My philosophy is simple. Especially when I'm working with a vulnerable learner, I do everything I can to create a personalized landscape where my student can experience ease of learning and their celebrate their genuine talents and successes. I place a high value on establishing rapport with each student at the outset and throughout our time together. It's important to me that they know I do everything I can to create a safe space for my students, and to build an essential foundation of trust.
Intentionally witnessing a student's unique individual passions, interests, hobbies and areas of confidence not only helps me understand each student as a human being, it also helps me to create instantly relatable metaphors for learning when I need them. Holding these interests as precious serves an important function in my sessions with a student. More importantly, however, is the impact they can have on the student's life.
A wise teacher once turned a famous saying on its head. He had heard parents say, "If only s/he tried harder, s/he would do well." His take on that philosophy was, "If only they'd do well, they'd try harder." Supporting students' special interests -- things they enjoy and do well at -- can build a protective layer of confidence that buttresses them when they face their next impossible math problem or challenging writing assignment.
Confidence building is a big part of the reason I always try to start a lesson based on a concept I believe a student has already mastered. At the beginning of a session, I ask questions I feel the student can answer correctly. When I'm successful in this endeavor, it creates a more relaxed environment and a feeling of ease that's more conducive to learning.
The more years I spend helping both students and adults learn new things, the less I believe there's an "average" way of thinking or doing anything. That's why I believe in using the term "learning differences" rather than learning "disabilities." Perhaps one day, we'll have refined our ability to assess and accommodate a student's strengths and challenge areas enough that we'll stop using the term "differences" and simply respect all learners for their unique way of learning, experiencing and expressing themselves in the world.
Along those lines, I was a fan of the concepts behind Universal Design for Learning even before I had heard the term UDL. Universal Design for Learning, briefly, is the idea that good design is accessible and beneficial to everyone, despite whether or not they may have learning or perceptual challenges, disabilities or other factors that might single them out from the general population.
One of my volunteer experiences involved working with the Dubnoff Center for Child Development in North Hollywood, California. I'll discuss some of my experiences with Dubnoff in writings under the UDL Blog Tab. I believe these recollections demonstrate how UDL is central to my teaching philosophy and also how important I feel it is to implement whenever possible, to the benefit of all learners.