Kindness. This is a very personal topic for me, and I thought I would share it with you as we start this new school year.
"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." Dalai Lama
I recently was fortunate enough to attend a week of Universal Design for Learning training through CAST at Harvard. I won’t lie, I felt pretty intimidated at first. Harvard is a big step for someone who graduated in the middle of her approximately 1000 member high school class. While there, Jon Mundorf talked about reading the book, Wonder by R.J. Palacio with his students and recommended we read it. It had nothing to do with UDL, and maybe it was just a throwaway statement, but I took his advice and ordered it right then. I am so glad I did. I’m not going to give away any part of the book, other than to tell you that it is written from many points of view. This gives the reader insight into several individuals heads and explains their actions from that point of view. This is a powerful message. At one time there was a TV commercial along these same lines. People saw other people’s thoughts. We were asked, “If you could stand in someone else’s shoes… Hear what they hear. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Would you treat them differently?”
“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” - Dr Wayne W. Dyer
As teachers, we are possibly the only people in a student’s life that can constantly model kindness to our students. They get sarcasm, friendliness, anger and conflict from their friends. Parents are in charge of love and all the other parental emotions. Teachers do many other things, but we are the default role models for kindness. We get the consistent opportunity to give others the benefit of the doubt. We get to give second chances. We get to offer help when none is asked for. We get to recognize needs. All the while, our students are watching us and maybe just maybe learning to do this for others in their lives. Is there any other job this great?
“We carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness.” R.J. Palacio, Wonder
One of the kindest things we can do for our students is to make school a safe, comfortable place for them. Not just the building, but the curriculum. A universally designed curriculum is a great way to do that. We would like all of our learners to be resourceful, knowledgeable learners. Students who are engaged and have the tools and ability to know where to go for assistance and where to look for information. In a Ted Talk, Dr. Todd Rose speaks about size 8.5 running shoes and Usain Bolt. To summarize, we were to imagine if all runners were to be judged on their ability to run while wearing size 8.5 shoes. He goes on to say that Usain Bolt wears a size 13. We can assume that he would not be the World's Fastest Man in a size 8.5 shoe. We might even say that he was a bad runner! Taking this analogy all the way out, do you think Usain Bolt even wears shoes off the rack? I bet he wears shoes that are custom made just for him so that the shoes are not a barrier to his performance in any way. UDL is about designing learning so that there are no barriers for our students. As teachers, we kindly take into account the different barriers to learning that our students may encounter prior to them beginning their learning in our room. They are naturally scaffolded so that each is challenged yet secure in the knowledge that we are guiding them towards the goal (standard) of the lesson. They are guided towards being purposeful, motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed learners. That is how powerful the kindness of universalizing instruction can be.
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Mark Twain
I wasn’t the only PATINS specialist to attend this week of learning, most of our staff was there. We are all excited to share what we have learned with you. We are just a phone call or email away! I want to also take this time to thank all of the schools and educators who opened their mind to us at PATINS this summer during the Summer of eLearning conferences. As always I am humbled by the dedication, intelligence and kindness that exists in abundance in Indiana’s teachers. Together, you all make the world a kinder place. Thank you!