Empowering Learners & Educating Their Guides
December 7, 2021
empower the learner

We know that learning is challenging for many kids, especially when schools rely on a prescribed curriculum that’s voted on from the top–not with individual kids’ needs in mind. Seeing all the gaps in the education system has led many to taking action to support our colorful, mismatched learners. I’m one of those, and so are this week’s guests.

This week we’re talking to three amazing powerhouses in educational change, Kathleen McClaskey, CEO and chief learning officer of Empower the Learner; Julie Hartman, chief mindfulness officer; and Dr. Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, Chief Accessibility and Technology consultant rounds out the team..

In this episode, we talk about the roadblocks to assistive technology, teaching kids mindfulness and how to empower them, being more compassionate parents and teachers, preconceived notions about learning, and so much more.

This is such an eye-opening and thought-provoking conversation. Be sure to tune in!

About Kathleen McClaskey

Kathleen McClaskey, M.Ed. is CEO and Chief Learning Officer of Empower the Learner, LLC, founder of Make Learning Personal, and co-author of bestsellers Make Learning Personal and How to Personalize Learning, and contributing author to 100 No-Nonsense Things that ALL Teachers Should STOP Doing. She is an innovative thought leader, international speaker, professional developer, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) consultant with over 35 years of experience in creating learner-centered environments as a teacher, K-12 technology administrator, and consultant. Kathleen is passionate about empowering ALL learners to thrive with tools, skills, and practices so they become self-directed learners, learners with agency, who are future-ready for college, career, and life.

About Julie Hartman

Julie Hartman, Chief Mindfulness Officer for Empower the Learner, is the founder of The Mindful Learner Program, and is also a Life and Mindfulness Coach with over 20 years of experience coaching, mentoring, and teaching. Julie is an eternal optimist dedicated to helping others realize their own inherent worth and empowerment. She designs, leads, and teaches individual and group coaching programs, classes and workshops, meditation groups, and coaching intensives. She is committed to bringing the best of what she is living and learning to her work and continually strives to be a positive leader in the fields of personal growth, mindfulness, and transformation.

About Dr. Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, ATP

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles is an accessibility accomplice specializing in assistive and inclusive technology, universal design for learning, and accessible educational materials. She has been in the field of education for 26 years, as a special education teacher and as an assistive technology specialist. She is also an adjunct faculty member, course designer, and subject matter expert at the University of New England and the University of Maine at Farmington. She is a firm believer that educators have been prepared backward to teach in education, which excludes children who do not “fit the mold,” and recognizes the intentionality of this harmful design.

She serves as the Chief Accessibility and Technology Consultant for ETL. Home is where her heart is in Saco, Maine with her husband, son, and stepson (who have both left the nest) and cats.

Jump in the Conversation:

[2:28] – What is Empower the Learner (ETL)
[3:04] – How ETL was formed
[4:29] – ETL process for getting kids to understand who they are and how they learn
[6:53] – It’s wrong to teach one way
[7:32] – If we come at it from a place of love, we can help kids be seen and heard
[8:49] – Most commonly recommended tools
[10:33] – We need to presume confidence for all kids
[11:39] – Mindfulness in personal development
[15:15] – Using mindfulness for self-regulation
[16:35] – Examples of how to apply this learning
[20:22] – Preconceived notions in learning and labels
[21:27] – Goal is the same; means to get to that goal is flexible
[24:52] – We’re creating more kids with mental health challenges than we ever have before
[26:30] If we’re not empowering teachers, how can they empower kids
[27:29] Turbo Time
[30:25] What people need to know about UDL
[32:51] Magic Wand Moment

Links & Resources


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:03  

Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of EdActive, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:49  

If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:08  

Many organizations look through one lens. I enjoy helping create school communities that are more inclusive and empowering. This means adding in perspectives. I’m so grateful that our microscope gets to look at each learner with multiple perspectives. Our specialist provides social communication executive functioning human development lens. And our students, parents and outside supports also chime in to create a true team of resources. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:41  

So I was very delighted to learn about the organization Empower the Learner. Not only do they use a universal design for learning UDL framework, but the three members are versed in specializations that add to the whole Let’s listen in and hear how empower the learner does a deep dive on equity and accessible learning for all students.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:15  

Hi, Kathleen, Julie, and Hillary, so good to have you here.

Julie  2:20  

Thank you.

Kathleen  2:21  

Thanks so much.

Julie  2:22  

Glad to be here.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:24  

And listeners today I’m chatting with the trio at empower the learner. This wonderful group addresses learning success from three angles. Kathleen is the founder and chief learning officer. She focuses on personalized learning strategies. Julie brings mindfulness meditation, and more to the mix. And Hillary is an accessibility accomplice providing assistive technology resources. What a potent combination. I want to hear how you three, make this magic happen for learners. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:58  

So Kathleen, let me start with you. How did you find Julie and Hillary and create empower the learner?

Kathleen  3:05  

Wow, that’s a big question. So I’ve known Hillary for actually quite a while. And in the education world in the UDL, world, universal design for learning. And I’ve met up with her at all parts of the country. I haven’t seen her now in person for quite a few years. But she is so passionate about really empowering kids to be anyone they want it to be. And so and she is that just years and years of experience working with the most diverse population of kids, and has done absolute wonders with them. 

Kathleen  3:40  

And Julie, I actually met I think three years ago, Julie thinking at a yoga class, and we started talking about our businesses. And we just knew that there was some sort of, you know, some energy between us about how we could really come together and really see increase. Mindfulness is part of this whole idea around empowering the learner. And mindfulness doesn’t pot with the learner. So and so I was you know, I have to say that you know, Julie’s my you know, sort of, you know, these are the ladies that are like partners in crime and we’re really here to really change the world for kids. Yes, well personally passionate about this.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  4:26  

Yay. So what have you three created?

Kathleen  4:29  

Well, we actually have created a the empower the Learner Program, which is really a process for kids to begin to understand who they are, how they learn using the UDL lens of access, engaged Express and what they aspire to be. And we also once kids really understand this about themselves, then they can begin talking about things that they would like to change, whether in improving our strength or empowering them to really take on a change challenge that they would like to change. 

Kathleen  5:02  

And it all comes down to the point that we want kids to be able to support their own learning. And I want to point out that the current talk in education is, what supports we need to give to kids. And it’s not about the skills that kids need to be more independent and self directed in their learning. And so that this is the change that we’re trying to make. And in the end, we want kids really develop a plan with goals and actions around them. 

Kathleen  5:31  

We want them to be able to talk about the strengths and challenges, so they can take action around it. But we currently don’t have that sort of system in public schools, for sure. And we want to introduce this whole concept and but empowering kids with skills, tools and practices, okay to support their learning for a lifetime.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  5:52  

Oh, my gosh, I hear supports we need to add these supports. I hear that all the time. And it’s just kind of something I haven’t been mindful about until you say that, and yes, that shift is super important. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  6:06  

Hillary, I’m gonna sign over to you, what are the biggest struggles or roadblocks assistive technology can address for learners,

Hillary  6:16  

All of them. I like to build myself as a barrier buster. Oh, I’m like come at it with a sledgehammer. And sometimes I come at it with a little feather. So it all depends on the context. But the first part really is people’s mindset, we have to do some work on shifting our own internal mindsets and conditioning, on what teaching and learning is and isn’t and what environments they are, in aren’t. 

Hillary  6:43  

And we really need to uncondition ourselves in the ways that we’ve been trained systemically to address the needs of learners, because we’ve been trained in one way. And what we’ve learned through neuroscience is that that’s not true. That is a big lie. It’s a giant lie. And the lie is that we’re discriminating people, because we’re teaching to one way, and that’s just wrong. 

Hillary  7:09  

So my barrier busting through assistive technology comes from a place of love. And I want to honor me and mangas and Alice Wong in this moment, who are the founders of the Disability Visibility Project, they’re huge informants of the work that I do on assistive technology, and accessibility, because me and Angus and Alliston talk about providing access as a place of love. And so when I’m coming at it to remove barriers, I’m trying to come at it from a place of love, or I’m honoring the needs of the student with the student. And so there are simple tools and tips and tricks that are available. 

Hillary  7:47  

Now, when our devices or iPhones, our Android phones are everything, that was a couple of switches, and a little bit of faith, and a whole lot of love, we can help kids really be seen and heard and valued and recognize the variability of all of us, and honor that. So it becomes this just beautiful tapestry of humanity, that we collectively are united to our humanity. And that’s what our collection is, but we are honoring our own individual sovereignty, and our own individual rights as a human being. 

Hillary  8:24  

Now, some people don’t have the same rights as others, because of the privileges we hold. And I recognize as a white female, I have certain rights and privileges that other people do not. And I’m determined to make sure that doesn’t happen anymore. Because it’s just wrong. And so I come at it with assistive technology. But I also come at it with empathy and Julie’s mindfulness as well.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  8:46  

Ah, what are the most common types of assistive technology that you recommend to organizations, families, or they’re like, Hey, here’s a great starting place for a lot of situations.

Hillary  8:59  

It’s all about tools to tasks, and I want to honor the work of the late great joys, abala, who formed every ounce of the work that I do. As an assistive technology specialist. I was a special education teacher for many, many years before I landed this wonderful role as an assistive technology professional 12 years ago. And in her work, she looks at the student first, and then the environment, the tasks and the tools. 

Hillary  9:27  

So once I know more information about that, then I can show but the easiest ones, if you think about Siri, or voice typing, so if you’re a person and you’re talking to your phone, and it’s converting to text for texting, that’s voice typing. Let kids use it for writing. Hello, you can write with your voice more than one way to do something. Barrier paper to pencil is a barrier for a lot of people in terms of written expression. 

Hillary  9:53  

So why are we doing that? Why is that the default when I can use voice typing or a tool called Word Prediction where the word start to appear or parts of it that helps with spelling and word choice, and has vocabulary bank so you can help with understanding, or even text to speech where words are read on the screen. I don’t know if you remember, I’m going to date myself here Casper, the Friendly Ghost and follow the bouncing ball. Oh, yeah. With the music segments. That’s early text to speech, right? So why are we not letting kids using that and editing and revision process in writing, or letting kids use that to access books and materials at a higher level? 

Hillary  10:35  

We need to presume competence for all kids, especially individuals with disabilities, and kids who are in the margins because we’re black, brown, indigenous who might be poor, or who might not be look sound or feel like we do. Why do we do that? It’s just wrong. So let’s just put these let’s just do it. You don’t, I’m not going to tell you to take your glasses off. mm and drive. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  10:59  

Mm hmm. 

Hillary  11:00  

That’s a barrier and you’re going to hurt somebody. But we do that in education all the time. And it’s wrong. And it dehumanizes students, but it also dehumanizes, the teaching profession. And that’s probably teachers need to have these tools. I can give a teacher all these tools and give me help them feel supported and implementing them in the least restrictive environment. That’s what I,

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  11:29  

wow, I definitely want to get the citations of the people you referred to, to put in the show notes. Thank you, 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  11:37  

Julie, I want to shift to you. Mindfulness seems more important than ever. How do you weave this important tool into personal development for learning? I think sometimes people still are like, Yeah, Yeah, whoo, whoo, come on, I want to get back to whatever read I’ve in.

Julie  11:56  

Yeah, definitely, I hear you. We’re all in such a fast pace mode on a daily basis, that when we take time to really slow down and pay attention to what’s happening in and around us, it can be a complete game changer. And we think of mindfulness as the thing that kind of connects the dots. 

Julie  12:16  

So one of the examples that I love to use with my clients is asking the simple question, have you ever driven somewhere, and you get to your destination, and you don’t remember driving. And you know, a lot of us can relate to that. Because we are in this like autopilot mode, so much where our brains are, you know, 10 steps, or 10 days ahead of us, or three days behind us. And it’s so easy to just be everywhere, other than where you actually are, you know, the distractions with cell phones and just life in general. 

Julie  12:46  

So, for us, mindfulness is the key to really helping kids. And adults appreciate who they are, what they need in any given moment, and be able to express that. And, you know, the whole premise of mindfulness is doing things in a non judgmental way. So it’s also about building that resilience and that acceptance of what is but also building the coping mechanisms in order to be able to overcome those challenges, or embrace those strengths and be able to verbalize that and help other people around, you understand who you are and what you’re experiencing. 

Julie  13:23  

And, you know, if you’re not mindful of how you’re feeling, or what you’re thinking in any given moment, it’s very difficult to connect those dots. And it’s also very difficult to have your brain in a position where you’re open to learning, you know, you’re not taking in information if your brain has kind of hijacked you and, you know, often lala land, thinking about, you know, making chili that day or something. Here as a child, you know, if your head’s on the playground and your bodies in the chair, there’s a little bit of a disconnect there. 

Julie  13:55  

So, you know, mindful tools can be so simple and easy to implement. And they don’t take a lot of time. And they can, you know, there’s no age restriction on mindfulness, you can teach very young children how to be mindful. And it’s something that benefits and grows with us as we grow in age. And I just, I think it’s a complete game changer in my own life, I know that it has helped me become more compassionate, a better person, a better parent, better able to learn because I’m one of those people who can read an entire page and not remember what I just read. 

Julie  14:34  

You know, those are all signals that like, oh, where’s my head? Where’s my brain? It’s not connected to my body. So mindfulness has elevated so much for me in the realm of my own psychology and mental health, as well as professionally and personally, I just, I, yeah, mindfulness is my jam.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  14:56  

Yeah, well, and you talk about our mind being in other places and You know, being able to suffer, you know, be self aware, I see a lot of kids where it’s also their emotions are hijacking them where, you know, how can I even tell you what I’m feeling or need? Because I am dysregulated right now. So it seems like mindfulness plays a super important role in empowering kids with their own regulation to

Julie  15:23  

Oh, most definitely. And helping them learn how to just come back to this moment, you know, where am I right now? What room Am I in? What’s the temperature? What sounds do I hear all of those things can help bring our nervous systems down. Because anxiety, especially post pandemic is so prevalent in younger and younger children these days, you know, we’re seeing signs of extreme anxiety and stress, showing up in all kinds of ways now. 

Julie  15:49  

And so to be able to help kids kind of climb back into their own bodies and find a safe space within themselves. It’s a lot about shifting from everything being so external to internal and understanding that I have the ways and means within me, no matter what’s happening outside of me to be able to exist, and be my highest self in this moment. And it’s doing that over and over and over and over. You know, staying right here, right now, the four of us here together in this beautiful moment that we’re creating and connecting. Yes, that’s what it’s all about.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  16:26  

Wow. So you three brings such amazing, important pieces of the empowerment puzzle together. Are there some examples of work you’ve done together for organizations or families, I just love to hear a story of how this is applied. It’s so powerful.

Kathleen  16:46  

Well, I don’t, I don’t mind beginning this. So one of the key elements that we introduced is the empower the learner profile. And actually, that concept was actually introduced several years ago in, in, in early publication how to personalize learning. And teachers actually use this three step process, the learner profile, the personal learning backpack, and the personal learning plan. And there’s a and I know many, many teachers use this. But the one person that I sort of like to sort of feature here is Anjali Espinosa, who’s a special education teacher out in Wisconsin. And she has been using this learner profile this three step process for at four years now. 

Kathleen  17:31  

And so she said to me, that and she shared out this one pager that the kids do about their strengths and challenges and preferences and needs. And, she works through that over a period of weeks, even before they even start school in the fall. And she says it is a total game changer. Because for the first time, their kids can now talk about their strengths and challenges, preferences and needs, and they can self advocate, okay for themselves. And these are kids that are special ed learners. And, but the other piece to all of this is she takes all of this, the kids take all of this, and they actually leave their own IEP meetings with it. 

Kathleen  18:15  

And they are totally empowered at that point to tell the adults in the room, what their goals are, what they want to be, how they want to get there. Okay, they talked about what type of, you know, skills I want, because I want to do this in my life, you see, so now they are totally empowered to self advocate, okay, for who they are, and how they learn and what they aspire to be with the adults who have been making all those decisions for them before. Okay, so 

Julie  18:47  

the funny part is a lot of those adults probably can’t do that for themselves. So you’re welcome to go and 12 year old owning the room and putting all the adults in notice.

Hillary  18:57  

They can’t because we did an experiment in our middle school and the staff couldn’t fill up the profile because they didn’t know what they need. So you don’t going to tell kids what they need a physician to tell them if you don’t know if you need to learn

Kathleen  19:10  

That’s so true. Right? So but I will tell you that parents love this as well because now they know that their kids can actually self advocate beyond that high school level. And this is the one skill that should be at the top of the heap, okay for every kid to gain okay. And but it’s a it’s a while and Anjali has been in special education for over 20 years. She says this is the best thing she’s ever done for kids in her career.

Hillary  19:40  

And we’re working with parent organizations to train them on the process and we’re really excited to be working. I’m from Maine. So we’re working with the main parent Federation, and the autism alliance of Maine in modifying and adapting the profile for kids with more significant disabilities including intellectual disabilities, autism and down syndrome to make it more accessible for that segment of the population and kids with more complex needs, even so we’re looking at kids who use augmentative and alternative communication, so that they have their own profile. 

Hillary  20:11  

And then when they enter school, even as early children, they have something or when they’re in school, the children are telling the teachers, this is me, this is who I am. And this is how I learn a genre that says,

Julie  20:24  

You know, it brings to mind that there’s so many preconceived notions, because our brains are always processing information so quickly and taking things in as soon as we see somebody else or enter a situation, and societal pressures to and peer pressure. And all of those things weigh so heavily on our hearts and our minds and our souls. And it’s difficult, once you’re assigned certain labels, to be able to overcome those labels if they don’t fit you. 

Julie  20:52  

But especially children, if they’re told something over and over, they just kind of assume that’s their truth. And that’s a very difficult thing to kind of overcome. And if you’re not aware that that, that that narrative is running in the background of your mind all the time, you’re doing things and you don’t even understand why, you know, you’re assuming that you’re not good at math, but you actually may be very good at math, you may just need a different tool like Hillary said, or a different process, you know, like what we’ve developed in order to just be able to unlock the key to your unique pattern. Right? There it is.

Hillary  21:28  

Yeah, that’s such a good point. It’s not always about the tech, sometimes it’s the technique. Yeah, you might be viewing a teaching technique that’s just not in alignment with, you know, that particular child or a group of children. And that’s where we love universal design for learning so much in that variability, because it proactively plans for that. So now we can give kids more than one way to do some things and honor that. And let kids choose the one that makes the most sense for them. 

Hillary  21:56  

You know, for math, I understand that you taught it this way. I got it, because the goals are the same. But the means to get to that goal are flexible. And their childhood, no learner centered. They’re not teacher directed. It’s not an it’s not an exercising compliance, that paradigm of power, and I’m the be all end all have expertise. Yes, it’s gone. And it’s about empire. So the paradigm from power to empower. And I know there’s some people don’t like that term, but I do because it puts, it puts action behind the power on the part of that particular learner. And what I want to do, and this is where the mindfulness has an intersection with that, because looking at our own ourselves, we know who we are. 

Hillary  22:42  

And we’re told by society, we’re not tired of it. And we need to just say, No, and say, You know what, collectively, humanity, you’re telling me who you are, I’m going to honor that, that’s who you are. You’re telling me this is who you are. That’s who you are. Okay, I can work with that. Now, let’s look at some tools, and some techniques, and some ways to help you understand the subject matter. Or maybe I need to make it more relevant, meaningful and engaging. And technology can be a great tool for that, because I can have some flexibility. 

Hillary  23:16  

Maybe I’m using some virtual reality, or some simulations or a technology, you know, curricular tool as a supplement that I can program in place, and put kids in, that either excels them or supports them, or gives them more time to practice something because we’re so fast paced and education on the piece of curriculum is debilitating, slow it down, please. Because that’s where mindfulness comes in. Again, I don’t have time to process what you’ve just taught me. 

Hillary  23:49  

So that’s why I don’t understand half of what I’ve just read, because I don’t have the time to process it. Because now we have to go on to the next thing, because the guide tells me that’s what you’re supposed to do. Who decided that was a good idea?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  23:59  


Julie  24:01  

And if you’re a child, this was me. I never wanted attention drawn to me in class. So I, there’s no way I was going to raise my hand and say, I didn’t understand teacher what you just said, I’m going to move on with right along with the class to the next thing because I don’t want to be looked at as stupid or, you know, I it’s just like, it brings up all those fears and insecurities. And most kids just are like, Okay, I’ll just figure it out later, or I must not be able to do this or you know, all that I can’t. Narrative starts in our heads. 

Julie  24:34  

And that’s a it’s just yeah, you’re exactly right, like, slow down. Our cups are only so big. There’s only so much any of us can take in especially little ones their brains aren’t developed yet, on any given day. So when we just keep pouring more and more in eventually that cup is going to overflow and it just spills all over the floor and we fall down.

Hillary  24:55  

We’re creating more kids who have more mental health issues and challenges than we ever have before. For him, that is a very dangerous place for us to be the amount of anxiety IEPs and five oh fours is scaring the living daylights out of me. What are we doing to our children? And especially the districts that are quote unquote, high performing? It’s even worse.

Julie  25:18  

Oh, yeah. Because the pressures on just to put those letter grades on paper, I know that people know what that child is behind it. And if they are healthy, if they are sleeping well at night, if they’re eating, okay? Or if they’re riddled with anxiety and feel overwhelmed, and you know, all of those things that you can see,

Hillary  25:38  

and you’ve just dropped their safety. Yes. And in this world right now, nobody feels safe. And so our hierarchy of needs are strict. So we’re not feeling safe. How are kids supposed to feel safe?

Julie  25:50  

Oh, no, you’re in the part of the brain that’s in fight flight or freeze? So yeah, no learning happens there. No higher level thinking happens there.

Hillary  25:58  

But yeah, we put more pressure on kids because we need to do it, because that’s what the scope and sequence and that’s what the standardized testing tells us we need to do. And no, you don’t have to do that.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  26:09  

And so many teachers would love to have time to build relationships and unpack the profiles, like, oh, my gosh, we have to teach to the test. And our school is getting graded and funded on this. So the whole system needs to say, wait a minute, for this to work is it’s not the teachers like, hey, I want it faster, they’re scrambling, I think so often, just to keep up with the expectations. They’re loaded down with.

Hillary  26:32  

It breaks my heart to see what teachers are experiencing right now, especially special education teachers and related service providers, my heart goes up to them. It is not sustainable. It is not safe, it is not okay. The power is being stripped from educators left, right, up and down, and administrators because of the system, and it needs to stop. And the system is this like nonspeaking thing that I can’t really quite define right now. 

Hillary  27:00  

But you know what it is, it’s like this really lucky cloud, that just as a joy kill, it’s taking the joy out of learning is taking the power out of kids. And it’s taking the power out of the people that have been trained to do the work. Because teaching is both an art and a science. And if we’re not an end, we have to teach the very good stuff. We’re not preparing teachers for that. And we’re not empowering teachers for that. And we’re keeping them small. How are we going to empower kids?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  27:27  

Absolutely. I want to shift and get to know a little bit about each of you, and then come back and end this with dreaming of where we want to head. So I do two written questions. And I’m going to shift to different ones of you so you can spread it around. Julie, can you think of the last book you read make a book recommendation for us?

Julie  27:52  

Ooh, yes, that’s a tricky question. Because I’m one of those people that usually has a whole handful of books I’m reading at the same time. I like to bop around. One that I’m in the middle of right now that I really love is called limitless by Jim quick. It’s a fascinating book about learning and unlocking your brain. And I really love it. And one that touches my heart a lot, actually is called Heart Talk, which is by Cleo Wade. And it’s um, it’s a book of poetry that’s really, really beautiful and also very empowering. So those, those are just two of a handful that I have in rotation.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  28:29  

Love it. And Hillary, who are two inspirational folks you’d love to meet.

Hillary  28:37  

Oh my God, just two

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  28:39  

I know aren’t I mean, perfect question for her. So come on, we’re okay. Okay. I’m supposed to be like, Okay, I’m not gonna I got it.

Hillary  28:51  

I would love to meet Judith human. And Haben Girma. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  28:56  

Tell us who they are.

Hillary  28:58  

So Judith human, I don’t know if you’ve, um, she has a book out called being human. She’s a disability rights advocate. And she was also featured in the film crip camp that is on Netflix, and it’s the most amazing film I’ve ever seen. I would love to meet her and just hear all of her stories about her activism. And just learn more about her as a human being. her autobiography was amazing. And I would just love to sit and have some tea or coffee or cookies or whatever you’d like with her and just hear her story. 

Hillary  29:33  

And Haben Girma and if I mispronounce her name, I apologize is a defense lawyer out of Harvard Graduate School, who speaks and she crafted her own assistive technology device in order to be understood, and I would love to learn more about her device in her experience. I read her autobiography too, and it was wonderful to read. If I’m working with the disability community, I want to know their stories. So I can just amplify and support, because they need to be heard. And they need to be part of our understanding as educators and as human beings.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  30:09  

Absolutely, that’s such an important message to be in that field. How do we go deeper into the individual experiences and not assume, as you said before, from our places of privilege? Definitely. Kathleen, the biggest thing you wish folks knew about UDL?

Kathleen  30:28  

Oh, well, well, I’ve been a believer of UDL since 1999. And what I saw in UDL was the power of that particular philosophy and approach in the classroom, and how it can be so empowering, when you can remove barriers to learning, and do it every day, in every moment. And UDL is really, really based upon, you know, the neurosciences and, and we’ve sort of taken it to sort of empower the learner. 

Kathleen  31:07  

But at the same time, it actually empowers the educator, as well. And it can be used by everyone. You see, a lot of times people confuse Universal Design for Learning to special education. It’s not, it’s really how to universally design your instruction, your environment, your learning environment, and your, your, basically your instructional design every day, and how it can really change the lives of kids. So I’ve sort of had this experience and personal experiences, where curriculum was not accessible to my own son, because he was dyslexic. 

Kathleen  31:50  

And the thing was, is that he just felt bad every day. And what Universal Design for Learning does, is really empowering. Again, the teacher and the learner in the classroom, so that learning becomes a part of that day. Because not all kids are really seeing themselves as learners. Right. And that’s the big challenge here. And one of the, you know, the core background to empower the learner and the work that I’ve done really, over actually, over the last years, really is to empower the learner, and the educator. 

Kathleen  32:29  

So that, that kids actually are learning and are seen as learners, and they see themselves as learners. And that’s, that’s the big challenge, you know, in education is that our whole self perception about who we are in that classroom, can change in your awareness actually change that whole environment?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  32:50  

Yes, thank you. That is super. I wrap up with what I call my magic wand moment. And it’s like so fun. I want to have each of you respond separately, because I think that you’re going to come at it from wonderful, different perspectives. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  33:06  

So, Julie, if you had a magic wand, and could change anything about how students how schools, how we create an embed and body mindfulness awareness, what would you wish for our school culture in the way of mindfulness?

Julie  33:28  

Hmm, that’s a very good question. I would have to say that we put love and humanity first above achievement and all other things. Because, yes, achievement is important. And it you know, creates wonderful things in our world. But I think when you’re always coming from a place of love for yourself, for your fellow human being for every little thing around you, it just, it opens you up to a place of gratitude and a much softer, more open space when that’s the priority.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  34:08  

Ah, yes, yes. Putting loving humanity first cue imagine how our government how our world how our climate, yes, yes, yes. And yes, yes,

Julie  34:23  

yes. It gives me goosebumps to even think of that.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  34:26  

Oh, ha. Kathleen, how about you if you had a magic wand, and every learner in school could be empowered? What would you use your magic wand so you could make it so that every learner were empowered in schools?

Kathleen  34:44  

Well, you know, the empowerment of kids is really that positive self talk about who they are and you know, how they learn what they can aspire to be because I think that one of the things that we don’t really talk a lot about About this whole idea of a self image, you know, and how you perceive, and that, that positive self talk that you’re okay. And it’s okay that I learned this way versus that way. 

Kathleen  35:12  

And it’s not something that’s disabling, see, because we want kids to know that every, every child needs to be looked at, in such a way that they are a learner first, okay? That they understand who they are, how they learn, and that they can really take action around their learning. And that, that every child is different in unique, and everyone’s okay with that. 

Kathleen  35:43  

So, I would love to see, you know, an educational culture where every child is valued, seen and heard, and actually can act around their learning and to have that, you know, again, a positive self image. Because, and, and have positive self talk, saying, wow, look what I can do. And, you know, because when kids are not are talking, you know, in negative ways of themselves, which happens all the time, that, you know, that has impact on the long term. And in really their mental state. Okay.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  36:18  


Kathleen  36:19  

Oh, if I could, you know, you know, sort of have that one I want kids to, you know, realize their hopes and dreams, and know how to get there.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  36:29  

Ah, yes, realize their hopes and dreams and know how to get there. Uh, huh. And Hillary magic wand is being passed to you. Technology, learning, what would you wish for so that every learner were completely empowered.

Hillary  36:52  

But I would want people to be less afraid of technology. And I would want people to understand that when you are limiting the use of assistive technology, by using inaccessible materials, you’re being discriminatory and that you are diminishing the potential of another human being, whether you mean to do it or not. And that when you know better, you do better. And so that I hope people are more open minded and look at their own mindsets around it from a place of love. And understand that fun, it can be really fun and joyful. 

Hillary  37:37  

When you see a look on a kid’s face, and they can now write a whole story, and can tell their story, using System dictation or using word prediction, or they can actually tell their nurse that they need a pillow using meditative and Alternative Communication independently, or can tell their nurse that they need to be repositioned, or that they’re all done, or that they want to listen to a particular song. That’s it. It’s about honor. And it is about love. 

Hillary  38:19  

That those acts of removing those barriers are acts of love. As we’ve learned from me analysis, they are acts of love. That’s what I want people enough.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  38:31  

Wow, thank you, you three, just fill my heart because it’s not about all of this educational ease and this and that. It’s about human dignity, love, respect, empowerment. And that you’re all saying that and with different nuances is beautiful. I am so grateful for the work that you do. And for your time today on this podcast. Thank you so much for joining us.

Julie  39:00  

Thank you so much, Maureen. This has been wonderful.

Hillary  39:03  

Thank you for having us.

Kathleen  39:05  

Yeah, thank you so much, Maureen. This is we need to sort of spread this message out to the world.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  39:13  


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  39:23  

Listeners You should have heard the conversation that happened after we ended the recording. Talk about passionate advocates for our learners. I want to have a regular online coffee with these three. The overarching message of playing districts and empowering students with the tools they need to own their learning came through from all three. Julie reminding us to put love and humanity first was a mic drop for me. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  39:54  

Our planet would be so much better if this were our driving force. plane focusing on what skills are needed. And the students developing a plan based on their strengths and needs is so much better than looking at supports a kid needs, we need to put the student in the driver’s seat. And Hillary reminding us that technology can remove barriers. And when we use one method only to access learning that we are discriminating was powerful. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  40:29  

There are many tools available that can shift us from teacher power to student empowerment. I will definitely be talking to this trio more, and putting them on LinkedIn live conversations with me. If I can help your organization become more inclusive, or create school communities that are empowering, please reach out to me. Thank you for being a part of the education evolution.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  41:05  

If you are finding yourself thinking, I need to do this in my school. Let’s talk about it. I consult and also have a book TEDx talk an online course to support starting learner driven schools and programs. My goal is to help schools and individuals find new innovative solutions to reaching every student. Let’s create an action plan together. Visit educationevolution.org/consult to book a call and let’s get started. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  41:42  

Education Evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. I’d be so grateful if you’d head over to your podcast app to give a great rating and review if you found this episode valuable. Don’t wait. Please do it right now before you forget. I really appreciate it. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  42:13  

Thank you listeners. signing off. This is Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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