Universally Designed Leadership: Applying UDL to Systems and Schools

Universally Designed Leadership: Applying UDL to Systems and Schools


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781930583627
Publisher: CAST Professional Publishing
Publication date: 09/01/2016
Pages: 136
Sales rank: 572,467
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Katie Novak is the Assistant Superintendent of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District in Massachusetts and a leading expert on Universal Design for Learning implementation. With 13 years of experience in teaching and administration and an earned doctorate in curriculum and teaching, Novak designs and presents workshops both nationally and internationally focusing on implementation of UDL. She is author of two other books, UDL Now! and UDL in the Cloud (with Tom Thibodeau). Kristan Rodriguez is Superintendent of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District. She has been a classroom teacher, principal, curriculum director, and college instructor. She has presented nationally on leadership and learning for the past 15 years.

Read an Excerpt

Universally Designed Leadership

Applying UDL in Schools and Districts

By Katie Novak, Kristan Rodriguez

CAST, Inc.

Copyright © 2016 CAST, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-930583-63-4


Building Your Understanding

We introduce the Explore phase by providing a framework for how one can investigate UDL as a system-wide decision-making tool. This chapter will highlight critical features of UDL, present the "must-knows" for an administrative team, and showcase concrete examples of how UDL aligns with important district initiatives such as multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), college- and career-ready standards, and educator evaluation. Creating this crosswalk will optimize relevance for districts and minimize the threat of adopting "another" initiative.

Gravity: the force of attraction by which terrestrial bodies tend to fall toward the center of the earth.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) require students in grades six through eight to learn about gravity. Specifically, students are expected to "Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar system" (MS-ESS1-2). Oh, the gravity unit. Your own schooling probably included a teacher balanced on a metal chair who dropped objects of various mass as you plotted data on graph paper. At some point, you came to understand that heavier objects fall faster than objects with less mass. That elusive concept, gravity, became tangible, and you understood it. But not really. There was so much more to it than that.

Michael Brooks (2015), a bestselling author with a PhD in quantum physics, tells us that gravity remains our least-understood force in the universe. He aims to simplify the concept of gravity, to take what we know about it and communicate it to the masses so that collectively we will understand why, when we throw a ball into the air, it comes back down to earth.

The concept of leadership is similar to gravity. We all know that a leader is a person who leads a group, but becoming a highly effective, engaging, emotionally intelligent leader is a process that is not widely understood. Our work, like the work of Brooks, is to help to quantify the strategies that allow good leaders to become great.

Like gravity, great leaders are a force that can pull together their colleagues to create a highly functioning system. And now, it is more important than ever for leaders to have this ability. Schools must adapt to new models, such as MTSS, college- and career-ready standards, new methods of teacher evaluation, and an increased emphasis on getting results for all students despite increased student variability and decreased funding.

All these variables have the potential to decelerate a district's or school's progress, but this does not have to be the case. With effective leadership, all initiatives can be purposely connected to maximize the outcomes for all students and create a system that meets the needs of all stakeholders.

So, what does this system look like? Research tells us there are three core competencies of high-performing school systems (Curtis & City, 2009). These systems 1) understand where they are and where they are going, 2) develop a theory of action to support planning and strategy development, and 3) find ways to sustain improvement. These three competencies, however, are only effective if they are implemented with fidelity. A 500-page strategic plan with hundreds of initiatives will do nothing more than make heads spin. If we want to accelerate a district's progress and build a strong culture, we, as leaders, must commit to a few deep and meaningful goals. However, we can't develop these goals in isolation. Our teachers, our students, our families, and our communities are part of our system, and we owe it to them to develop meaningful goals that align to a shared vision. Therefore, as a first step, it's important to ask ourselves one question: Does our vision truly reflect what our stakeholders want us to become?

Reflect on that question and then dig deeper. Do your district's articulated mission and vision statements encompass the needs and hopes of all students, regardless of their variability? Are they grounded in scientific research and aligned to the values of all stakeholders? Or are they compliance heavy or born from a pool of shallow data about your district's strengths and needs?

Most of us lie somewhere in between, and that is not good enough. If we want to create a system where a force or vision pulls us all together, where all students are engaged in meaningful, challenging learning experiences that will allow them to excel in our world, we have to become resourceful, knowledgeable learners to explore what is possible, and then dare to achieve it. To do this, we need to foster collaboration and community with all stakeholders.

We learned this by accident. Upon reviewing the district's draft vision statement, a member of our community asked us if it was audacious enough. Having led the development of the vision, we defensively said, "YES, yes it is!" But the question nagged at us. So we unpacked our vision statement and a sinking feeling began to creep in.

Originally, we asked two questions: "What works?" and "What do we need to work on?" This led the community to answer in ways that were narrowed to our own experiences in our district. This was the data we reviewed when we crafted our vision statement. In the process, however, we failed to ask an important question: "What do we want to become?" Knowing where we stand is important. It is the first step, but it is not the destination. Had we not listened to that single inquiry, we may have moved ahead in developing a strategy that was not innovative. But, alas, we stopped. We listened, and we engaged our community.

We knew that if our future vision was to align with the principles of Universal Design for Learning, we would have to model UDL throughout the process. For us, the Explore phase began. As we set out to learn about the future of our district, we were committed to building awareness of UDL and its ability to lead us to wherever we decided to go.

* * *

When considering your vision for applying UDL, consider the future, while understanding the past and current conditions. One really helpful tool was a simple online survey that asked the community to review our vision statement. The survey was adapted from the "Vision Assessment Tool" (Curtis & City, 2009). The survey shared the current vision statement and asked members of the staff, students, and community to consider this vision in regard to how all-encompassing it is, how multi-dimensional it is, if it is shared, if it is clear, and if it is audacious. They were also offered a space to provide open-ended comments. Upon reviewing this feedback, we knew that our vision fell short. What would have happened if we had not listened to the feedback? We may have slipped into complacency about our already positive performance without embracing the needs of all learners.

To ensure that our vision and our plan for UDL is truly great, we must create a framework for information-based decision-making. We must also keep instructional improvement front and center. If we do so, UDL will be a guidepost in the development of the three competencies of effective systems: understanding the work (the "what"), knowing how to do the work (the "how"), and creating a culture for continual improvement, sustained engagement, and self-reflection (the "why"). Though UDL is still a new concept to many districts, the framework itself is based on decades of peer-reviewed research in the neurosciences and learning sciences (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014). In addition, UDL implementation in schools and districts has shown very promising returns in recent years (see, for example, the November 2015 issue of School Administrator magazine and van Horn, 2015).

Regardless of your background in UDL, it will soon become an important part of your district strategy. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) urges states to adopt UDL in a number of areas. For example, it says assessments should be designed using the principles of UDL. It also requires schools to "use technology, consistent with the principles of universal design for learning, to support the learning needs of all students, including children with disabilities and English learners" (ESSA, 2015, Section 4104). UDL will be playing a larger role in our everyday practice moving forward. This book will provide you with a road map for how to incorporate it into your work as a means to ensure student success.

The formula that allows scientists to understand how gravity works is called the universal gravitational constant (Kantha, 2012). Just as the universal gravitational constant gives us a formula to make sense of gravity, UDL provides administrators with a formula to become effective leaders. Universally designed leadership is built upon three guiding principles, divided into the nine UDL Guidelines (CAST, 2011). Understanding these principles and Guidelines is the first concrete step in pulling a system together to create a strategy to meet the needs of all students.

Guiding Principles

As school- or district-level administrators, we are tasked with leading large groups of stakeholders with significant variability among and within respective groups. Our challenge is to ensure that we present information to all parties in ways that are accessible to them, allow multiple channels for two-way communication, and engage everyone in the process.

Neuroscience research tells us that in order for someone to learn, there are three networks of the brain that must be activated: the recognition network, the strategic network, and the affective network (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014; Rose & Meyer, 2002). These networks allow learners to interpret new information; plan, execute, and express that information; and remain engaged throughout the learning process. If we, as administrators, cannot activate these networks in our stakeholders, we will not have a community of expert learners. Think of it as a constant, like gravity.

The three UDL principles correspond to the learning networks: provide multiple means of representation (the "what"), provide multiple means of action and expression (the "how"), and provide multiple means of engagement (the "why"; Rose & Meyer, 2002). Right away, you will notice an alignment to the three central competencies of a successful system (Figure 1-1). Applying the three principles of UDL, therefore, is imperative as districts develop a strategy to improve the outcomes of all students.

Imagine the value of all teachers, parents, community members, and students understanding important district initiatives for curriculum and instruction, the district's vision or strategy, the district's budget, and day-to-day announcements such as the release date for report cards, the cafeteria menu, and where to submit health forms. In order for this to happen, we need to activate the recognition network of our community by providing multiple means of representation — which includes presenting information in multiple and accessible formats but also extends to activating background knowledge, providing support for cultural differences in understanding, and so forth.

For example, many districts post a newly adopted vision statement on their website, send an announcement via e-mail, post to social media outlets, or have an automated system to send a voice or text message to phones. Although this is a step in the right direction, this mass dissemination only ensures that parties perceive information. Perception alone does not result in learning. It's similar to the concept of gravity — if we throw a ball in the air, we know it will come down, but it may not land exactly where we expect.

Providing multiple means of representation, therefore, requires us to present information in ways that allow all stakeholders to recognize predictive patterns in that information, understand and integrate new information within their current understanding, interpret and manipulate that information, and develop fluency in the skills for assimilating and remembering that information (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014). There is a lot more work to do, therefore, to get all stakeholders to learn about important district work and become an integral part of our system.

The second principle reminds us to provide multiple means for action and expression to activate the strategic network. This is not just a reminder to provide options for stakeholders to communicate with us. Opening lines of communication is a step in the right direction, but in order to get valuable, relevant feedback from all stakeholders, and to ensure that they are becoming experts in understanding our district, our vision, and our work, we need to support the development of executive functions, their own strategy development, and the management of resources. Imagine, for example, that you want to collect feedback on your district vision. Assuming you communicate the vision using multiple means of representation, you will need a system in place for all stakeholders to express their feedback back to you. If you've attempted a project like this before, you know how this anecdote ends. Even if you send an e-mail and host an open forum, you have many teachers, staff members, parents, students, and community members who will not respond. The reasons why are too numerous to list, but they can be categorized under two UDL principles. One, they did not have an appropriate strategy to respond (i.e., they did not set a goal, did not manage their time to complete the goal), or they were not engaged in the task and therefore, they did not feel it was relevant or authentic.

That leads us to the third UDL principle: provide multiple means of engagement to activate the affective network. When stakeholders are engaged with us, they are interested in what we have to share, have a purpose for learning, are motivated to learn and participate, and have self-regulation strategies so they can be reflective throughout the process. What makes this task difficult is the significant variability among and within stakeholder groups. Therefore, as we provide multiple means of representation and expression, we must adjust demands and the levels of challenge and provide different levels of support, so everyone has the skills necessary to persist in the learning experience and become an integral part of our system.

When the district sets a path for future work, a vision for future success, and an articulated mission and set of core values, it is defining, in a concrete manner, its priorities in education. A goal of this work is to build awareness with stakeholders about the need for UDL. It is helpful to pair this future work with an articulated process of defining existing needs. In regards to the needs definition, we recommend a comprehensive needs assessment. This needs assessment will articulate for the community the areas of need. For example: Is there a gap in the performance of special education and general education students? What are the district's overall performance needs? Are the social and emotional needs of the students being met? How does the district compare with high-performing districts? The answers to these questions will define a platform of need, which UDL can help to address. It is important to remember that both the needs assessment and the exploration of a defined vision for the future should be universally designed. We, as leaders, must keep the success of all as our focus as we include the voices of the greater community and strive toward continuous improvement.

When building a shared vision for the future work of the district, we should design an inclusive plan, implement the plan, monitor progress, and refine the strategy. Although all UDL principles will be present in all aspects of the plan, you can see how the four steps align closely with particular UDL principles.

UDL Guidelines

Each of the three UDL principles has three corresponding Guidelines. These nine Guidelines provide more specific ways for us to provide multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement to our stakeholders. Table 1-2 identifies the Guidelines and highlights the big ideas of each guideline and its implications for administrators.

Each of the nine UDL Guidelines has affiliated checkpoints — specific actions to support UDL implementation (Figure 1-2).

UDL as a System-Wide Decision-Making Tool

To build a district, leaders need the input and commitment of all stakeholders. Our teachers, colleagues, and district community are often adept at identifying our general investment as leaders as new initiatives come our way. If they feel a new initiative is a passing fad or a mandate from above, they will tread water until a new wave rolls in. If we, as leaders, can't provide options to recruit and sustain their interest, they will not become purposeful and motivated to invest in an initiative, and the initiative will fail. So, how can we increase engagement as we explore UDL as a district framework? We have to become expert learners ourselves and model the UDL Guidelines in all aspects of our practice.

For example, when teachers participate in professional development, are you in attendance, demonstrating your commitment to learning? If you are not, consider what your absence communicates to your colleagues. In order to provide the support for UDL, you must understand the framework and how its implementation will affect all aspects of your district strategy. One such way to demonstrate investment is to know what you are talking about. Understand the UDL Guidelines and the research that supports them. Be able to speak to the benefits of UDL for all learners, and share and present this information to staff in a universally designed manner.


Excerpted from Universally Designed Leadership by Katie Novak, Kristan Rodriguez. Copyright © 2016 CAST, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of CAST, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction vii

Chapter 1 Building Your Understanding 1

Chapter 2 Using Evidence-Based Decision-Ming to Begin the Work 17

Chapter 3 Analyzing and Interpreting the Data for the Needs Assessment 39

Chapter 4 UDL and Strategic Thinking 53

Chapter 5 An Integrated District Strategy 63

Chapter 6 Professional Development That Models UDL Principles 63

Chapter 7 UDL in the Classroom 79

Chapter 8 UDL and the Art of the Meeting 87

Chapter 9 UDL Family-Community Engagement 95

Afterword 103

Appendix 105

References 109

Index 115

Acknowledgments 121

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