The other day my wife was probing me about why I had decided to become a teacher. I told her that, in a nutshell, it’s because I care about kids and I want to have an impact on their lives. She then asked me to think about the teachers who had impacted me personally as a child. Quickly, a few came to mind. Finally she asked me what impact they had had and how they had achieved that. Basically, they made me feel important. They made me feel like I mattered and that they genuinely cared. They paid attention to me and invested time connecting with me on a personal level.
At this point, I clued into where she was going with this… For the most part, it isn’t the lessons that we teach that students will remember; it’s how we make them feel. Certainly, teaching the curriculum is important, but it’s not what impacts kids. In the long run, I firmly believe that students are impacted most by the effect that a teacher has on his/her social and emotional well-being. When I was thinking back to the teachers who stand out in my memory, I can honestly say that I wasn’t thinking about that fantastic lesson on Canadian history or the time that I learned how to solve a quadratic equation… I was thinking about the character of those teachers, about their kindness, their enthusiasm, or their sense of humor.
This is what Block One of UDL is all about. It’s about realizing that students will learn more effectively when their social and emotional needs are being met. How can we expect students to be able to focus on the lessons in front of them if they are socially or emotionally stressed for what could be a variety of reasons? And, as one teacher recently pointed out to me, what would be the point? It is so important for us to realize that the social and emotional learning of children is very significant and that we, as their teachers, do have a crucial role to play in that area of their lives.
As a parent, I know first hand that it’s the feelings that our kids experience during the school day that leave the greatest mark. When we ask our own kids about school, the vast majority of the time their response has a lot more to do with how they felt that day than the curriculum that they covered.
As Pembina Hills focuses on UDL and DI strategies, most schools have chosen to focus on Jennifer Katz’s Block One of her three-block UDL model. Block One is all about respecting diversity. A UDL environment cannot be effective if the students do not know how to respect diversity and appreciate each other for their strengths and challenges. Choosing to focus on Block One seems like a step in the right direction and I believe it is one of the more important aspects of education. My hope is that we will put in the best effort possible with respect to Block One strategies. If we just give kids time to talk to each other before the day starts, but don’t teach them how to listen or care about what the other person is saying, then how effective is Spirit Buddies? If democratic classroom meetings are done, but without purpose and intent, then what’s the point? If we think that giving students Multiple Intelligences surveys and posting their results on the wall will make them respect one another, then we need to change our thinking. My hope is that we care enough about students’ social and emotional well-being that we put in the effort that they deserve when it comes to Block One teaching moments. I’m sure that we will!
This blog and resources website has been developed through the work of various AISI coaches in PHRD. The lead collaborative teachers for the 2015/2016 school year, Cheryl Frose, Christine Quong and Tammy Tkachuk will continue to update this site. If you have resources you would like to share or would like to contribute to the blog, please contact us.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License.