they asked for it and used it with the educators. It was pretty incredible. Christine Gray and Kristina Menissian were powerful role models in doing this important work with and for kids.


“Nothing worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.” – David Rose

Driving in to the last day, I was so tired. My brain was so full and I had experienced so many highs and lows. Going from inspiration and invigoration to the reality of the enormity of the job in front of all of us. So I had looked at the schedule and was feeling great that I thought I could sort of just enjoy the final day – slide through it.

“Teaching is about filling the spirit.” – Luis Perez

The day began with ANOTHER amazing keynote from Luis Perez called Turn to the Light. wow. wow. wow. He spoke about his personal experiences of education, his background and his degenerative visual impairment. He spoke about his experiences with technology and expanding access for everyone – that sometimes without technology, all the choices can’t be accessed for some.

“People in underserved groups should have a voice in the research being done.” – Luis Perez

“Change happens one conversation at a time.” – Luis Perez

I went to a session on personalized learning. They’re entire district was implementing personalized learning where students are empowered through student agency to ask for what they need, they lead their IEP meetings and set goals for their learning. WHOA. This left me both invigorated knowing there are places that are doing this work but also somewhat disheartened because I’m not sure that work is even on the horizon where I currently work (in terms of a systemic change).

“Flexible pacing with guardrails” – Karen McClain


To end things, I anticipated going to the final speaker and sort of ducking out. We were being corralled to sit with more people so we moved up in the large ballroom. I sat at a table with all men – thinking it would be great to just sort of disappear for a little bit, mainly because my brain was so full. I began to pay attention and realized I had sat a table with two of the keynote speakers – Mirko Chardin from the first day and Federico Waitoller – whoa. We discussed some heavy stuff – How we were going to continue this work (at least that’s what I remember we were supposed to be doing, it might’ve been different, ha). But we discussed the urgency along with the need for thoughtfulness – that kids’ lives are at stake with the work we do. Then, the group changed, and some other people joined me. We discussed looking forward to next year and what we might say to each other. 

AND THEN….. DAVID ROSE SAT AT MY TABLE. What?! David Rose. David.Rose. THE.GUY. THE GUY WHO STARTED UDL, WHO STARTED CAST. WHAT?! WHAT?! I basically had to completely keep myself together and shake his hand and say my name in a coherent manner. It was amazing.


So although I met and enjoyed so many sessions by so many different people – I also was able to make some incredible connections as well. This symposium was so different than anything I had ever gone to. Although I was *just* a measly art teacher, I sat with superintendents, policy writers in states and at a National level, women who work for IB, doctoral students… and I felt heard. I never felt less than. I also met so many amazing people and truly feel like connections were created that I can reach out if/when I need help or need to go back to the UDL bubble. One woman I met, I “know” her husband through twitter, but we were able to discuss her amazing work at Teachers College in New York City – and now I’m trying to figure out in my head how to get to NYC so I can see her work in action!


Peppered through this post are quotes, things that were shared throughout the symposium that stood out to me. But this.. this is what I’m left with as the most important thing. 

This connects all of it for me.

So what is my charge? What am I taking away from this incredible experience?

I am going to speak up. I am no longer going to stay quiet when people talk about “those kids” – I am going to start with questions.

I am going to focus on executive functioning skills – how to integrate them into my class while also empowering students to set goals, demonstrate their thinking and know what works best for them.

I am going to keep the big picture in my head, while taking small steps to keep this work up. It’s all social justice – when one student, one person isn’t learning, none of us are.

If you’re interested in finding out more, go to twitter and check out the #UDL4Justice hashtag or contact me about specific things. I could truly go on and on about many of these things!

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