Recently, my sister who lives out of town came home for a visit with my 7 year old neice. My darling neice wanted to play soccer outside since she just got new cleats, shin guards, hot pink soccer socks, and a hot pink soccer ball. Even though there were still snowbanks that had yet to melt, there was slushy grass visible and the sun was out. Needless to say, outside we went for some early spring soccer. Twenty minutes go by of passing the ball with no major issues. Then, while showing my neice how to plant one foot and kick with the side of her other foot, down I go! I completely fall on my back, my jeans quicky soak up water and mud, and my head bounces off the ground.
Always in teacher mode, I look up at my neice, begin to laugh, and declare, “See. Even if you fall down, you can just get right back up and keep playing.” My intentions were good. My head was not. I was bleeding. Badly. Off to Urgent Care I went with my sister holding a towel to my head.
Two hours later, I am released with a fairly clean bill of health- no concussion, no stitches needed, just Tylenol to keep the headache at bay and directions to steer clear of playing snow soccer.
Three days after this fun adventure, I realize that I am slated for a workout with my trainer. However, my head was still a bit headachy in the mornings. Recognzing my body needed a workout but my head was not 100%, I email my trainer the snow soccer details and ask if he could create a workout that minimized head movement. Three hours later, I am put through a 50 minute training circuit that vigorously worked my entire body but kept my head from any quick movements.
What does this crazy story have to do with our work as educators? Everything! Hopefully, our students do not sustain head injuries on a regular basis. However, the larger question is this:
What tools do we have to ensure each student has what he or she needs to be successful while also maintaining academic rigor and social-emotional stability? How do we pull these tools together so that a student can inform us of a need and we can make that accommodation within hours, if not sooner, to ensure success in the classroom?
To me, these questions reflect my ongoing work towards creating an environment centered on a Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Designing to the edges so that all students are included versus making modifications individually as they come means I will be prepared for those students who may “all of a sudden” get a head injury and need a different mode of learning. Whether the suddenness was always there and not identified, a change in student preference, a need to explore and expand horizons, or a modality previous realized as a best fit, all students deserve a classroom where they can achieve success.
As I was working out, this need to be ready and able to make my classroom a space where all students could achieve highly rigorous academic success seemed so obvious to me. My trainer did not “dumb down” my workout due to my head injury. He provided different pathways for me to achieve a full body workout that left me physically stretched to my limits yet did not futher aggrevate my injury.
I know I have work to do in creating a classroom designed to stretch student learning to its limits for every individual. I know my toolbox is not as full as it should be. I know the task will initially feel daunting, but I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the results will lead to a more inclusive, welcoming, classroom where creating personalized pathways to success is the norm and not the exception.