How shifting to a UDL mindset enhances Common Core

When special and general ed teachers collaborate, everyone benefits

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards has been met with anxiety from administrators and educators at every level, because, like any major change, it can seem scary and overwhelming. General education teachers have had to learn and apply new instructional strategies to address the new standards and the vision that the standards embody, particularly universal design for learning. Special education teachers have been required for the first time to become pseudo subject-area experts to help struggling students and those with learning disabilities meet the standards.

This can be a stressful time for everyone. However, when educators are empowered to share their expertise with one another, and given the time and place they need to collaborate, they surpass expectations and their students soar.

At Sweetwater Union High School District, located near San Diego, we bring general and special education teachers together to meet the needs of students through a framework known as universal design for learning, which provides something of a blueprint for creating learning goals and materials that work for all learners. We accomplish this through carefully-designed cohorts, teacher-led “zones,” online resources support, and by fostering a collaborative culture.

A shift in mindset

Cultivating the right mindset is of the utmost importance before any change can result in positive outcomes. The type of mindset a district strives to develop is dependent on their goals. At Sweetwater Union, we aim to create a supportive culture in which educators feel comfortable enough with their peers to share their thoughts and insights and are encouraged to take risks.

When our district brings together general and special education teachers, we reframe the conversation to focus on “our” students. It’s no longer about your kids or my kids. Every student is impacted by a universal design for learning, and to achieve college and career readiness goals, we must view them as everyone’s responsibility.

Next page: How PD changes encourage collaboration

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