Teaching and Leadership Philosophy

aturner UDL drawing
Turner, Alison. (2015). UDL Self Reflection [image].
“What lessons do we want? What are we teaching? What world will we create by the education we provide?” Mara Sapon-Shevin (2007) poses these questions in her book “Widening the Circle: The Power of Inclusive Classrooms” which helped guide my educational teaching philosophy. These questions drive providing all learners the best possible opportunities to achieve their potential which ultimately can impact the world in a positive ripple effect. Learners who are guided in critical thinking, innovation, and empathy will hopefully make informed choices, ask questions, take positive action when they see injustices and innovate better ways of being in the world. To achieve this goal, relationships are the root of all leadership, and the stem of a strong educational experiences. One needs to practice active listening and simply taking the time to get to know people as human beings as foundational to the following educational goals:

Social and emotional learning. We are educating and leading human beings and to help foster confident and empathetic humans requires trust and a safe and caring environment. To help accomplish this, we should strive to attend to the whole person. A safe and nurturing environment is the key to elevating resiliency, diversity, and celebrating achievements. We must endeavor for people to feel safe, seen, heard, respected and celebrated.

Collaboration. What experiences and knowledge do learners bring to the table? How can we build upon this knowledge? One should actively seek out partnerships to learn, build, and co-curate together with the goal to empower those we serve. Seeking frequent feedback and co-designing visions and goals, and learning experiences supports a democratic space and provides teams with a common purpose.

Learning through meaningful experiences. Learning should be relevant and applicable to the real world and meaningful to the learner. With respect for what learners bring from their personal life experience, and how we make learning interesting and engaging for learners, we hopefully facilitate the acquisition of life-long learning skills. Learners should engage in real-world, hands-on learning experiences that matter to them. Please see an example of integrating Inquiry within my classroom here.

Creativity and Innovation. Lastly, we need to appreciate that the world is continually changing and requires practitioners to iterate best practices. Thus, by engaging to continually learn we can apply knowledge to improve learning in our ever-changing world. We must encourage mistakes, trying, wonder, and innovation to drive learning by design. All learners and educators deserve the best possible opportunities to achieve their best selves and this involves continually learning and embracing change. Our schools deserve leaders who will find potential in learners, staff, and processes. To do so, we must continually reflect back to driving questions of “What lessons do we want? How and why are we teaching? What world will we create by the education that we provide?” Please see examples of Design Thinking used as a tool within my classroom here.

Working Philosophy

The Arts as a tool for learning & expression. I believe the Arts…

  • Foster a sense of interconnectedness with others. Art is often created for “an audience”. Thus fostering, what Wolf (1998) calls an exchange & response. Art can often open dialogue between peers, community and home which increases a sharing of perspectives (Greene, 2003; Jensen, 2003; Glass, Meyer & Rose, 2013).
  • Helps a learner create a “product” representing the conceptual structure of knowledge (Alberta Regional Consortia, 2014; Jensen, 2003) as part of UDL and DI learning strategies.
  • Encourages imagination & exploration of ideas through materials (play & purpose).
  • Fosters cross-curricular integration if a learner has access to multiple means of representing their ideas (CAST, 2014) in any subject and fosters increased understanding in other domains (Fiske, 1999). For example, a learner can create a painting to express their feelings and ideas regarding studying the Holocaust in Social Studies (Wolf, 2008).
  • Promotes learner choice (Mason, Steedly & Thorman, 2008; Wolf, 2008). “There are not so many “right” answers as there are multiple, effective, powerful, or stunning ones. Think of all the ways there are to create a portrait […] But to realize a powerful solution or new version means making choices about what to say and how to say it.” (Wolf, 2008, p.7).
  • Inspires a democratic learning environment where students are active participants in personal expression, choice and voice (Mason, Steedly & Thorman, 2008).

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 7.39.45 AM
Airdrie Echo (2009). Student art project celebrates world peace [online image]. Retrieved from http://www.airdrieecho.com/2009/09/23/student-project-celebrates-peace
My other thoughts on Education:

During year one of my Master of Education program, I collaborated with three educators to develop a research based Grade 4 cross-curricular unit shown here on this group created website: Grade 4 Learning through STEAM

My thoughts  on Physical Space Design  & why Learning Spaces Matter & Living a Responsive Curriculum

Video Clip of “Rocky Talks” Visual Arts Community of Practice


Alberta Regional Consortia. (n.d). Visual Thinking Tools. Learning Technologies: Information for Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.learningtechnologiesab.com/learn-more4.html

Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST). (2013). What is Universal Design for Learning? About UDL. Wakefield, MA. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/udl/index.html

Fiske, E. B. (1999). Champions of change: The impact of the arts on learning. Retrieved from http://artsedge.kennedycenter.org/champions/pdfs/ChampsReport.pdf

Glass, Don & Meyer, Anne & Rose, David H. (2013). Universal Design for Learning and the Arts. Harvard Educational Review, 83(1), 98-120.

Greene, Maxine. (1995). Chapter 2: Imagination, Breakthroughs, and the Unexpected. Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change (pp. 17-31). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Jensen, Eric. (2003). Chapter 3: Visual Arts. Arts with the brain in mind (pp. 49-70). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Mason, C. Y., Steedly, K. M., & Thormann, M. S. (2008). Impact of arts integration on voice, choice, and access. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, 31(1), 36-46.

Minner, D. D., Levy, A. J., & Century, J. (2010). Inquiry‐based science instruction—what is it and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984 to 2002. Journal of research in science teaching, 47(4), 474-496.

Sapon-Shevin, M. (2007). Widening the circle: The power of inclusive classrooms. Beacon Press.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann & McTighe, Jay. (2006). Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

Wolf, Dennie Palmer. (2008). Building and Evaluating “Freedom Machines”: When Is Arts Education a Setting for Equitable Learning? The Contours of Inclusion: Frameworks and Tools for Evaluating Arts in Education (pp. 4-15). Washington, DC: VSA Arts. Retrieved from http://www.kennedycenter.org/education/vsa/resources/VSA_evaluation_pub.pdf