As the summer comes to a close, and the school year begins, I am reflecting on how far we have come in just four years, and where we need to go. When I came to Manitoba in 2009, UDL had been written into policy and legislation, but its translation into practice was negligible. As soon as I began teaching the Three Block Model of UDL - it spread like wildfire. I was inundated with requests to conduct teacher professional development. This was good news - because it meant educators were ready and willing to move forward with inclusive education - but they were looking for "the how."
Four years later, the model is being practiced in schools and school divisions across the country. I am committed to more than 60 professional development workshops in the next 6 months, and will travel to Spain and other countries to begin sharing the work internationally. The first book has sold close to 7,000 copies, and the second book, units, and reading assessment packages are being eagerly awaited (YES they really are coming, honest!). The summer institute at the University of Manitoba this year involved 121 educators from two provinces in an intensive immersion. Forty of these students were returning, having previously done the introductory institute, and now looking to the advanced institute to train them in how to facilitate their colleagues learning. I was deeply moved by their commitment to the diverse students in their care, to each other, and to our profession.
The question facing me now is the paradox that faces all reforms as they grow. How do we maintain the integrity of the model as it spreads (i.e. make sure that what is called the "Three Block Model" is really what it is meant to be), while allowing for regional and individual flexibility in its implementation? How do we balance the need for it not to be a one woman show, with the need to be sure that those who teach it to others truly understand it themselves?
According to Borka (2004), facilitators must "understand the goals of the program," but this model is deep and complex, unlike a specific subject curricula. So how do we ensure integrity and fidelity, while being inclusive of diverse perspectives and needs? How do we provide effective teacher professional development/learning, on a large scale (ie beyond what one person can do), in a way that leads to lasting change?
What are the core goals, beliefs, and components of the model that every facilitator, and every teacher must integrate deeply into the learning?
I have my thoughts, but I'd like to hear yours...
Despite the snowy weather outside, I am busy making arrangements for the two summer institutes we will be running at U of M in August. For the last two years 70 teachers from all over the province have come together for two weeks of full day, intensive immersion in the Three Block Model of UDL. It is the best two weeks of the year for me! When it began, I was worried. How do you create community with such a large group in a lecture theatre? Could I do what I did in schools with adults at a University? It was amazing. To have seventy passionate educators come together, giving up two weeks of their summer, and INVEST in their profession, and in the experience, is inspiring. We live that two weeks in a UDL classroom. The students, adults though they are, have an experience unlike how they were taught when they were growing up - and this reshapes how people conceive of teaching and learning, of what it can and should look like, sound like, and feel like.
For two years now that experience has left me with awe, and enough inspiration to keep flying and driving all over this country to try to bring that practice to more teachers, schools, and of course, kids. This summer, I decided to take the next step. Drawing from the 140 students who have lived that experience, and implemented the model in their own roles, we are running an advanced institute in addition to the normal one. This institute will focus on leadership training - learning how to teach this method to others, present workshops, facilitate planning, and so forth. It will also address some of the deeper levels of the framework - including the role of the resource teacher, inclusion of students with significant disabilities, teaching literacy and numeracy in a UDL classroom, and more. It will be a deep, impassioned exploration of how we can create truly inclusive learning communities in our schools. I can't wait!
Returning from New Brunswick, and returning soon to Alberta and BC, it is clear to me that across his country teachers are all wanting the same thing, and being challenged by the same thing - inclusion. Globally, inclusion has been policy now for many years. The Salamanca statement was signed by 92 nations almost two decades ago. As is often the case, however, policy preceded training. It's appropriate to tell teachers that this is the direction in which we are going - but then training in "the how" must be provided, and this is where governments and universities across this nation have fallen down. I meet very little resistance to the concept of inclusive education these days (occasionally, but rarely), it is the how of meeting competing pressures to meet the needs of diverse learners and improve achievement outcomes that teachers are struggling to reconcile. I believe UDL can provide the framework that both supports inclusive education and improves student engagement and achievement for ALL learners. Thank you to the teachers and educational leaders of New Brunswick who welcomed me to their province, asked thoughtful questions, and expressed genuine caring for their students!
I am an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia in Inclusive Education, and the developer of the Three Block Model of Universal Design for Learning.