UDL and Learner Variability: Teacher Variability / Student Variability (UDL #2)

This year , Universal Design for Learning has totally consumed by every thought!

My most demanding question that I have on loop is: Why should educators bother with UDL? I have never met an educaotr against the idea of inclusion and equity but with every other fabulous "program / frame/ lense " winging its way to our colleagues classroom and learning spaces, do they need to bother with UDL?

Has anyone noticed that UDL resources talk about learner variability? According to Grant and Perez (2018), the best way to address learner variability is through flexible design. In their book they offer ‘pause and reflect’ questions to support teachers to design for flexibility. The questions are fantastic and the UDL resources available on tki are gold, however, I have a niggling thought. Where is the explicit mention of adult / educator variability? As most of us would agree, educators encapsulate the definition of variable! So how do we design for educator variability?

I would argue, and it is taking me some time to think this through, but we do not talk about the variability of adults or working and designing for this variability as often as we could and I am wondering why we don’t.

To introduce a conversation about Learner Variability educators, I have been triying an activity that focussed on adults. The activity is called: Walk in my shoes - Adult Learner. (I have attached a link to this template below). The activity involved the teacher thinking about what conditions and or strategies they use to achieve each task on the sheet. When I recently did this activity with a group of educators, the educators chose one task on the list, they chose - Welcoming a visitor to school assembly speaking te reo Māori - and together they talked about all the different strategies they would need to use to achieve this. It was a totally magic moment in the staff meeting because the understanding of designing for variability for themselves and their own students was a serendipitous moment.

I’m really excited about approaching professional development from the UDL lense because I have this hunch that we may (as educators) experience this weird kind of thing where we need to homogenise into a particular way of thinking, acting and doing. An example is a ‘good teacher sounds like… a good teacher looks like…” UDL offers an opportunity to literally smash through such ridiculous cookie cutter thinking and explicitly identify and recognise each others creativity and variability and design and work with it.

I’m wondering, is anyone else explicitly using the UDL framework / principles to design professional development with our colleagues and if so what have your experiences been?


Grant, K.,& Perez, L. (2018). Dive into UDL Immersive Practices to Develop Expert Learners.

Portland, Oregon : International Society for Technology in Education

Ministry of Education (2019) Inclusive Design. Guide to Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from https://www.inclusive.tki.org.nz/guides/universal-design-for-learning/

Walk in my shoes adult learner

Universal Design for Learning #1

“Can we take the longest walk in the world from our perspective to theirs, lay ours down for a minute and simply seek to understand another human being?”

Jennifer Garvey Berger

Three reasons why I value Universal Design for Learning

  • Adult Development. UDL is an entry point for conversations and engagement about adult development and adult learning. To understand and make explicit what have been and are our own barriers to learning. Learning about our students.  For us as educators to be explicit about  what it feels like to be wrong. (We were trained to know stuff and be right)  As discussed by Berger, J. G. (2019). The experience of being wrong is the experience of learning.  Implementing Universal Design for Learning is about adults learning to be able to design learning for others. To see what is possible.

  • Culturally sustaining pedagogies and practices are critical for student access to learning.  How does my culture values and beliefs connect to this learning?  How does my students culture values and beliefs connect to this learning?

  • Intellectual capacity / Diversity of ideas. If the purpose of education is  building intellectual capacity and diversity of ideas then this must be accessible to all. Whitehead, A. N. (1929) Dewey, J. (1938) Equity of access to building intellectual capacity. In other words - No barriers folks - access to building intellectual capacity and working with and valuing diversity of people and ideas is our work.

I’m wondering about...
For myself, the grit for UDL is for it to be applied to the actual purpose of education. It can be a lense from which we as educators can see, think, act and design  differently. For the purpose of educative value.  This idea of educative value comes from Dewey (1938) and Whitehead (1929). They identified the purpose of education was to have Educative value. For  Dewey (1938) and Whitehead  (1929) Educative value is about intellectual development. Gilbert (2017) outlines the features of what both Dewey and Whitehead consider for learning to be educative. For Whitehead educative features include exploring the relationships ideas have with other ideas and that these are complex and that learning is about ideas (Hipkins et al. 2014). For Dewey, educative features include an ability to think about complex and abstract ideas.  

If when we work with UDL and we  ignore ‘for the purpose of educative value’ then UDL may become nothing more than another 'once over lightly' contribution to our overflowing  ‘tool kit’  and a popular addition to an educators edition of  Buzz word bingo.

UDL Benefits for students
UDL Benefits for adults, educators
1.Way of thinking about teaching and learning that gives all students equity of opportunity to learn

2. Personalised learning

3. Student voice has value

4. Provide tools and supports they need to demonstrate their learning in ways that work for them across all classes

1. Supports us to practice being wrong
Rational: Educators are trained to be right, to hold tightly to best practice. But what happens when best practice isn't working for some students?

2.Supports us to work with uncertainty which is a requirement for working in complex spaces. Rational:  Best practice is based on certainty. Berger, J. G. (2019) suggests when we are certain we have a limited ability to notice possibilities. She refers to this as being  ‘Trapped by rightness’

3. Supports a shift in our practice
Bae, S., Ofiesh, N. S., Blackorby, J. (2018)
“4. Offers a framework to guide decision-making  ( Chrissie Butler, CORE Education)
5. Identify and minimise barriers to learning and wellbeing hidden in their teaching
6. Consider how to offer useful options and supports that can be built into the learning environment at the outset
7. Problem solve with colleagues, students and whānau using the shared language of UDL.” ( Chrissie Butler, CORE Education)
Benefits for Families
Leaders have a framework that will:
“1. Their ideas and questions will be welcomed
2. The uniqueness of their child will be valued and seen as a source of strength for the community
3. The learning needs of their child will be met their child will not be singled out or separated from their peers.”
1.support their growth and development as an inclusive school
2.support consistent, coherent inclusive teaching and learning practices across their school
3.guide the design of more inclusive systems and processes, community events and building projects
4.provide a shared language that can be used with all stakeholders, across all contexts. ( Chrissie Butler, CORE Education)

If you see other benefits please let me know and I will add them into the table.

Why am I blogging  about this? 1. I’m wondering about the  assumption in education spaces  that we all know why Universal Design for Learning is important. I hear oh we have done UDL. Done UDL? I’m not sure I understand this comment when I think of UDL as a way of living and seeing the world. Perhaps it is more Universal Design for Living? 2. Every educator I know is passionate about equal opportunity, equity of access. So why is it still so hard to design for equity of access? For myslef, UDL is a way of living.  Making decisions in the present about how we want to live in the future. It’s about social change. I've started asking myself….  Is it possible that each day as educators we make decisions and take actions that lead to futures we do not actually want?”  

Theatre for Social Change - Mind over Manner NZ

Connect to the humanness in the other before you.
Their right to belong.
This connection an open hand...
of strength and possibility.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a workshop called Mind over Manner.
The workshop was hosted by RTLB Cluster 29 and educators through out Hutt Valley, Wellington attended.

The message that resonated with me throughout the day was "Be Generous".

What is mind over Manner?
"The Mind Over Manner workshop aims to normalise what is often viewed as disability or dysfunction and encourages the reframe of cognitive difference."

Four actors and a facilitator (Susan Haldane the Creative Director) took us on a journey - exploring areas of stress for students..
Students who are...
Over sensory
Over responders
Under responders

The workshop was a series of role plays and adult participation. Four hours absolutely zoomed by.
Sometimes we would pause and offer the actors alternative scenarios.

Image: The Scenario- Emily's story about transition, hoops and hooping

Why am I blogging about this?
1. Because, this professional development workshop was dynamic. At times the atmosphere was electrifying - as we were invited to step into the experiences portrayed in the role plays.
2. I am excited because it is  important to me that we explore simple ways of acting, thinking and doing things different each day. Things we as educators can try where we learn about ourselves and others.
3. Links to the building of Resilience and the conditions for the Discipline of Anticipation
4. If I had one wish for staff professional development across Kahui Ako it would be, dial up Mind over Matter.

Image: Actors modelling the use of flash cards in the classroom by students. Instead of a student saying I need to get out of here or I need to move, a student can use a flash card that says "I need to move my body" (Tap into the use of different sensory modalities)

I learnt a new word.
I learnt using declarative language sets the conditions to create neural pathways and to practice re-framing is to set conditions for the invitation of connection.

For information about Declarative Language check out

Examples of declarative language
Imperative language: Did you do your home?
Declarative: How was your homework last night?

Imperative: Say goodbye.
Declarative: We are going home now.

I understood that in being explicit in our use of Declarative language we model flexibility. The teacher shifts so the student feels better and as a result we fostering connection.
Using language to connect. Reminds me of Va, Talanoa, Whanaugatanga.
We know as educators that connecting with our students is critical for learning and reducing the distance between the teacher and the student.

This workshop offered simple language frames that I could try out in my next  learning and or in behavior conversations. I will start having a go at explicitly using Declarative language frames in my teaching as Inquiry this year. Declarative language will support students and myself to develop new neural pathways.

Theater for social change is pretty dam exciting and I really want to engage more with this genre.

Karakia as lived experience

We come together with aroha
We value and acknowledge
Our diverse heritage and the places we come from
The integrity we bring to this team
The respect we have for each other and for the job we do
And the connectedness we feel
The strengthens and empowers us
To work together for a better world

Ka hui tahi tatou
i raro i te korowai o te aroha.
E hāpai ana i ngā uaratanga o tēna o tēna o tatou.
Ka tū kotahi tatou i raro i te ngākau tapatahi.
Te mārohirohi me te awe o ngā mahi.
ka priir pono,
ki te whakakaha me te whakamana tatou ki a tatou.
Mo te painga o te Ao.

This week I have been captured by the story of how the RTLB cluster's karakia was created.

I heard that the karakia was inspired by another karakia which came from Koraunui school, Stokes Valley,  Lower Hutt in Wellington. When I taught at Koraunui school I enjoyed the imagery of the karakia and found the karakia to be the touch stone to my day. When I left Koraunui school, I then carried the karakia to my next school.
Ridgway School in Wellington. 

For myself, karakia sets in motion whakapuake te mauri o te reo,  like an opening in the understanding of the life force within Māori language.

I am surprised by the connection I feel to the RTLB Cluster 29 karakia and am  wondering about karakia as a lived experience. For a karakia to be so part of practise that the essence of it imbudes thoughts and actions.  The life force of the karakia, contributing to change in practice, where perhaps we can start seeing new possibilities.

If karakia is able to support us to see possibilities and work with metaphors that support us to see working together as a living system then it may be quite possible that karakia can support the conditions for living in this post-modern age of complexity. Where people coming together expereince emergent behaviours because working with people has limited predictability.

Does your work place  have  a karakia / prayer?  How does the karakia connect with what you value and believe?

Change is Unpredictable and Complex

I’ve started a new role as an RTLB. (Resource Teacher Learning and Behaviour) you know that excited and terrified feeling when you start a new role and you realise that the more you thought you might know the more you don't?

One of the first publications I have started reading, is Kairaranga. The article I keep re reading is, The Art of Community … What Principles and Practices do RTLB need to Develop an Effective Community of Practice? Kairaranga Vol 18 Issue 1: 2017. I'm loving this article!

The following words stand out...
“It is now recognised that change is not a simplistic or linear process, but a dynamic one that occurs in unpredictable and complex ways.”

From this article I think more about Teaching as Inquiry - experience tells me TAI is far from linear and we need to know what thinking and doing looks and sounds like when teaching / learning in complex spaces.

I am also reading through the RTLB Tool kit
I am captured by the words ‘Ecological approach’. I’m learning how this principle inter relates to the seven other principles.
“An ecological view is that:
  • Learning is an on-going, interactive and contextualised process.

I am excited as I read and have affirmed that working in the RTLB space is about learning to work in a complex space.  I often wonder if in schools we give the complex space enough attention. TAI's are far from linear. I’m wondering if we sometimes approach a complex situation and treat it as either simple or complicated.

I have noticed in schools and education we use the word complex in many situations that actually in my guess are actually just complicated.  By this I mean there is some expertise required to untangle the jigsaw and with the right amount knowledge, skill and or  attitude the problem will be solved.   However, what about the situations where there is no clear solution? Where no amount of working smarter is going to solve a problem. These to me are complex, where the pathway to a solution is multi faceted and it may be difficult to identify one thing as the antecedent. Where if we just ‘get our ducks in a row’ work hard enough - work smart enough we will be able sort the situation at hand.

So, it is my hope as I keep learning with the team that I keep experimenting and learning about what working in complexity might look and sound like in schools and education.

One more thing.... I have noticed a few conversations that explains different rolls in schools and education as a cog in a larger machine. I'm wondering about this becasue if we are saying we are working in a complex space and we need to work in relation to each other in processes that are not linear. Then a machine metaphor does not work for me. This is mainly because complexity and an ecological approach  must engage with ambiguity and unpredictability.  Two things I do not associate with machines.
Would appreciate hearting what others think about the use of machine as a metaphor. Our mental images are important right?

The Art of Community … What Principles and Practices do RTLB need to Develop an Effective Community of Practice? Kairaranga Vol 18 Issue 1: 2017

Coppieters, P. (2005). Turning school into learning organisations. European Journal of Teacher Education, 28(2), 129-139

Garvey Berger, J., & Johnson, K. (2015). Simple Habits for Complex Times.

Dishwasher as Pedagogy?

 Does your staffroom have a notice similar to the one below?


Is your staffroom bench filled with dishes?
Do you find other teacher's empty coffee cups in your classroom?
Do senior students walk around the school at the end of a week / school term and collect up empty coffee cups?
Are the dishes often left and done by our office administrators?

Yes to any of the above questions?

Then I'm wondering....
We talk about the importance of well being, building school culture and being culturally responsive. We prioritise energy for professional development on this thing called 21st C  pedagogies. We talk, plan develop around the importance of the Key Competencies - a capabilities curriculum to prepare for the future of work and  know in our hearts that our values and beliefs do transfer to our students and colleagues.

So, here's the gritty bit...
Why are we not cleaning up after ourselves?
Why are we leaving our cups on the bench?
What assumptions about the world underpin our actions?
Is the framing of this issue compatible with the way we see the world?
How can we work with others to shape and re shape this issue?
How does this issue shape and reshape us?
What is gained if all teachers sorted their dishes?
What is lost if all teachers sorted their dishes?

What if... tomorrow every teacher in New Zealand put their coffee cup in the dishwasher? . We know the future requires us to focus on human capabilities. That capability starts in the kitchen.

Two days ago, our year three student teachers were preparing for their final practicum. I said, your values and beliefs tell your story - know how to load and unload the staff room dishwasher. I am less interested in all your fancy pedagogies if you do not understand what it means to be human in community with others.

UDL and Learner Variability: Teacher Variability / Student Variability (UDL #2)

This year , Universal Design for Learning has totally consumed by every thought! My most demanding question that I have on loop is: Why shou...