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When Educators Learn from Architects…

A young student in a wheelchair was unable to enter school due to a heavy snowfall the night before that covered the accessibility ramp. The custodian came outside and began shovelling the snow off the stairs,  adjacent to the ramp, which were also covered in snow. When the boy asked if the custodian could shovel the ramp, the custodian responded, “Wait until I’m done with the stairs. I’ll do the ramp next.” The boy quickly replied, “But if you shovel the ramp off first, everyone can use it!”

This story creatively exemplifies the premise of Universal Design for Learning, also known as UDL. Originally a design principle of architecture, the philosophy of UDL is that design features that are essential for some are most often beneficial for all. In the same way that the ramp was essential for the young boy in the wheelchair, it is also beneficial for parents pushing strollers or movers bringing in carts filled with supplies. 

This same UDL premise has taken over education as a model for effectively planning for the success of all learners.

During Bialik’s professional development days this November, one of the highlights was the UDL Fair, where staff were able to share their specific strategies and resources with their colleagues. Set up like a carnival (teachers also wanna have fun!), teachers could visit each booth to discuss examples of best practices, coming away with ideas that they could implement immediately in the classroom the next morning. Teachers rotated through each of the carnival booths, experiencing a range of ideas and practices, learning alongside their peers from different divisions and subjects. At the conclusion of the fair, teachers reflected on their experience, identifying one specific strategy that they would work through in the coming weeks. 

It was great to see our terrific staff taking on leadership roles in the professional development vision of our school. Our teachers are doing phenomenal work each day and it was truly inspiring to see them sharing their successes.

Bialik staff are grateful for the opportunity to spend time on professional development early on in the year as it ensures that our learning can become part of our everyday instruction for the duration of the school year. We want our students to benefit from all of our teachers’ hard work! 

Using UDL strategies in our Bialik classrooms, we’ve seen that there is immense benefit to many students. For example, when a teacher uses oral, written and visual instructions — an essential strategy for students with visual processing difficulties, hearing impairment or vision issues — this enables all students to access the key information in the way that they best process information. 

As the school continues to further develop its implementation of Universal Design for Learning, we’re excited to see how each and everyone of our students becomes more empowered to thrive as they are provided with a greater deal of access to daily learning. Like the wheelchair ramp, we have taken on the goal to be All in for All Kids, and UDL is one of the best ways that we can achieve this goal.

Blake Enzel
Vice Principal, Senior Division