Shauna Hanna

When UDL Doesn't Go So Smoothly

We can all learn from our mistakes. And at this year’s UDL-IRN Summit in Orlando, Florida from 27-29 March we’ll be hearing a very personal perspective on failure from a leader on inclusive learner-focused education. In anticipation, here's a preview of what Katie Novak will be speaking about at the conference.

Katie Novak
, Ed.D. is an internationally renowned education consultant and author, as well as a practicing leader in education as an Assistant Superintendent of Schools at the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District in Massachusetts. With 15 years of experience in teaching and administration, she designs and presents workshops both nationally and internationally focusing on implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and universally designed leadership.

Ahead of her talk on Thursday March 28 at 9.40am – titled ‘My UDL Failure Resumé’ Katie sat down with us to explore what happens when things don’t go as smoothly as planned:

“As a school district leader, the question I’m often asked by teachers is ‘OK, so how do I do UDL?’. It’s natural to expect some kind of instant answer – but the reality is that deconstructing an entire pedagogical system and rebuilding it from the ground up takes years. At this year’s Summit I’ll be sharing some of the work I’m most proud of. But just as importantly, I’ll be looking at how – and why – things have sometimes gone wrong.

A valuable learning experience

“One of my own biggest UDL failures came when I was a district administrator, attempting to change an entire system overnight. ‘Let’s get a whole new curriculum, deploy a load of new protocols and processes… and let people get straight on with it’, I thought at the time. But that turned out to be a bad call: I was simply burying my teachers with far too much information, and expecting everyone to come on board from Day One.”

Frustrating as it was at the time, the experience gave Katie an invaluable new perspective on the journey to expert learning:

“Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. And that means pacing your introduction of UDL with distinct phases of planning and implementation.” As Katie notes, it’s also important to manage expectations that can sometimes run ahead of reality: “My board would ask me ‘so when will every teacher be doing this?’. I’d point out that we were hiring twenty new teachers every year - so that onboarding process is something that’s going on constantly. You can’t just point to a date and say ‘OK, it’s done now’.”

We’re counting down to this year’s sixth UDL-IRN International Summit, taking place in Orlando, Florida from 27-29 March. It’s the landmark event for everyone who’s interested in Universal Design for Learning from an educational and academic perspective. And at this year’s Summit, proudly supported by Texthelp, we’re taking another deep dive into some of hottest topics in learner-focused education.

See the full programme for this year’s UDL-IRN International Summit here.


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