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Shelley smiling and looking into the distance



Creating Access for all Students

Like many others, Shelley didn’t feel like she fit into the educational system she grew up in. After a convoluted educational journey, Shelley finally received her bachelor’s degree in special education (University of Alberta), then promptly hopped on a Greyhound bus and moved to NYC to kick off her teaching career. After two years of teaching in New York, Shelley moved again, making a home in Vancouver, BC,  as a resource support teacher for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


On Canada's west coast, Shelley received her master's (Simon Fraser University) and Ph.D. (University of British Columbia), which focused on learning about and researching inclusive education theory and practices. Her award-winning Ph.D. dissertation investigated how to support teachers to increase access to secondary grade-level academic curriculum for students with intellectual disabilities. She now draws from her experience as a student, teacher, and researcher to advocate and promote inclusion and equity for all learners.


The Power of Universal Design and Strength-Based Perspectives

If you ask Shelley, bowling can change education.

She uses bowling as a metaphor for inclusive teaching. Think of the ball as our plan and the pins as the students. Instead of aiming for the middle pins, professional bowlers aim for the outside pins. This creates a bigger domino effect and knocks down more pins with one ball. We can use bowling to help us understand a powerful inclusive approach: Universal Design for Learning (UDL)—by adjusting our approach and aiming for the students that are hardest to reach, we can meet the needs of more students.

Inclusion is not a destination.

Being inclusive means taking deliberate actions every day that reflect commitments to presuming competence, ensuring student agency, responding to student needs, and building identity-forming communities. This is a very different approach than the educational legacies still lingering for many students with disabilities, which often focuses on deficits, separate and self-contained spaces, and a lack of access to grade-level curriculum and high quality instruction, especially as students grow older.

All students can learn—even if it looks different or sounds different than we expect.

Understanding that all students can access and grow within any and all contexts is a mindset that relies on strength-based perspectives. Ability takes many forms, and everyone has something to offer. Believing and trusting in the strengths and abilities of all students enables us to find different ways to connect to and teach anyone, especially when we work together and rely on the rich expertise of the students, their families, educators and support staff, and leaders in our schools and communities.

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