“It is going to give my work more heart”

Our class this summer was both a professional development opportunity (sponsored by California Partnership for Math and Science Education (CAPSME)) for participants and a research project. We are currently analyzing data from the project, from qualitative analysis of the design process of as experienced by individual Design Teams, to quantitative analysis of pre-post surveys.

In our reflections on the course, we got some important feedback that we want to listen to, and build on for future iterations. Three themes have seemed very important for right now.

  1. Participants returned again and again to the importance of empathy.
  2. UDL and Design Thinking go together as design cycle to help us rethink education in complex times.
  3. Educators identified Disability Rights and ableism as important concepts in their work.

First, the importance of empathy.

[The summer course] has helped in giving me the lens of starting with empathy. Of course all educators empathize with their students, but I loved the idea of really sitting with students and problem solving based on their individual perspective instead of just my own and patterns in data. It is going to give my work more heart.


Others also noted how that despite how caring teachers and PD designers are, they don’t actually consider the perspectives of the “user”.

I now see over and over again people designing learning experiences from the teacher perspective without being able to see how the student might experience it. I can’t unlearn starting with the user and what they need. I grapple with how to get input and feedback in a profession that rarely takes time to truly be reflective.


This next quote is both about empathy, and about the role of a design process in adapting to complex situations.

I appreciate the process we used to ensure our work was relevant and needed. Sometimes we can get excited about what we think teachers or students need, but not base it on what they express their needs to be. Or, we may use a form of empathy interview to give us confirmation on what we already are doing. I hope to use the design process from the onset to design for our users and not limit ourselves to what we think may be possible.


This next quote illustrates the second theme- UDL needed a design process.

 I also was able to connect previous work I’ve done around UDL with this work to have a better grasp of how I could engage teachers in smaller, more succinct cycles of planning with UDL & design thinking in mind. For instance, while planning a lesson, simply asking students to reflect on their experience in the classroom (empathy interview) and then thinking outside the box on how to resolve some sticky points would help us design lessons to better meet students’ needs, especially in this uncharted time where we don’t really know what does/n’t work for students.

Summer Participant in Rethinking Mathematics Course

The third theme was the importance of delving into issues around disability. This was one of our intentions in the course, to center disability rather than talk around it (or not about it at all!). And we provided content on disability as an identity, a community, and a political movement. We wished we could have spent more time on this, which is why we were interested when many participants noted this in their final surveys.

I feel more confident understanding ableism and how to combat it in my sphere.


And several participants noted how important this vision of disability, not as deficit, but as radical potential, how relevant this was to their work as a teacher and as a teacher educator.

I think that my students are often held at fault for not being able to “get along” in a traditional classroom, but we don’t wonder why the environment is not getting along with the student. The school itself should be understood as something that ought to learn and grow, not just the student.


Disability is often a construct of environments that are not designed for the people who use them. This matters so much in my work, because I often look at the school system as a whole and think that the structures and systems in place put my students at a disadvantage.


Categorized as Course

By Rachel Lambert

I am a faculty member at the University of California Santa Barbara, and a former teacher. My interests are at the intersections of mathematics education, disability studies in education, and social justice.

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