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I was excited to attend my first education conference, ASCD Empower 19 a few weeks ago in Chicago.  It worked perfectly being in my backyard of Chicago and was able to go with a few other educators from the school I teach at.  This reflection is delayed because I got sick after the conference and then it was spring break!  Thinking about the speakers and presentations I was able to attend, here are 5 themes I came up with from the conference:

1. Build Relationships

It’s important to build relationships with both colleagues and students.  As a special education teacher, I need to work with a variety of teachers and therapists to support all the students.  It’s important to get to know colleagues on a personal level (say hi in the hallways, learn about their lives outside of school) as well as professional.  One of my goals for the upcoming year is to co-teach more.  It’s hard not being a “visitor” in someone else’s classroom.  But if I’m only in there for a limited time each day supporting students, it’s important to use that time wisely.  When we build relationships as colleagues, we can plan together and use our strengths to benefit all students.  It’s also important to get to know students.  They love when you show an interest in their lives outside of school.  At an elementary level, they often want to please their teachers, but it’s still important to have them trust you.  Also, we should be their cheerleaders.  We should celebrate their successes but also continue to cheer them on when struggles happen. Brian Mendler described that as kids are learning to walk, we cheer and get excited when they fall.  They stand up and try again.  We need to continue doing that in education.

2. Take Risks

In Ron Clark’s keynote, he described how most people act like “bread”-they go with the status quo and aren’t willing to try something new.  The world is changing and we should be “like pizza” and be engaging and innovative!  He also described how there is a slide in the middle of his school.  Can you imagine?  We should all slide into new ideas, be willing to take risks, and be passionate rather than run the other way.  I’ve followed the #tlap movement the past few years and try to participate in chats and read inspirational books when I have a moment!  It’s amazing what teachers across the country are doing in their classrooms.  And if we have fun teaching, students will have fun learning!

3. Make Connections

Similar to building relationships, we have to make sure students are connected with their learning and understand the why.  Hands on learning increases engagement.  I remember lessons from elementary school that would be considered inquiry learning now.  I incorporate videos, technology, visuals, and manipulatives as often as possible.  If students can connect with their learning, they will better understand and remember it.  Making learning visual allows visual learners to “see” what’s happening.  Using real-life and relevant examples excites students to learn.  Isn’t that the goal??

4. Use Purposeful Language

Often, educators are quick to be negative.  Maybe it’s because of outside pressure in the system currently, but we have to be positive for our students.  We have to see the best in others.  Even the frustrating students have positive qualities and moments throughout the day or week.  We should be inclusive, rather than exclusive.  We should inspire others, rather than categorize or limit them.  We need to adapt or differentiate material so everyone can participate.  This is part of our job.  While it’s time consuming, isn’t it worth it when your students are excited they learned something new?!  We also may need to explicitly teach expectations.  Students come from different backgrounds and experiences so they may not know the rules or specific vocabulary.  Spending time to explicitly teach and practice will help them learn social norms and be successful in the long term.

5. Be Flexible

I’ve learned to always expect the unexpected.  That doesn’t mean it’s less frustrating, but it helps you go with the flow and continue moving forward.  After a great day 1, I woke up sick after catching a bug and had to miss day 2 of the conference.  I had planned my day with what sessions I wanted to attend and some of the speakers I was really excited to see.  Unfortunately, my bed was the only place I went.  As frustrating as it was (and I thought about going late) I knew I needed to regain my energy in order to be successful at work later in the week.  Things don’t always go as expected during a lesson, a student’s behavior, or some other surprise thrown our way, but how we react makes such a difference.  We can take a minute to be personally upset, frustrated, angry, whatever but how we react towards students and colleagues makes such a difference.  I’ve learned as a special education teacher that being flexible is one of the keys to daily success!

I’m sure I could add more to this list (and could have if I attended Day 2!) but I feel these themes are important to remember and reflect upon.  I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and grow with others!

 

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