Episode 11: Talking UDL Rising to Equity with Jenna Gravel and Nicole Tucker-Smith

In this conversation Jenna and Nicole talk with me about the review of the UDL Guidelines from an equity perspective. The share their own journey’s to UDL and what motivated them to lead this important piece of work; what do we value? what do we teach? what to we honour?

Resources from this episode

All the information you need about UDL Rising to Equity and how to contribute


Transcript of this episode


UDL, guidelines, equity, biases, inclusive education,


Mags, Jenna Gravel, Nicole Tucker-Smith

Mags  00:00

Welcome to 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 to. Today I am talking with Jenna gravel and Nicole Tucker Smith is Director of Research and curriculum for professional learning. Jenna works to connect research and practice by supporting educators to apply UDL to the classroom. In order to engage all learners enrich sophisticated learning opportunities. As the founder and CEO of lesson cast, we call help skills and professional learning initiatives focused on inclusive teaching and equity best practice. She leads the jumpstarts PD network a community of educators to share ideas, spread resources, post tips, and dialogue on key areas of interests related to designing and delivering effective PD. Together, these ladies are leading the charge for UDL equity to rise at the review and redesign of the UDL guidelines from an equity perspective. Nicole, Jenna we’ve known each other for a while now. But over the last 14 weeks, I’ve had the privilege of working closely with you on the amazing UDL journey to equity that you are on. I am so delighted to have you on the podcast today to speak with you more about this journey. And your work to promote the tenants of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice in education and society.

Jenna Gravel  01:22

for having us. I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  01:27

Thank you. This is exciting to have this conversation.

Mags  01:31

So exciting. So can you both start off by telling us a little bit about yourselves, your background and what it was that inspired your inclusion and equity journeys?

Jenna Gravel  01:42

Who should go first you want to go first? Nicole?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  01:46

Alright, I’ll do. All right. So my name again after that wonderful introduction, Nicole Tucker Smith, a little bit about my background, I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been an assistant principal, I’ve been a system wide coordinator of professional development and training here in Baltimore, Maryland, where I live. I’m also a mother of two a 15 year old and a 13 year old. And I would say what really sparked my journey to to continue to push this work forward in terms of equity in educational spaces, in particular, I would say is that it’s so many things. One, just what I believe in as an educator, what I’ve seen as a parent, and also what I believe as a human being that really when we think about social justice, that the the biggest groundwork is going to be in education. Everybody goes through a system of learning. And this is really the critical linchpin to truly having an equitable life for everyone really an equitable world. It really starts with what do we value? What do we teach? What do we honour? What do we centre, and the lessons we learn in school carry us for the rest of our lives?

Jenna Gravel  03:10

I’m Jennq gravel. I’m the Director of Research and curriculum for professional learning at caste. So that means that my work kind of sits between our two branches. At CAST, we have our research and development branch and a professional learning branch. And my role is kind of right in the middle of those two branches, where I really get to explore teachers trajectories as they come to learn about UDL and think about how their practices and attitudes and beliefs might be shifting as they’re learning more about UDL. And then also thinking about what happens in the classroom when teachers start applying UDL to their practice, and what kinds of thinking is generated among students. So I really appreciate the role that I have it cast where I have a strong identity as a researcher, but I’m also a former teacher, I taught middle school special ed. And so I think this work, always being in partnership with teachers keeps me really close to my former teacher self to which I just really appreciate. I’m also a mom of three kids, I have a nine year old son and six year old twin daughters. And I would say really like what first inspired my journey, I really would say my parents that both of them worked in the field of inclusive education. And my sister and I just really grew up with a really deep respect for individual differences with a real commitment to inclusive education. And I think my parents were just really strong models for both me and my, my sister does start kind of thinking about how we can be key players in disrupting ableist beliefs and practices. So my mom was a special ed teacher for more than 30 years and she really dedicated her career to starting and growing and inclusive education model in her district. And then My mom actually hired my dad as a teacher. That’s how they met. And my, um, my dad started out as a teacher. And then he took over in the 1980s as the director of a segregated school for kids with disabilities. And he took that position with the goal of closing down the school. And he wanted all of the students in that segregated placement to go to their neighbourhood schools. And he was able to do that. And then he transformed the school into a human services organisation that still is thriving today. And they offer just a range of services for early intervention and working with families and in adults with disabilities. So I think just always growing up with the with my parents is just such strong advocates of inclusive education that kind of set me on my path.

Mags  05:51

Oh, that’s amazing. Thanks, Jenna. Um, what both of you are coming across in in your introductions there is your value on transformation and evolution. And I think that has what has possibly led you to the row you have now in terms of the UDL guidelines and the equity to rising. And you talked about disrupting ablest beliefs and practices. And I would compliment both of you for being disruptors. And for being disruptors in a very positive sense, and that you were asking the hard questions, and you were saying to people, please tell us what’s not working, what is working and what we can do to make things better? Can you tell us a little bit about wash? What was the first nugget of inspiration in terms of really looking at the UDL guidelines in in terms of moving them forward? And just bringing us a little bit along that journey?

Jenna Gravel  06:53

I can kind of kick us off. So I was actually involved with the original editions of the UDL guidelines. So I had taken David Rose’s Course on Universal Design for Learning in the spring of my master’s year, and I was about to graduate. And I was going to start teaching in the fall, and I needed a summer internship. And so I reached out to David because I had just taken his course and was getting so into UDL and asked if they if cast ever had summer, internship programmes. And he said, Oh, yes, we’re working on a summer project to develop what we’re thinking of as guidelines for UDL. And so at that point, I was like, This sounds great. I worked with David and others that cast that summer really kind of expanding on this idea of how could we create these guidelines, and then we realised that it was a project that was way bigger than just a summer project. So I continued through that summer, and then I went off and started teaching, but I would always go back to cast one afternoon a week usually, and then always back in the summers. And we continued working on the development of the guidelines, and just realising how we really wanted to dig into the literature. And there was so many resources that we could connect to the guidelines and realising this could be a really big project that ultimately could develop kind of the first iteration of a tool that we hoped would be really useful to practitioners. And that was in. Let’s see, I started as an intern in 2005, we came out with the first version in 2008. But always with the idea that it was just that the first version No, even then we knew that we always need to be iterating on on the guidelines, and always kind of informing them and updating them based on their research, but also updating them based on the feedback we are getting from people who are actually using them. And we were always just so eager to learn from stakeholders all along. And then I think, for me, when I really started to think about like, what are some of those, like gaps and biases that are inherent in in the guidelines was when I was in my doctoral programme, and just diving more deeply into the literature, taking new classes coming across new perspectives. And that was also the time that Federico, we told her and Kathleen King glorious, published their piece in Harvard educational review, which is examines the kind of cross pollination of UDL and culturally sustaining pedagogy. And for me, that was such an impactful moment to realise like they offer their what they call a loving critique of UDL and say that there, there’s so much more that we could do to more fully develop the guidelines through an equity lens. And with them, they were looking specifically at culturally sustaining pedagogy. And that like came at the right time for me as a doctoral student to where I was just so eager to kind of understand new new perspectives and kind of think about the guidelines and the development of the guidelines that I’ve been involved in for a long time, but to understand just how important it was to really examine them really closely in Look at, you know, the gaps and the biases, not how we can just keep updating them, but look closely like what’s missing and whose voices and whose perspectives are missing. And that kind of just kicked off the process like very early, it took a long time from that point to get UDL, rising to equity, get that momentum going and launch it. But I think just hearing, like I said, from Federico and Kathleen, their perspective, and then so many other stakeholders who are reaching out to us and sharing really honest and really important push back with us, and I just so appreciated it and valued it and knew that that was our sign that we have a lot. We knew all along that we needed to continue to develop the guidelines, but that was like our, our call to understand like, now is the time to really take a close look, and make them better for everyone.

Mags  10:51

Thanks, Nicole, I know you were one of those people knocking at the cast door with with this equity lens. And with this, you know, let’s look at UDL with love. But let’s look at how we can change it for the better.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  11:05

Yes, and I think my thing was this, I wanted there to be like true authenticity, so and I felt like if we’re going to say that UDL is in service of equity, then there are some things that it needs to live up to. Because I have been doing I’ve been working with caste and doing UDL presentations for over a decade. And actually I did UDL presentations way back when I worked at Johns Hopkins Centre for technology in education before they’re even guidelines, I would we would do our collaboration. I was the general educator, I worked with a special educator and we would do work on how to apply the guidelines in an in a general educated education setting. And so I knew that I knew what you I know what UDL is, I also know about barriers to equity. And I said, Hey, just let’s just be honest about what we actually currently have. Right now. We’re not calling teachers to attend to bias. We’re not calling curriculum designers to look at representation. And are we inclusive? The very idea of UDL currently wasn’t challenging the idea of a cannon, which is an inherently problematic. But it’s not calling for that. And so I what I was trying to share was that, you know, because I’ve been working with UDL for so long, I can’t unsee it right, I have this mindset that I can’t undo. So I’m applying a UDL approach to the equity work that I’m doing right now my equity presentation is a very different, we’re talking about something else. So if you’re gonna say that UDL is going to help with equity, then we need to have an honest conversation about some barriers that are not being addressed. And so to me, it was about, you know, if you’re, if we’re going to claim something that we have to live up to it.

Mags  13:07

Absolutely. And it goes back to what you said about that true authenticity, and that if we want to be in service of equity, that as Jenny, you said, there’s so much more we can do. And I think my my experience of working with both of you on this equities rising is that it is finding out what that much more is. And then working from there. Can you talk a little bit about about the process and about the thinking behind the stage right now and where you see this going?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  13:42

Well, Jenna, you’re always really good at doing the the iterative process graphic.

Mags  13:48

Okay, Jenna, over to you.

Jenna Gravel  13:52

In front of me,

Mags  13:53

nice slide Nicole.

Jenna Gravel  13:57

Um, but in terms of our process, so we launched UDL, rising to equity at CAST UDL symposium in the summer of 2020. And that was a whole symposium kind of focused on this intersection of, of UDL and equity. And it just was such perfect timing, because it felt really important to us that, as an organisation, we didn’t want to facilitate a conversation over three days around equity and then stop. But we wanted that to be the start of this process, this journey that we were going to be going on. So we launched at the symposium in 2020. And now we’re about a year and a half in, which is just amazing, or a little more than that, I guess now, and since then, we’ve formed an advisory board. So that’s a board made up of external scholars and practitioners who all look at equity through different lenses and we wanted to make sure that we were kind of gathering people with different perspectives and would in a way we didn’t even we weren’t as concerned And as much as to whether or not they knew about UDL, but we were just really concerned about the different kinds of perspectives on equity that we could kind of gather together. And for us, or at least for me, I shouldn’t speak for Unicode. But it was a really exciting opportunity. Because I think as an organisation at CAST, we just we recognised that we really needed to update the guidelines through this equity lens. But at the same time, we knew we couldn’t do that work alone, we knew that we needed to be reaching out to people outside of cast who had that real expertise around equity. And that’s one of the reasons what led us to Nicole who was bringing her really strong practice and experience and expertise in her work as an educator and as a school leader, and as a professional development, development leader or facilitator. And then that’s led us what led us to want to form the advisory board, and really this opportunity to gather together some incredible thought leaders and really support this journey. So we have our advisory board, and then we have our stakeholder Council. And that’s another group that’s been so important to the process. And this is a group made up of stakeholders within our cast organisation, or what we kind of call like our cast friends and family. So other kinds of groups and organisations that are closely connected to cast. And both of those groups now we’ve just, we’re about to finish our one year mark of working with them. We’ve been meeting every other month. And it just has been this incredible opportunity to get two different groups of people together who feel very committed to this work and really want to engage with us and engaged with the other members of the different groups, and coming together and thinking about like, what do we do like we’ve got, we’ve identified a challenge here, we know that there are gaps and biases in these guidelines, and what can we do about it. And it just has been such an exciting and really like generative experience to be working with so many different people for the same goal of updating the guidelines. And it’s

Nicole Tucker-Smith  17:01

been a it’s been exciting in that, you know, the community driven aspect from the focus groups to the surveys, and we’re going to be bringing in learners voices, and just also being very intentional about the process, recognising that it’s urgent work, but it can’t be rushed that this is a marathon that is not a sprint, that and then also just the looking at the research. And I’m taking time to audit what do we currently have? And what do we need to broaden and include? So I think this idea of being iterative, and just learning as we go, but all also taking time to reflect has been really important.

Mags  17:51

Thanks, do ya, I didn’t actually know that your councils were made up of people from an equity perspective, rather than a UDL perspective. And actually, I think that’s really important for people to know. Because, like, we do know that not everyone sees the potential of UDL, and they think like, it might be a one hit wonder, and that it’s only one lens, particularly the special education lens. And knowing that actually, you’ve brought people together from equity, don’t have to know anything about UDL, just shows the willingness to really take this on, and to do that the full picture of it. So I’m going to ask a really hard question based on that. And I’m gonna go back to the so much more we can do, and what are we not doing? So is there anything in the last year and a half that has struck you that the UDL guy guidelines we’re not doing in terms of removing those equity barriers? And part two? How have you started to think about addressing that? Because I know you’re still in that thinking reflecting process?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  19:03

It’s kind of hard for me to answer your question, because I had been thinking about this question for a long time. Right. And so, you know, one of my things is like, I kind of alluded to it before, like, where do we help educators or anybody in the learning space confront and be aware of bias? I don’t think that it’s realistic to say we’re going to eliminate bias. That’s just not how human behaviour works. But how are we building awareness of bias? How are we



Nicole Tucker-Smith  19:46

even in terms of looking at the guidelines right now often present themselves as pretty much individualistic? Where are we promoting collective learning? There’s the part about community and collaboration But there’s that’s different between thinking about what are we learning as a collective? Like what, you know, how are we growing together? Is there a, you know, mutual interdependence together? And just this idea of learner agency? Where is that showing up? Now? Okay, what was part two? What are we doing about it?

Mags  20:22

What do you How are you thinking about it? Because I know you’re not at the doing stage. Where I know you’re very much in the reflecting stage right now.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  20:31

Well, what we’re doing is we’re just we’re identifying themes. So we’re trying to be very careful about not getting in. So that’s why I said it was hard because I have my own ideas. I literally did a whole Parallel Framework. With checkpoints and everything.

Mags  20:47

Wow, I didn’t know that. Yes.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  20:53

I did a whole other framework that went through every single guideline and said, We don’t we don’t talk about this. We’re not talking about this. We don’t talk about this, every single one. And, but I’m very careful not to bring that into this process. Because it’s not what I think these are not the Tucker Smith guidelines. There’s a community driven process. So we have to listen to others, and then see what themes emerge. And then our ideas, you know, we’re going to prototype some things and then test it out, and then go, you know, read, you know, iterate again, but we’re also thinking about this principle by principle. So we’re still we’re, we’re nearing the end of our engagement exploration. But that’s where we are this far year in. And we didn’t start with engagement, you started with the goal? Yes, we

Jenna Gravel  21:42

started with that idea of exploring Cass kind of current definition of expert learning. And I think for me, one thing that’s been exciting too is, as Nicole said, like, these themes are emerging in their themes that are coming out across like everyone who we’re talking to. So themes that are bubbling up in the stakeholder Council, and then they’ll bubble up in a meeting with the Advisory Board, they’ll come out in a focus group, they’ll come out just in an email that someone sends volunteering to share their ideas. And one example of that is when we did start this really close examination of expert learning. We heard from a lot of different stakeholders just there kind of like discomfort, even with the term expert, and wondering what that word expert implied. And was it in the spirit of UDL, and a lot of people were saying how to them, the term expert implies some sort of hierarchy, like there’s a limit to your learning, and you want to get to that limit, and, and there’s a hierarchy that’s assumed based on your expertise, and that just doesn’t feel in the spirit of UDL at all. And then just some people even saying, Well, if we’re saying, expert learners, like, are we saying that you need UDL to become an expert learner? And that, you know, babies are expert learners as they’re trying to figure things out? And if we’re seeing we need UDL to be part of the process of developing expert learners? Are we kind of devaluing the brilliance of all learners, you know, that you don’t need UDL to be an expert learner? Like, we’re all expert learners. And I think some of the conversations that we had around like, what does that word expert imply in it into a lot of stakeholders who we talked to it almost felt like it was implying the opposite of what we meant in terms of the goal of UDL. And, and a lot of stakeholders seeing like, they often feel like they’ll have to say, well, we say the goal of UDL is to support the development of expert learners, but then they need to backpedal a little bit and like, explain what expert learner actually means to them, how they’re interpreting it, and how it isn’t this idea of something finite, or hierarchical. And just like, it was reassuring to kind of hear those same concerns coming from so many different pockets, and so many different groups of people. And I think that says to us, like we’re definitely that’s one example of like something, a theme like we’re on, we’ve uncovered something here. And I think that’s what’s getting exciting is there’s a lot of feedback is kind of cohering into particular themes that we are really seeing across the stakeholders who have been collaborating with us. And that just feels exciting to be able to kind of act on concerns that are meaningful to a lot of different kinds of people.

Mags  24:26

Yeah, I was so excited when you started talking to me, about agentic learners instead of expert learners. And just the sense of agency in general because, to me, the expert learner spoke to the student, whereas agency and agentic learners speaks to the student and the teacher slash educator, it is going back to what you said, and it’s all about this being a community and about it being collaborative, but everyone is part of it. So I was so excited, but it did make me question then how different Have people interpret the UDL guidelines and the language of the UDL guidelines because I have thought about agency and autonomy as part of expert learning, and I’ve been that journey, but obviously other people hadn’t. And I think maybe it comes from the stage around your own career and also when you’re introduced to UDL. But we’ve had a lot of conversations, the three of us around that interpretation of language. Do you think that is a barrier at the moment within the UDL guidelines?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  25:33

Well, what we noticed are a couple of things in that one, this process if nothing else happens, this should initiate a process where the research is revisited periodically. Right. So we need a periodic review. And then also, how are we limiting the representation of the guidelines themselves? I’m not sure if that if we’re going to be able to solve for that part of it. But that is worth asking. Can we think about, you know, representations other than being quite so only have quite so much text? I mean, there’s a lot of text which, but then do we have something else to go with? It? is a is a question that we’re also Jenna and I are trying to stay focused and not boil the ocean. You know? So we have a little placeholder for these are other things to consider. Right? We want to make sure we stay true to our assignment.

Mags  26:42

Clarity of goals Nicole’s?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  26:44

Yes, but it is I would if you know, if I were making a list of things like once we do this re envisioning process. Next is thinking about, well, how do we build in a system for incorporating because there’s just so much new research between the last time the foundational research was really established. And now there’s so much has happened in the neuroscience especially. Right, and, and then also just thinking about, is there another way to represent the guidelines beyond a graphic organiser? No, I love a graphic organiser, I will go to it in a heartbeat. So that’s not that’s not my area of expertise to tackle. Somebody else can read

Nicole Tucker-Smith  27:30

it maybe with more representations, then there’ll be more clarity. For different, you know, folks trying to apply? You do. Yeah.

Mags  27:38

And I even know within your your themes. I know Jana, you spent a lot of time working with other colleagues on developing, I think you started with five Equity Team themes, we may have gone up to eight and brought it back down to seven. But you’ve put an awful lot of thought into that aspect of the review as well. Has that helped in terms of furthering the thinking?

Jenna Gravel  28:04

Yeah, I mean, I think we thought a lot about the different lenses of equity that we wanted to bring to this work. And in thought about that, especially when reaching out and trying to form our advisory board that we wanted to make sure that we had scholars and practitioners who are bringing a variety of perspectives, including expertise in race, class, language, disability, gender, and sexuality. We just wanted to make sure that we were bringing like a lot of different perspectives into the conversation, because I think that is a piece of the of the process that wasn’t there before you know that we weren’t as intentional about building groups to guide our work like an advisory board or a stakeholder council that was intentionally brought together to kind of bring in these different voices and these different perspectives. And I think that’s what is so important to this work and what Nicole and I feel so committed to, you know, when we are working to create, like things like the stakeholder Council and the advisory board, but also just reaching out and doing focus groups, we hope to hold more focus groups in the future, more interviews, were hoping to conduct some surveys, like really intentionally seeking out stakeholders to participate in most forms of feedback whose voices weren’t included in previous iterations of the guidelines. And it just feels like so central to this effort to really try in and reach out to those people who may have been excluded from the process before.

Mags  29:35

Yeah, I like I also know that you’re hoping to run a special edition on universal design for learning as well, which is really broadening the invitation to people to contribute to that and contribute from a practice base as well as that theoretical abstract base. So do you think that will help inform your work as well?

Jenna Gravel  30:00

I hope so yeah, we’ve been kind of brainstorming different ways. Like we’re coming, you know, brainstorming ideas of a special issue kind of focused around practitioners who are really working at this intersection of UDL and equity, or, you know, other kinds of gatherings or studies where we could kind of connect with practitioners who are doing this work, because we’re updating the guidelines saying that there are gaps and biases and in things that we need to do to more fully develop the guidelines. But at the same time, we know there are practitioners actively engaged in this work, and we want to make sure that we’re learning from them. And I think we’ve been just kind of brainstorming, might it be a special issue of a journal? Or might we be able to get funded to do a study that would really support us to kind of get in and partner with schools who are committed to this work? And understand from educators perspective, like, what does it feel like and look like to engage in this work? And I think even more importantly, from like, the student perspective, from learners perspectives, what does it feel like to learn in a classroom that’s been intentionally designed through a UDL lens, to really be reducing those barriers and increasing access for you and, and making sure that learners are feeling welcomed and valued and honoured and kind of getting that learner perspective, we would have so much to learn from that, too. So where I think now it’s exciting, we’re a year and a half in so we’re thinking of some of those like additional projects, we could kind of add on or as a way to kind of expand UDL, rising to equity to really make sure that we’re acknowledging the work that’s being done at the same time and really learning from it.

Mags  31:40

Yeah, I’m just looking at I was just gonna go you go into code,

Nicole Tucker-Smith  31:44

we’re is it’s also is, it’s about like providing opportunities for honestly, storytelling. So like a special issue is a way to have is another vehicle for storytelling. Like I have a personal belief that storytelling is one of the oldest ways we’ve learned how to learn. And it’s sometimes not thought of in the same way, as academic, you know, publication. But there really is an opportunity to hear multiple voices to hear diverse voices. And my personal belief in storytelling in education, or in professional development, in particular, is that, you know, when practitioners tell their stories, it gives others who are listening, the courage to try. And if we can help provide a platform for that, I think it’ll help keep this movement moving forward and sustaining our efforts.

Mags  32:39

Absolutely. And, you know, I was having a conversation, not about UDL, but something else earlier today. And the exact thing I said was, is that the practitioners can sell the product better than the people building the product, because they are the ones who have to put it into practice. And I think that’s why you are having the conversations around agency and what an expert learner means, and around equity and biases and all of these things. And so important, Janet, that you said, like, the big question is, what does it feel like? And what does it look like? So I’m gonna, and I know you I talk about this all the time, I’m going to bring up the international perspective. So at the moment UDL, what it feels like and looks like it’s from a US perspective. And I know you’re very aware of that as part of this redesign as well. What are your thoughts about making this more international? I mean, it’s gaining such momentum around the world that, you know, international people like me would like to see me and my students in those examples.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  33:48

Well, one of the interview mistakes and they did it. One thing I think, is, even when we that was something that we were very intentional about when we invited folks to be part of the stakeholder Council, and the advisory board to make sure we had an international perspective was really important to us. Also, I can’t remember the number now agenda, but it’s over 1000 people over 1100 people who want to be part of the process. And so as we think about survey opportunities, feedback opportunities, we are looking to hear we’re intentional about hearing from perspectives that we may not have paid attention to before. And international perspective is one of those was the column missing voices maybe that we are intentional about bringing in.

Jenna Gravel  34:41

Yeah, I just checked so we have a survey that people can fill out or I guess a brief form if they want to stay updated on our progress or if they want to learn about upcoming volunteer opportunities to be part of focus groups and surveys and things like that. And we’re over now more than 2700 people who have filled out Have that survey. So that just says so much to us to that there just feels like there is so much momentum and energy really surrounding this effort, which just feels so exciting and so humbling. At the same time, you know that there are a lot of people out there who are supporting us in this work. And it feels wonderful to know that this is an initiative that a lot of people really care about and want to be a part of

Mags  35:26

China, how does it feel for you for somebody who back? The very first edition of the UDL guidelines, was there creating them in a small little room, just a very small group of people to what it is now, how does that feel?

Jenna Gravel  35:40

I mean, I think it’s super exciting. From one perspective, I think, when we were first developing them to now be in schools and classrooms where you see the guidelines, graphic organiser up on teachers desks, or you’ll see them when you walk in to the conference room in a school and things like that. But we have developed a resource and a tool that really has spread. And that has supported a lot of teachers to start really rethinking some of the beliefs and attitudes that they’re bringing, and kind of rethinking their orientation toward teaching and learning. And that feels like, you know, really wonderful to be a part of. But at the same time, I think this process of really closely examining like where we need to address the biases and the gaps that are in the guidelines, I think, I just feel really grateful to now have kind of stayed through with the process to now have this opportunity to start addressing those gaps and biases and be a part of this momentum moving forward, too. So it’s been a really unique, I think, journey for me to kind of see how the guidelines have evolved over time, and now have this opportunity to be working with Nicole and working with, you know, 2700 other people, this opportunity to make them better and really develop them based on the amazing feedback that we’re receiving from stakeholders.

Mags  37:02

Yeah. And Nicole, for somebody who saw the promise of the UDL guidelines from the beginning, but also saw that gap in terms of the biases, how does it feel to actually be part of what is a revolution, it is like the big change to try and address all biases not just to pick one but to redress all and to know you are one of those people knocking at the door to say we need to do this.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  37:30

Honestly, it’s a little bit incredible in like the literal sense of hard to believe. In that, in part of this is why and honestly, when I was first asked to co chair with Jenna, I said, I don’t know. I was like, I don’t know if caste is really committed to this. And I did and I was like I what I’m not going to do. Let me tell you what I’m not going to do. That’s what I say. So let me tell you what I’m not going to do, what I’m not going to do is give you a whole lot of my energy for you to this good go back to status quo. I am not, I am not. At the same time I because I’ve been doing. I’ve worked with lots of different actually, I was working with a lot of different equity presenters. So like, I also work with other presenters to help them because there’s so many different aspects to equity. There’s only I know what I know, I work with a lot of leaders, instructional designers, so I do a lot with curriculum and with leadership. And I have another team that I partner with when it comes to like school driven equity, like equity teams or specific practices in the classroom. I think it’s important to honour those who’ve been doing the work and let them do what they do well and know what I’m here called to do. Right? So I don’t try to do all the classroom stuff. And look at the leadership and the curriculum, and some of the classroom stuff, but not so much. But the I think what, what I what I said was I want because I work with others and doing their equity work, I saw a lot of missteps in just where we were trying to help folks understand diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, but we were not paying attention to how adults learn. So, um, that’s why I wrote that article, the illusion of equity PD, because we just weren’t, we weren’t doing we were working really hard, but not the smartest. And so, because I have the UDL lens for how I do professional development, I was like, you know, there’s a real opportunity here to make the world a better place literally. And so I felt excited about the possibility but I was incredulous that that everybody was going to stick with it and stay with it. And I was cautious because I felt like at the time the summer 2020 Every One was waving the Black Lives Matter, flag and where were you when Baltimore was on fire? Because of the murder of Freddie grey? You know, No, you weren’t there. And so I was doubtful. But the CEO at the time, Linda gerstel, she convinced me to trust her, and to trust the organisation. And I met Jenna who’s incredible. Best thing of this has been working agenda.

Jenna Gravel  40:35

I feel the same way, Nicole.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  40:40

So I really like Fred for life now. So hopefully, yes,

Mags  40:45

Yara power to me.

Jenna Gravel  40:49

And we’ve only met each other like, once, once before in a meeting with a bunch of other people. So I knew of Nicole’s work for sure. And I had met her that one time, but we didn’t really get a chance to talk. So I because I knew her work. So well was like, so excited for the potential to co chair this effort with her. But just never imagined that like we would develop such a friendship during this process, too. It’s been pretty amazing.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  41:13

Pretty amazing. I can’t wait till the day when we can meet each other in person. And I think what it is, is I think for me, another reason why I said the word incredible is like I don’t even really, I don’t even really the the awesome. Opportunity doesn’t even sink in so much until I talk with others who were like this is going to this is going to be revolutionary. You know, and then I have to caution myself not to be overwhelmed and just stay focused on the mission. And not not not get tired. You know, you can take a break, you can pause but you can’t give up.

Mags  41:47

Yeah. And if you were to think of one revolution, that you want to come out of this edition of UDL guidelines, because I know both of you, I know this one will be out and you will be thinking about the next. What would the one revolution big change be? And I’m going to ask both of you to give me one.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  42:11

Oh, gosh, okay. I don’t know if I can do just one.

Mags  42:15

Go for to

Nicole Tucker-Smith  42:18

the one of the biggest things that I would love to see is a couple of things. But the one of the biggest things that I would love for see is and I without will recognising the part of this is because so you may know your listeners may have I don’t know to what extent they see on the news, some of the protests that are happening in schools and stuff like that. One of the biggest things I want to see would love to see is just really rethinking our curriculum in a way that is fully representative of diverse perspectives and helping people learn across differences. Audrey Lorde has a quote that I just I keep it so close to my heart. And it’s that, you know, it’s not, it’s not sharing our whole I’m gonna mess it up. But it’s not our differences that tear us apart. That’s not this is not equal to look it up. It’s not our differences to tear us apart. It’s our inability to accept and to love and to hear and to listen across those differences. Right, that that makes them that causes so much anguish for us. And I really do think that a lot of it starts in the curriculum, and do we learn to listen to other perspectives. And that’s part of why we have such an empathy gap. People say we need to be more empathetic. And the truth is that a lot of us, it’s a natural tendency to be empathetic to people who are like you. We need to do more work on being empathetic with people who we think aren’t like us. But it’s actually in sharing our differences that we find our shared humanity. Yeah, I love the first thing I want to see. And then the next thing is just in terms of like disciplinary practices, I want all of those all that disproportionality that the go, like little there are ways in which the system is designed to label some students. And this usually ends up being black and brown indigenous, multilingual learners as problems. And it doesn’t even have to be said out loud. It’s in the way that we have created our systems. And so I want that’s a second thing. I want to go away. And I can go on and on, but I’m gonna stop there.

Mags  44:40

So you’d be coming back for another podcast to go through the rest. Yeah. Yes. Jana, do you have one big one?

Jenna Gravel  44:49

Yeah. It’s hard to say one big one. On my mind right now, but I think one thing that’s come to mind is that a lot of stakeholders would have brought to us is the one Word identity or the notion of identity does not appear once in our UDL guidelines, not in the nine Guidelines, not in the 31 checkpoints. And that, to me is a huge gap. And a such an important thing to address that we want to have this idea of indebt identity woven throughout the guidelines, it’s also not like we want to Oh, we should add a checkpoint or add a guidelines specifically about identity and creating environments where learners can bring their full selves to the learning environment. And I feel like that is definitely a challenge that we really want to address in this next iteration is finding ways to really weave the idea of identity and, and getting to know one another. And in respecting identity and embracing identity and, and making sure that learners feel feel supported and comfortable in bringing their full identities to the classroom. I think that is just something that feels really exciting to figure out how we’re going to do that in the next iteration. So the idea of identity comes to mind. And then I think, too, we have this opportunity for the guidelines to almost become like this tool to prompt some really deep self reflection among practitioners. And I think there are some, some stakeholders who say, Well, you know, the idea of equity is kind of implied in a lot of the guideline, different different lenses of equity are implied in some of the guidelines. And I think, for someone who is really has been deeply involved in equity work, I think you can kind of find those connections between certain guidelines or checkpoints, that might connect really well to the idea of culturally sustaining pedagogy, or maybe there’s a checkpoint that might be kind of, in somehow connected to the idea of restorative justice or something. But those connections are certainly not explicit. And we have a chance to make those connections explicit. And I think in doing that, we can support a lot of practitioners to kind of stop and reflect and think about like the, the attitudes and the beliefs and the biases that they may be bringing to their classroom, and to kind of think about the expectations that they hold for their learners. And I think that the guidelines, in some ways are already kind of a tool for self reflection. But I think they’re more of a tool for self reflection in terms of like, the design, like some aspects of the design, but I also think they can become this tool for self reflection in terms of like the orientation that you’re bringing, and the attitudes and beliefs that you’re bringing to the classroom. So I just feel like that’s a real opportunity for us to kind of built in some kind of prompts to like, prompt and generate some really important kinds of self reflection and conversation among educators as well.

Mags  47:52

And both of your comments have actually brought this conversation full circle in that we started talking about that transformation and evolution. And it’s exactly where we’ve ended. We’ve We’ve ended in a transformative to transformative education and learning and transformative practices, and for our students and our educators as well. And I just think that is such a powerful aspiration to have and such a powerful thing to be able to do. I would love to be able to talk talk to you for hours on end, you would think that I don’t talk to you on a regular basis. But we are coming to the end of this, which I hope will be the first of many conversations. So before we go, I’d like to ask, Do you have any resources for further independent learning that you would like to share with us today?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  48:49

I would encourage folks to check out if you go to the UDL guidelines website right now, there is some information and some links, but we’re working on having a hub and our hub, that’ll be something that we’ll have in 2022. And that’ll kind of help make this process even more transparent. Up to date. I mean, it’s communicating what we’re learning is almost another full time job, just besides learning itself. And so we do want to be strategic about that and making sure that we’re sharing out and then we’ll also be like, you know, one of the things we’re considering, you know, one of the possible concepts are kind of like spaces is like, here’s what we’re reading right now, right? Like, these are these, let’s expand what we see. Let’s expand what we hear. Let’s expand, you know what we practice, and so there’ll be some, that’ll be a good place to go then we hope to keep current. So for right now, you can just see the guideline site

Jenna Gravel  49:57

and before we end too, we just have to Thank you, Mags, for all of the work that you have contributed to UDL rising to equity and the analysis of the literature that you’ve done for us specifically for the guidelines around engagement. It has just been amazing working with you. And we are just so thankful for your contributions. And you really have started us on a process of examining the literature that is just like, so critical to the heart. So important. And you’ve helped us to kind of not only figure out a structure, but then you’ve uncovered all of these findings already for us too. And we just really feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with you. And we are just really excited to continue our, our working with you and our friendship and Nicole and I have been joking about how we can come visit you in Dublin we need to have a conference or something so

Mags  50:50

Oh, absolutely. You know, something I brought it up with your co UDL needs to internationalise it needs to have a European Conference. What better place than Dublin? You know, now I didn’t go as far as like recommending Dublin, I stopped at Europe. So yeah, it definitely was, it’s been a pure joy for me. And it’s been a learning experience. And I think that that for me is one of the joys of UDL is that there’s always opportunities to learn, no matter what age or stage you are as a learner as an educator or anything like that. So just thank you for having me as part of your team. I absolutely love this. And on that note, I’m going to ask you any either of you have any final words that you would like to share with everyone before we do say goodbye?

Nicole Tucker-Smith  51:41

Oh, I should have been prepared for word ah, um, I think that I think it’s important to realise that, you know, we’re, this is a win win. Right? We’re all connected. If anything, if we haven’t learned from this global pandemic, that we’re all connected, then I don’t need any more lessons. Don’t beat me over the head with this message anymore. Right? Like, we need to know that we’re all connected, and that we, the more that we learn from each other, the more that we grow. And it’s it’s important to recognise that we’re connected, but that we also, we can’t change each other. But we can help create a space where change and growth is possible. And I think that’s one of the real strengths of UDL, it says, let’s really look at our space, and our environment, are we creating a space that’s fully nurturing, and helps learners, you know, access and process and progress to their fullest potential. And I think that’s a, that’s a really powerful way to think about how we can just make this world a better place.

Jenna Gravel  53:00

Yeah, yeah. And I would just, I would just add to max thinking about your audience, and really to encourage anyone who’s listening today, if they’re interested to get involved in that we are committed to making this a transparent and inclusive and community driven process. And we are so eager to work with as many stakeholders as we can. So if you go to the UDL guidelines website, UDL guidelines.cast.org, that’s where you’ll find the link to the little Google form to sign up. And that will get you connected to us. So we’ve been sending out newsletters, and that’s also where we offer up volunteer opportunities to participate in things like focus groups, and hopefully some upcoming surveys. So we really just encourage anyone who has a little bit of interest to please sign up and to please spread the word and let let folks know that we really just want to make this as inclusive as we can. And we’re really eager to work with anyone who’s interested in collaborating with us.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  54:00

We want to hear from everyone, we want to hear from you. Because your perspective is your perspective. And if you don’t share it, we won’t learn it

Mags  54:08

so fast. And I will share the link as part of this podcast as well. So on that note, sadly, I’m going to say goodbye to everyone. And thank you to all of our listeners so much for joining in myself, Jana and Nicole, for talking about all things inclusion, and I hope you will all join me again soon. And thank you again, Nicole and Jana, for sharing with us today. It’s just been amazing to have this conversation with you.

Nicole Tucker-Smith  54:36

Thank you for having yes,

Mags  54:38

this was fun.

Jenna Gravel  54:40


Margaret Flood  00:01

And that brings us to an end of Season One of talking about all things inclusion, and what an ending. Thank you, Gemma and Nicole and to all my other guests for your generosity of time and for sharing your experiences with us here on this podcast. As you know, this was the Fulbright season, created as a result of my time in Boston as an Irish Fulbright Scholar. So thank you to my Fulbright hosts the lynch School of Education at Boston College, and to cast and a huge thank you to Fulbright Ireland for supporting me achieve this dream. Finally, thank you to my new lifelong American friends, Melissa Maryanne, Shelly Ann and the Tolkoff family who showed me the American way. Joining me on new adventures cheered me up when I was homesick and just well included me. See you all in Ireland very soon. Season Two of talking about all things occasion. We’ll be back with more inspiring guests in 2023. See you soon. And until then, take care You

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