Episode 3: Talking ‘Unlearning’ with Allison Posey and Katie Novak

In this conversation, Allison Posey and Katie Novak talk with me about their heir UDL journeys . From the ‘aha’ to the ‘I can do better’ moments, Allison and Katie talk – among other things- about the need for empathy, to move outside our comfort strategies, and to allow ourselves and our students to be challenged.

Resources from this episode

Allison and Katie’s book: Unlearning

Unlearning Book Club Guide This is the sign-up page to receive this downloadable resource

Transcript of this episode


UDL, learning, students, educators, unlearning, curriculum.


Margaret Flood, Katie Novak, Allison Posey

Margaret Flood  00:00

Welcome to talking about all things inclusion, a podcast where I get to meet and learn from people in the field of inclusion in its broadest sense that inspire me. I hope they’ll inspire you too. Today I’m talking with Alison Posey and Katie  Novak, UDL rockstars and authors of ‘Unlearning, changing your beliefs and classrooms with UDL’. Allison is an international leader for implementation of UDL. She works a CAST where she collaborates with researchers and educators to integrate and apply current understandings from brain research into instructional practices so that all students are able to access, integrate and become expert learners. Prior to joining CAST, Allison was a life science teacher in high school and community college settings. And she still teaches courses at LaSalle University. She received a degree in mind brain and education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and is author of ‘Engage the brain: how to design for learning that taps into the power of emotions’, and ‘Unlearning: change your beliefs and classrooms with UDL’. Katie is an internationally renowned education consultant, an author, adjunct professor at UPenn and a former assistant superintendent of schools in Massachusetts. Katie has more than 19 years of experience in teaching on administration, and earned a doctorate in curriculum and teaching, and is the author of 10 books published including the bestsellers education books ‘UDL now’, ‘Equity by design’, and ‘UDL and blended learning’. Katie designs and presents professional learning opportunities both nationally and internationally, focusing on implementation of Universal Design for Learning, Multi Tiered Systems of Supports, and universally designed leadership. Ladies, I am so delighted to have you on the podcast today to speak with you more about on learning and your UDL and inclusion work in general.

Katie Novak  01:50

We’re so happy to be here.

Allison Posey  01:53

Thank you for having us.

Margaret Flood  01:54

Oh, thank you so much. Easy question. Can you start off by telling us a little bit more about yourself, your background, and what it was that inspired you both to explore UDL in its own right. And then to explore it in terms of this cognitive overload and unlearning process that you wrote about in your book, your first

Allison Posey  02:17

Big question, I’m gonna have to take some notes on that. So what brought me to UDL. Um, you know, David Rose was my, my advisor in graduate school, and he was the co founder of CAST and the UDL guidelines, so I figured I should take his class and I took his class. I was really, I was really appreciative of the UDL guidelines, because it just all of a sudden, I had language for thinking about my teaching and learning and I came to, I came to graduate school, thinking about neurodiversity, especially in and I don’t like saying this phrase, but I came to it from the Gifted and Talented realm, where I observed tremendous variability in my students, and I didn’t feel like I knew what to do and how to reach each student. And so when I learned about UDL, I kind of thought, Oh, I do this thing, how cool. And the more I got into it, the more I realised, oh, there’s a lot to it, the more I started to realise, wow, I don’t do this at all. And then thankfully, I went back into the classroom after graduate school and, and really got to wrestle with implementing UDL in my high school science classrooms. At this really cool school, just outside of Boston Walnut, Walnut Hill, it’s an art school and, and I realised just how hard implementing a new framework for teaching and learning can be. I was exhausted. And one of my books, the engaged the brain book, I describe my mental my just my burnout that happened in the middle of the school year, it’s, your teaching and learning is first and foremost, emotional work. So understanding that in graduate school, I think just gave me a new lens to approach learning. And that led to the creation of unlearning. I think all of those little experiences kind of piece together to, I guess, a decade into my UDL journey, brought me to Unlearning. And I should say that I heard Katie presenting something at a conference. And I was like, Oh, we got to put these ideas together. And we just we both had at it we just wrote and wrote and wrote, and the book popped out. Those kind of experiences

Katie Novak  04:39

Its true. So I also  learned about UDL from the amazing Dr. David Rose. We’ve always kind of joked there’s a group of us who were really inspired by David and I remember we joked about at a conference a couple of years ago, we should all get necklaces with like a rose charm to like show our allegiance. But I learned about it, I was a seventh grade English teacher in a district that was looking to implement universal design for learning. They were looking for Cohort One to be the guinea pigs of said experiments. And they asked me to be a part of it, which would include a couple of weeks of kind of paid professional learning during the summer. So there was a stipend to attend, and then essentially support throughout the entire year given by CAST. And that work had been published in research called The Tale of Four districts. So they asked me to do it. And I was like, Nah, I’m good. Like, I don’t need any support. And ultimately, I did it for the stipends, like, I will be fully transparent. I did it for the stipend. And I was like, Yeah, whatever I’ll go. And, you know, it just it helped me to see that. I really, really wanted all of my kids to have great outcomes. But I was almost trying to puppeteer those outcomes. And this concept of expert learning as a goal, which is just that like, oh, as an English teacher, it’s not just forcing these books, and getting all students to write but like, how do we help students become more purposeful and understand how they learn best. And for me, it was really expert learning that got me hooked on this concept of universal design. And David Rose gave me a chance to present in front of my colleagues, which I’ve never ever done. He saw some video of me in the classroom and was like, Oh, my gosh, like other people need to see this. Have you ever really presented in front of adults? And I’m like, No. And he’s like, Oh, I have a little gig for you, which was presenting at the annual Harvard symposium. So the first time I presented in front of adults was at Harvard University, and a bunch of people came up to me. And they’re like, do you do this? I’m like, Heck yeah, do? No, I didn’t. So Anywho. That’s how I really got into it. And you know, the more that I learned about implementing UDL, the more I recognised that we had to let go of a lot of what Allison and I called tried and true practices, which are really like the practices that warmed my heart as a student and warmed my heart as a teacher. But clearly, there’s not a single strategy that will work well for all kids. And so what is it that we have to let go of if we really want to value kids as being experts in themselves?

Margaret Flood  07:16

That is, can I first of all, say thank you so much for rubbing it in about how well you know, David Rose? That’s just like, Yeah, I’m gonna get to meet him before I go. I’m so excited.

Katie Novak  07:27

We’ll send you a rose charm.

Margaret Flood  07:29

Oh, I will expect that in the post Katie. But going back to the serious stuff, I love that actually. We talked you talked about like, straight off the key UDL words for me. Talked about variability, you talked about the emotional work, and you talked about the expert learning. what is really nice. And I think what I loved about Unlearning, is that it really honed in on that emotional side of things. But not just for students, but also, as you said, there for the teachers themselves, as we are, unlearning so that we can learn something new. And I just just wonder, could you expand on that a little bit more about leaning into that discomfort so that we can actually move out of the tried and true into something that is going to work for all of our students?

Allison Posey  08:23

I mean, Katie, and I often reflect the irony that unlearning came out right prior to COVID-19. So talk about having to unlearn a lot of your day to day routines. COVID, forced us forced us to do things differently. And you know, you don’t, you don’t want there to have to be a pandemic, for us to change our practices. But it’s almost like, you need something that extreme sometimes to say, it’s not working, our system is not working for a lot of kids. And we cannot keep blaming the students. I’m just I’m done doing that, like, I have exhausted I don’t want to hear another student, you know, being described as lazy or disinterested. Like we need to design our systems differently, our curricula differently the way we think about flexible assessments, the way we think about our materials. But but to lean in, we’ve got to do it together, you know, we have to one of our colleagues, Joni Degner sometimes talks about you, you need like a little permission button to give yourself permission to be a little more flexible, or you need to have administrators who are willing to give collaborative time for folks to be able to meet to be able to plan for some of these changes. So in order to lean in, I think we need to really turn to each other and think of little things we can try out in a safe space where we’re allowed to, you know, take risks and fail sometimes and really be able to share the outcomes that we see in student engagement or student interest or students building their skill. And then that will feed on itself you know, if you start to see Well, when I did this, and when Katie and I plan this together, and we tried it out, and we saw this happen, it might make us want to try it again and spread it a little bit. I don’t know if that resonates Katie or

Katie Novak  10:10

Yeah, no, I mean, for me, it’s, it’s I think that we’ve done a huge disservice in education in general, by making people believe that if teachers are really effective, learning should be easy. And I think all of us kind of developed that mindset really young. And we’re looking at essentially, like, if kids struggle, I’m not doing a great job. And I think that as a result of that, people hesitate to try things. Because as soon as students struggle, it feels like oh, my gosh, I must be doing something wrong, when in fact, we have set the bar far too low. And many students are not struggling because we’re not expecting enough out of them. The curriculum that we’re designing is not rigorous enough that people often misunderstand the difference between scaffolding rigorous instruction and actually lowering expectations and watering down curriculum. And so I think that the discomfort is actually really beautiful. It’s really good. And if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not changing. But I think that first is that we have to talk to students about that, that like, when I’m really invested in something, I’m going to stick with it no matter what, and I’m just going to figure out what resources do I need and success is not linear, that it’s not like a straight line, and that we’ve created this entire kind of entire field, that we’re always avoiding discomfort, which is absolutely necessary for success. And in working with teachers all over the country is like, I think that we’ve in too many ways we’ve tied up educator evaluation, which is a system of compliance with coaching and mastery oriented feedback. And giving someone feedback about their practice is so often conflated with you think needs improvement, and Annabelle, that it’s like a group of people who are often not in a place where they’re open to feedback, because historically, that meant that you weren’t good enough, and you were going to be fired. And so I’m like, Oh my gosh, like, I am so. So losing my mind with standardised testing, in general, an educator evaluation system in general, because learning should never be a compliance task. And that’s what it has become for students and teachers.

Margaret Flood  12:22

And the irony there is that while us, as educators are feeling the pressure and the disillusionment with the feedback we’re getting, we still expect our students to take on board whatever feedback we give them. And sometimes our feedback isn’t reflective. It’s more do and do not. And again, I think that goes back to what you were saying, Katie, about that puppeteering the outcomes, because our our feedback is also to get that outcome. And then that can result in capping our students learning. And we sometimes forget that UDL isn’t just about the scaffolding, but it’s also about the challenging, and I think that was something that you’ve usually addressed in your book, as well, without emotionally overloading either the student or the educator.

Allison Posey  13:14

Yeah, we don’t want the power of the of the feedback to just reside within the teacher, we really want it to be that it’s a conversation about learning and growing, that is, among students, it’s among community members, experts in the field, it’s not just that the teacher being the one who knows at all, and is imparting, you know, often subjective analysis of students work, we really do want it to be a meaningful discussion of growth.

Margaret Flood  13:42

And I know Allison, I think with you who spoke about this before the empathy chart, but it it resonated with me when I read your book, because it was the teacher putting themselves into the shoes of the student, how would the student feel what will they hear? What will they do? And I think that really resonates in the book as well. Is that all coming from that cognitive and emotional overload perspective?

Allison Posey  14:09

Yeah, the empathy. You know, we have a member of the CAST staff Kim Ducharne who has a strong UX background user experience and brought her work front of design thinking to CAST and that the first step in that design thinking is to really empathise with your user and in our case, the user is the student. So she really brought that piece of, of that work to CAST that I think is, is critical because we can anticipate variability and we know that variability is predictable and so you can plan for it. But until you empathise, you just you can’t bring that same effect of peace to the table in the same way.

Katie Novak  14:51

I mean, again, we have to look at one of the things that I really find interesting is I work predominantly with adults now and just how pertinent the unlearning cycle is as an educator of colleagues, because I think that oftentimes, we’re thinking about this as something that’s good for kids. And then professional development is one size fits all, it doesn’t recognise the cognitive load that teachers are carrying, you know, it’s focused on compliance, as opposed to growth. And so for me, it’s very much, I often get really uncomfortable when I’m working with educators, because I’m always keenly aware of how much I don’t know, like, the more I know, the more I’m like, wow, like, there’s so much more to learn about people and, and one of the things that I talk about all the time, is just how, you know, I use analogies, that’s how my brain works. And it’s like, as long as I am the only one making the buffet and I’m not listening to you, there’s a very good chance that the meal that makes you feel like home is not going to end up in that buffet. So for instance, I recognise that I just can’t serve everybody, pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms on it. And so I’m like, Oh, I’ll make like a pizza bar. So like, here’s some dough. Here’s some gluten free dough. Here’s some cheese, here’s a couple toppings, but like, what people use for toppings and spices, like all over the world, that’s not something that I would necessarily know. And I find that the hardest thing for me continually to unlearn is just that, like, we don’t have to be the ones coming up with all those options. And I feel like that’s like kind of a sticking point of like, here’s your options. And I always have to remind myself of like, but here’s really the firm goal. And if there’s something else that you need, or there’s another way for you to get here that I want you to do that. And I feel like that’s kind of the last standing thing that’s often not available in professional learning, is that I’m seeing it much more in classrooms of like, if there’s another way to do this, let me know, but I don’t often see that. And I’m guilty of it in professional learning. I’m like, choose one of these articles, as opposed to choose one of these articles or here’s a link to a place where you can find a journal that meets your needs a little bit better. So like, I find that sometimes the best way to help educators realise that this is like a constant evolution is to be like, I’ve been doing this for a while. And sometimes it feels like I’m just starting all over. And honestly, the best professional development I get is from feedback from educators that are like, I wish you had tried this and I’m like, oh, gosh, it’s like I’m a rookie. So one of the things about the unlearning cycle is that it’s not linear, there’s not an end. So it’s like, Yes, I understand variability. I know, my goals are professional learning. You know, I really think about transforming the tried and true focus on engagement, expert learning, but it always comes back to like, oh, you know, the variability of thinking about education, trauma, or thinking about like demoralisation of educators. That’s like newer, and it’s not something I understand a tonne about. And so it’s like, I have to start over all the time. And that’s beautiful, because it would be so sad to think I hit my peak already with so many years left.

Margaret Flood  18:03

And this this is what I love about the unlearning cycle is that it is not just for students, or just for teacher educators, it is for everyone. And you can look at a philosophy, a way of thinking or even a practice in your classroom setting and use that unlearning cycle. One of my favourite parts of it is the transforming the tried and true and at home, when I’m talking about it I always talk about it in terms of upcycling, because I love my clothes. And I love my fashion. So I always bring it back to that you are doing something good. Now let’s see how we can optimise that or transform it into something else. How did you come up with that? I mean, that was the hook for me in in the whole. I was just drawn to it. It’s how did you come up with a please tell me more.

Allison Posey  18:52

So I’m just going to clarify, I’m going to ask a quick clarifying question. So so how did we come up with the transforming the tried and true part because I got a little distracted, I’ll have to say with your metaphor, which I loved. And I started thinking about your fashion. And I started thinking about how my wardrobe hasn’t changed in 20 years. So So can you go back to what was the part that you wanted?

Margaret Flood  19:13

Absolutely. It was that how did you come up with that transforming the tired and the true? Because I think that’s where we as educators struggle in that we feel if it’s not working, we have to throw it out. Or if it is working, we have to stick with it exactly the way it is.

Allison Posey  19:31

So okay, thank you that so I do have some thoughts on that. So often UDL is misunderstood for you just add in options. And if I use those 31 checkpoints, and I add an options that’s UDL and it’s not. We already use strategies as teachers so often after UDL training teachers would say and I did this by myself listening to David Rosen, his grad class, I do this already. We do. And so the problem we ran into was, we’re not trying to just say add options, we’re actually transforming a way of thinking about teaching and learning. That’s different than the system we have right now. And the UDL guidelines aren’t enough for that. That’s an amazing tool to help us get there. But we needed more. And in our work with educators, again, it largely came from our experiences saying, you know, what is that key? And that is where the cycle came from, like, if you don’t, if you you know, are still thinking that there are learning styles are that your right or left brained? Or? Yes, we are all visual learners, like everyone says, We are your right, we have over 30 parts of our brain dedicated division, if you’re still thinking that way, it’s gonna be really hard to transform those tried and true. So Katie, and I, again, like, we never physically arm wrestle, but we kind of arm wrestled with these different ideas of the process that has to go through in order to change and I hope it does, like trickle into thinking about wardrobe upgrades, or physical fitness upgrades or you know, other things that you might be trying to transform in your day to day life. But we were seeing evidence of it in our classrooms, like when educators are understanding variability and really digging into those goals. All of a sudden, they start to think about those tried and true differently. So I hope that helps contextualise that a little bit.

Katie Novak  21:24

 Yeah, I again, like I really like the work of just the differences between like technical problems and adaptive challenges like that, that kind of larger scale work of saying like that we have some serious issues in education. And I think that people are really receptive to technical solutions, which include things like we need a different schedule, we need more time for common planning, we need a new curriculum, we need more options. You could have all those things and not move the needle a bit. Not a bit, right. And people are always like, Oh, we’re gonna adopt the curriculum, we’re gonna get more time. Oh, my gosh, if I had $1, for every time someone says we could do this with more time, we could do this with smaller classes. Those are all technical solutions. But like, you take an exemplary teacher who has the highest level of expectancy for all kids, who is trauma informed, who is culturally responsive, who honestly believes all kids can learn at high levels, and you give that teacher a larger class and less time, and that you just gonna blow everybody else away. And what’s really true is that like, we have to be open to the fact that as Beverly Daniel Tatum says, that, like the impact on kids is much more important than our intentions. And that we have to do things differently. And I feel like a lot of the reasons people give for why they can’t do this lead towards the technical, which is just, if I had a better curriculum, if I had more technology if I had a smaller class, and research does not support that those things are more important than an exemplary teacher who believes in kids who’s a warm demander. And who will not lower expectations. And like, just buying you a curriculum doesn’t mean anything. Like do you know how to approach that through the lens of universal design? Do you recognise barriers? You know, I know so many people who are like, I have a total growth mindset in my class. Do you accept late work? No. Do you allow revisions? No. Everything you have done is the exact antithesis of having a growth mindset. So like, what am I the only one who feels like my brain is like bananas right now. So for me, it’s not only kind of challenging, like the, the more technical aspects of the system, but recognising that the biggest driver and barrier to student learning is the mindset of an educator. And that’s why I think when we talk about like, do you really understand variability? Do you really understand the impact of trauma on learning, because if you don’t believe that, if you don’t think all kids will be successful. If the conditions are right, then kids are like dead on arrival. Like, it doesn’t matter. What I do for you at that point is like, I need you to buy into the fact that you are the greatest driver of student achievement. And that is something that we have to address through professional learning. And to say that like, no, like, you don’t have a choice, whether you’re going to do this or not like in my class, you don’t have a choice about whether you’re going to be successful, we will be successful. And what do we have to do to do that? And like, it’s so interesting. I’m Allison, you get this all the time. But what if people won’t do it? Like, this isn’t an option, like it’s not an option to believe in kids isn’t an option to include children? Like, I don’t understand how it’s legal to segregate children based on identity and adults have that right. Only in education. It’s not legal anywhere else. And so how do we really address the true unlearning? that has to happen by challenging the mindset of adults who are making decisions that are excluding kids.

Katie Novak  23:10

And that mindset starts at the youngest of ages. It’s unbelievable to, you know, to think of the system and how long some of our learners have been told what they can and can’t do. And then separated because of that, and given different opportunities. I mean, it just it starts from the youngest of ages. And it has to it has to change. We have to unlearn this.

Margaret Flood  25:29

Yeah. And we really need to flip the question around so Katie, you were saying like we all yes. And I’ve leant to those technical if I had, but what I need to be asking myself and I realised was, what can I do with what I have. And let’s look at what my students need from me, rather than what I need my students to give me. And I think that is all there in your engagement section of this unlearning cycle, that if we just flip it around, and we put our students centre stage, and we don’t forget about identity, because you’ve already talked about cultural responsiveness, like that’s so important. But in terms of thought, cognitive overload, so before I read on learning, I really thought about my emotional overload in sensory terms in terms of like, if, if my words were overstimulating, if there was too much background noise, if there was too much colour or text on a page, I didn’t actually think about the belonging, cognitive overload, or the needing to fit in cognitive overload, until I read that section in your book. And that that is something that we all need to see, as educators and ask ourselves how we can change that was not an easy process for you to come, come to in the book, was this more arm wrestling? Or were you actually in headlocks? At this stage?

Allison Posey  26:58

No, I mean, it’s, I don’t even I don’t like that it’s called cognitive load. Because it’s so much more than that cognitive piece, like you said, I mean, I still haven’t found the right word for it. Sometimes I’m like, cognitive an emotional behaviour, and trying to cram it all in there. But it is, it’s that that that feeling of and I love Linda’s illustration of the brain getting full, it’s one of my, probably all time if I were to get a tattoo that tattoo I would get, because it really is some days, you just feel that and you don’t always know why. And you don’t always know the subtle pieces, these subtle cues that might be coming in from the environment that are playing on that, whether it’s what’s hanging in the wall, or what people are saying to you in the hallway, or what they aren’t saying to you in the hallway. And we carry that we don’t just let it go. And, and for us to be able to find space in our schools, for students to be able to process and do what they you know, do what they enjoy for a minute and laugh. I remember two teachers early on in my work with adults, they were laughing as we were doing this marshmallow challenge at caste, which you’ve probably done, Katie, we used to always do this marshmallow challenge. These two teachers were laughing and they said, You know what, if we were in our own class, we probably would go over and reprimand us for being too loud and disruptive. And I thought, you know, and then we had this moment of like, what’s going on in our system, that people you know, that you don’t feel that, that space to be able to do what you need to ease whatever that load might be, for whatever reason, you know, your brain doesn’t shift into a new place. Just when you’re in school, you’re carrying everything from home from your, you know, you’re carrying a lot with you, even as you enter the classroom. So yeah, there’s a lot, there’s a lot that goes on, that we need to be able to think about and have language around in order to get to learning.

Katie Novak  28:50

I mean, again, for me, like one of the things that I like to think about it is just like, on your very worst day, how much can you accomplish based on your very best day? And I often do that in professional learning is just say, like, my, like, overall, self doesn’t evolve. You know, I mean, like, from day like, I am who I am that that’s that’s, that’s a better thing is like Katie is Katie, right? And that I as a person am always Katie, like, you know, no matter when you get me no matter what mood I’m in, but like I am capable of very different things as myself, just based on the time of day, and if I’ve eaten breakfast and who I’m working with, right? And it’s like, you know, so yes, I’m constantly changing, constantly, constantly changing, but I’m always me. And it’s so interesting when people would say something like, well, Katie is a struggling learner. And it’s like, no, no, like Katie always struggles when Katie is hungry and tired and working on a different time zone and is working with people who are constantly being defensive and not open right? I will always struggle in a situation like that. But like, I’m not a struggling learner, and you know, it’s just recognising that like who we are. That identity, you know is, is, that’s who I am. But the way that that shows up is really, really different. And so like labels on students in general are so problematic. And it’s just realising like, think about a day that you’ve just been exhausted and sad and angry. And then think about trying to complete really, really great work compared to well rested, perfect place, great colleagues clear goals, like it’s very obvious that the same person is capable of very different types of success. And that’s why I always say, like, we’re successful when we get the conditions, right. And so how do we create an environment that gives you the best chance of getting those conditions right for all learners, and it means that they have to be able to kind of self differentiate their own conditions.

Margaret Flood  30:53

And it goes back to like in terms of identity, you know, as educators, we have this default of the average. And we put that label on our learner, and that’s their label, regardless of time of day day of the week, subject they’re in. And that’s just how we box them. And then we bring in everything else, we bring in socio economic backgrounds, race, religion, whatever it is. And that’s that, who that is. So for me, so I came from a single parent, family, social welfare family. And I felt that all through my education, and  I had those teachers who saw past all of that, and there are teachers that I thank them  for where I am today, but even with all of their belief, it was the others teachers behaviours, whether subconscious or not towards me, that kept that doubt in the back of my mind. And I think that’s a huge part of that Unlearning. Like, first of all, get rid of our labelling, get rid of our identity, think of the jagged learner profile, think about everything, this person this young, plausible mind is and can be in the future. And I think that’s really where you are leading in all of your work, not only in unlearning, but in all of the other work you’re doing as well. How do you feel about that, I mean, that’s a huge task for me to be placing on your shoulders right now, you know, fix fix the world.

Allison Posey  32:20

There’s one, just, there’s, it’s one thing when a student owns a label, and it’s theirs, you know, if it’s important for you to own that socio economic background you come from, then that’s your label for you to help you go through and navigate your day to day, I think the biggest barrier is when we as educators, impose that label on the students, and then make decisions for them because of it. So if understanding dyslexia, and then maybe realising, you know, recognising where you may fall in that spectrum, if that helps you that label and that identity, that’s empowering, what’s not empowering that is to have, you know, someone tell me exactly what reading level I need and what I should do about it. So again, just really thinking about that empathy piece and listening to the students and what’s important to them, what’s the value to them? And how and then and then brainstorming how the design can support that, not how the student needs to change to fit into that mythological average, that, that really, you know, I don’t I hesitate now to even talk about in the margins, as we did so often in the early years I cast because those margins are identified by a bell curve, that’s based on a mythological average. So again, we have to think of those bell curves in the context in so many different contexts. So it really is so much more complicated. And I think we’ve, you were asking a complicated question, I gave you a complicated answer.

Margaret Flood  33:52

I’m glad you brought up on the margins. Personally, I always say marginalised, because on the margins is like, the problem is with the child, so they put themselves there, but if they’re marginalised someone or something, has done it to them, and that’s going back to the barriers that we need to reduce as educators.

Katie Novak  34:12

I mean it’s the it’s an evolution, it really is, is that the barriers continually pop up, you know, there’s ones that will be on our radar in the future that are not on our radar now. And I think that that’s just like we’re continually learning more about the brain. We’re continually learning more about the human experience. We’re willing to listen to a lot of people and so some of the things that used to be in the shadows are coming into the light and will require us to adapt.

Margaret Flood  34:38

Absolutely. And I think that’s, that’s leading nicely into I promise my last question for you at the end of a working day, is the the equity aspect of unlearning. And without us using the word equity. That’s what we’ve spoken about for the last 40 minutes. But sometimes you have to be explicit in terms of that on learning and the image again in your book of the homework omics class, and the children are all the different levels of the counter from what is what is equality to what is equity? And what is UDL slash expert learning? Would you talk some more about that journey to equity before I do let you go.

Allison Posey  35:19

And we do want to say that image isn’t done, we continue to push on that image throughout the writing of the book. And whenever I share it, I’m like, Well, what else do we need? And what else goes in there? We’ve had to, you know, we’ve put remote in there. So we have the hybrid. So I think, Katie, you would agree that image is a work in progress that’s meant to really push the discussion on what is it? What does it mean when we really say this environment is one that any learner any adult or any, any human would want to engage in, in order to develop themselves as a human? You know, in this in our community, in our society?

Katie Novak  36:00

Yeah, I mean, for me, I love the definition of equity, which is four different things, equitable access to grade level classrooms with peers, equitable opportunities to learn grade level instruction, because goodness knows we have a lot of integrated classrooms where kids are in the group in the back. Equitable expectations that like every learner will be successful, given the right conditions, and then equitable feelings of belonging and hope that if we’re doing this right, learners in classrooms should say like, I belong here, like this teacher designs with me in mind, I feel empowered, I feel like I can learn at high levels, will we ever all have the same outcomes? No. And that would be lame and boring if we all had the same outcomes. But we should always have the same access the same opportunities, the same expectations that we can and will be successful, and the same feelings of belonging. And if we can get that right, then, you know, hell with the compliance issues, it’s just that like, a lot of the times we’re talking about these achievement gaps, which go back much further, which is actually these huge opportunity gaps, these huge expectation gaps. And I think that what UDL does really well is it helps us to unlearn that this work is all about achievement, which is incredibly oppressive and incredibly narrow, but rather that this work is about learning and to learn. We need access opportunities, feelings of eq, you know, high expectations and hope.

Margaret Flood  37:20

And you have literally brought this full circle, because one of the first things that was said, was that learning and teaching is emotional work. And your last point in equity is that feeling of belonging and hope. So if again, it’s just showing that emotional work, underpinning not just UDL, but education in general. And if we want AquaSpa learning environments, we have to recognise not only the emotion of ourselves as educators, but also the emotions of our students, whether they’re children, teenagers, or adults. Katie, I don’t know if you know this, the first time I heard you speak was back in 2017, at my first cast conference, and you brought out a load of balloons, and you asked us to write or UDL superpowers in our on the balloons and share it with somebody else in the room. So I am going to ask both of you now to please share your UDL superpower with myself and everyone else listening?


Multiple voices-indistinguisable

Katie Novak  38:25

No, I’ve got mine I’ve got I can come up with a practical analogy for almost anything. So like I always think about like, in this world, we have to work together theorists and practitioners. And I have so much respect for the research community. And all of the work that the research community does to create this evidence base, it is so backbreaking multi year peer review, like I am so grateful for that work. And sometimes that work is just not as accessible as it could be. Because not everybody has like that amazing background in like the science of learning and how to analyse data. And I think that what I can contribute to this team here of like theory and practice and UDL is that I can take complex theories and turn them into normally food analogies, but I have some other ones as well. But my brain always wants to simplify thing is it wants to find patterns. It wants to make connections and wants to simplify, you know, and so always thinking about, like, how can we take this incredible body of scholarly work and make it palatable for pre K teachers for you know, high school teachers, for parents for students to understand. And again, I couldn’t do it without the research community, but that’s my power is taking that information and saying, this seems like it’s something that you can’t wrap your brain around, but it is and this is how I want you to think about it.

Allison Posey  39:53

You are good at that.

Margaret Flood  39:55

Oh, really good. at it

Allison Posey  40:00

That’s, oh, my head went a couple places there. I always tried to make connections to the learning brain, I just can’t help but to be like what’s going on in the brain. But that’s, I’m gonna I’m gonna give a little shout out to my Kinder note my first grade teacher, Miss Pickerel. She, I don’t know if I’ve told you all this story before, but she used to as we were walking down the hallway, to go places, she would play this game or she would turn around. And whenever she turned around, we had to freeze. And whoever wasn’t frozen had to go to the back of the line. We just thought it was the most fun game, you know, you’re walking on freeze. And it wasn’t till I was an adult that I realised how brilliant she was. Because she was keeping us quiet in the hallway. How many teachers elementary school teachers are shushing their students, as they’re walking down the hallways like I used to see this with my kids school that she and she didn’t have to shush us. She found a fun way to have us get to that goal, without it being about the shushing. So I feel like I try to always bring that. Yes, we can. And let’s really try to make it fun. I think that would be my, my superpower,

Margaret Flood  41:09

Super hidden learning and having fun are so important at any age, hence my love of the balloon activity Katie

Katie Novak  41:17

I actually stole that from Liz Bergquist. So,

Margaret Flood  41:22

okay, well, I’m delighted you’re giving credit? Because I stole it from you. I’ve heard this from Katie Novak,

Katie Novak  41:30

I learned. And that isn’t that it though is like Allison’s talking about a teacher. You know, Liz Berquist was a teacher and we just keep moving on.

Margaret Flood  41:38

Absolutely. And it is fantastic. When you can share what you learn from others and bring it out there into words. I know anyone I did it with they absolutely loved us. But we are coming to the end of our conversation. So first of all, I’d like to ask, is there any resources for further independent learning that you would like to share with us today?

Katie Novak  41:57

Um, you know, I again, I think that just if you haven’t read the book, definitely read the book, we have a book club guide that you can kind of lean into with your colleagues to go through this process to, to really try to challenge each others and to know that the challenge is good, like, you know, I’m a long distance runner, here we go with the analogies. I’m a long distance runner. And every time I like push my body to do something different, like right now, I’m trying to do an ultra marathon because I’ve run marathons few times, it hurts, I’m sore, that like, you know, when I’m like, I’m gonna push myself like my body wants me to be done now. And I have to know my limits of what is productive struggle and what becomes unproductive, and I’m poor. And that takes a lot to figure out. But like, ultimately, anytime I accomplish something amazing, like I run my fastest time, or I run my longest distance, there’s always a soreness that resulted every single time without question. And I think that we have to embrace that cognitive soreness of realising that we can’t give you practices that you’re going to use tomorrow. And suddenly, it’s going to be like, Oh, this is so awesome. This is so easy. I can’t believe I wasn’t doing this before. Because there’s almost two prongs to this. One problem is we have to provide the options and be open to allowing students to create their own options. The other side is helping people learn how to make more responsible decisions about their learning. And if those two things aren’t happening simultaneously, that’s truly expert learning, then you end up with a lot of options and a lot of headaches. So like enjoy the process. The book is one way that you can do that. And we’d love to know how your journey is going.

Allison Posey  43:37

Yeah, we love when we you know, sometimes we’ll hear we’ll get Twitter feeds or we’ll get an email about something. And in fact, it’s the book is getting translated into Korean I can’t wait to learn more what’s happening and how it’s, you know, it’s being what’s happening. Yeah, what’s happening as a result, the piece I’m going to add to that is, is magic. And that is sometimes in trainings. When you’re like kind of training someone’s my work and my discussion with with folks. I’ll just say just, you know, bring the magic wand, do it. Wave the one what do you want to have happen and sometimes in waving the wand and letting magic be part of it. A way to get to that actually opens up and it is like magic just happens. So it’s really exciting. So I’ll say bring your magic to the conversation as well.

Margaret Flood  44:25

I love that Allison my first blog on inclusion when I got to Boston was called I believe in magic.

Allison Posey  44:32

You’ll share that with us.

Margaret Flood  44:34

I will share that so we are so on the same page there. Ladies, I just before I say goodbye I’d like to ask to either of you have any final words that you would like to share with everyone? Is there anything I missed that you’d really like to get out there today?

Katie Novak  44:48

Get a David Rose charm necklace

Allison Posey  44:54

and try our UDL cocktail in the book. Let us know how yeah for your for your You’re drinking pleasure.

Margaret Flood  45:01

Oh, that is a really good one. Actually, I might try that with my Irish friends when I get home. Forget the UDL community, just my Irish friends in the kitchen when I get home

Allison Posey  45:12

Post it for the UDL community.

Margaret Flood  45:14

Oh, absolutely

Allison Posey  45:15

the picture of you all with that drink or with your heart and of the drink.

Margaret Flood  45:18

I can guarantee my friends will be very creative in that task. They don’t like when I sent them a lot of tasks, but I think they wouldn’t really commit to this one. Ladies, on that note, I’ll say goodbye to everyone and just Katie Allison, thank you so much for joining me to everyone who’s listening. Thanks for joining the three of us here. It’s evening for talking about all things inclusion. And I hope that you will join me again soon. Allison and Katie, thank you so much.

Katie Novak  45:48

Thank you so much.

Allison Posey  45:50

Thank you

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