Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Universal Design for Professional Learning

I usually use this space to talk about student learning, but I want to take a moment to talk about an equally important topic: professional learning for teachers.

There is a lot of talk in the twitter chats I frequent about the benefit of the EdCamp philosophy of professional development. I certainly understand where my fellow teachers are coming from: I have sat through my share of speakers talking about the same basic strategies that I have been using for years or about strategies that are not meaningful for my student population without such significant modification that they lose the essence of what the presenter is trying to get at. I love the idea of teachers sharing what really works. That's why I like twitter chats. However, they lose me when they start going on about how the face-to-face interaction is so much more valuable.

The thing is: text is a lot easier for me to navigate than face to face interaction. I'm not convinced I really will get more out of it than a twitter chat. It's quite possible I'll get less. And yet, whenever I say I haven't been to one yet I get multiple replies telling me how it's so wonderful and why I should. I want to ask those teachers to stop for a moment and examine their privilege.

I'm not saying that EdCamps need to change or that they can afford to provide more accommodations (they are free events.) One of the nice things about the current state of professional development is that we have such a diverse menu of options to choose from: I'm not limited to the one speaker my school brings in this year. My point in writing this post is to point out that every teacher makes their own choices of what professional development to pursue and in what format for their own reasons. What works for one person may be very much the wrong answer for another. The beauty of Universal Design is that we can each chose not just the content but the format that works best for us without each person having to request specific accommodations each time.

We need to be flexible enough thinkers to remember that the content and format that works best for us doesn't work best for everyone. We also need to remember to seek out those voices that are not accessing the same formats we are using (for whatever reason) and make sure they are being heard too. We may not agree with what they have to say, but there may be a very good reason their voice isn't being heard in the forums we're standing in. If our mission is really about teaching all students, then we had better make sure that we are reaching all teachers when it comes to professional development and the sharing of ideas.

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