Reflections from Empower 19

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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!


Intentions for the New Year

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With it being the New Year, everyone is taking the time to reflect and create new resolutions. I’ve seen lots of One Word posts or 19 for 2019 lists. While these may work for some people, I’m not sure they’re perfect for me. Maybe it’s because I constantly have to-do lists of small goals or tasks I would like to complete. Maybe it’s the yogi in me who likes to think in the form of intentions, short mantras that speak to me in the moment. They’re like One Word or phrases, but they could potentially change or evolve over the year. Here’s a blog post about using intentions vs. resolutions. It describes how an intention is in the form of a commitment rather than a resolution, which focuses on big or small changes.

Throughout the past few months, with changes personally and professionally, I did a lot of reflecting in general. How do I want to act and be seen in a new school environment? How can I learn what I need to in order to be the best teacher I can? How can I best use my free time? How can I best balance my personal and professional responsibilities?

Over the New Year, I saw this quote posted on Instagram:


This is what I’m going to follow each day of 2019. What do I want my story to be? I’m the author, and I’m in control of my story. If I don’t like where it’s headed, I can veer off course. If one chapter ends poorly, a new one will begin.

Here’s to a great 2019. Happy New Year everyone!

Thoughts from Winnie the Pooh

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Winnie the Pooh and his friends were a childhood classic favorite of mine, and I love that they are still popular and relevant today! I was excited for the new Christopher Robin movie to come out, and some of the reviews reminded me of some of the best qualities of Pooh. After seeing the movie (which I recommend!), I came up with a list of lessons or reminders that are qualities Pooh and his friends exhibit. These are useful to remember, especially as we’re heading to the start of a new school year. (I promise-no spoilers!)

  • Find Students’ Motivation

While walking around London, Pooh got very excited when he saw balloons and had Christopher Robin buy him one. He held onto it the entire train ride and when returning to the 100 Acre Woods. He said the balloon made him happy. He also asked Christopher Robin if his work briefcase made him as happy as a balloon.

It’s important that we learn about our students-what are their personal interests and what motivates them. Then, it’s our job as educators to find ways to incorporate these into the classroom-whether it be during discussions (how was your weekend?) or examples during lessons. We want students to learn, so we should find ways to engage and motivate them!

  • Incorporate Play

Christopher Robin’s life is consumed by work, so he doesn’t have time to play anymore. Until others show him, he doesn’t realize he misses being silly, role-playing, or running around with his friends. He also doesn’t realize that his daughter just wants to play and have fun with him. Pooh and his friends want to spend all their time playing in the 100 Acre Woods.

School should be fun. If it’s all work, students will find it boring and tune out (even adults will). Find time to take brain breaks between activities, incorporate games into classes, have down time or recess. If you incorporate games or play into learning activities, students may not even know they are learning!!

  • Be Flexible

Pooh and his friends are creative and willing to try new things at time (well, maybe Piglet and Eeyore need some encouragement). Christopher Robin’s focus is to find a solution for his work dilemma. He is focused on the outcome but gets stuck on his path getting there.

A day at school is never as expected-that’s one of my favorite parts! Something always happens to make it exciting, adventurous, even frustrating at times. But if you stay focused on the positives and your goals, you’ll be able to find a solution. If you’re willing to be flexible-maybe a lesson goes too long or short, maybe you get off topic for whatever reason, maybe you need to play a game or incorporate some team building, that is okay. As long as you make baby steps towards the ultimate goals, you can see progress and know that you will get there, just maybe on a different path (or as Pooh would say “I get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been”

  • Stay in the Moment

At one point Pooh asks Christopher Robin what day it is, which he responds, “Today”. Pooh then says, “My favorite day. Yesterday, when it was tomorrow, it was too much day for me”.

Pooh definitely embodies a character who lives in the moment. Every day is a new beginning, and we need to treat it that way. Whatever frustrations (or successes) happened yesterday, give each student a fresh chance at the beginning of the day. If you’re feeling frustrated or stressed from something, leave it in the car or at the door, so your focus at school is school. I know when I’m constantly looking ahead to everything I need to do or things coming up, I miss what’s happening in the moment and don’t enjoy it!

So let’s appreciate the “Todays” and act more like Winnie the Pooh!

My Mantra for 2017

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It’s the beginning of 2017, time to reflect and set resolutions.  For the past few years, I’ve had similar resolutions-things I want to think about and be conscious of throughout the year.  Recently, I’ve seen more people setting mantras than resolutions.  Having practiced yoga the past few years and really becoming connected in the past 6 months, this resonates more with me.  My instructors set an intention each practice, and I try to bring these ideas off the mat into my every day life.

So while some have been setting mantras for the year, I’ve been trying to think what mine will be.  But I’ve also realized that what resonates with me now, may not be the same intention I need in a week, a month, halfway through the year…so I’ve also decided that I’m going to set a mantra now, but know that it may change over time.

I was trying to figure out what mantra I would start with.  While at yoga the other day, my instructor was helping us focus on our own practice and not worry what people were doing around the room.  He often encourages us to take modifications and listen to our bodies while we practice.  So he kept repeating throughout class, “Right here, Right now”.  While continuing flowing, I also thought, “This is it!”

My first mantra of 2017 is “Right Here, Right Now”.  My focus will be on what I’m doing in the moment and enjoying it.  Not thinking about what already happened or my to-do list, or what events or deadlines are coming up.  When I continue thinking about the future or past, I don’t enjoy the present.

What’s your mantra?




Tell All Tuesday-Summer Recharge

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Another Tuesday, another blog post!  Today’s theme is Summertime Recharge.  The school year is so busy with lesson planning, teaching, meetings, grading that it’s hard to find time to slow down and relax!  The summer is a perfect time to step back, relax, and recharge to be ready for another great school year!

I like to:

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I try to do yoga throughout the year as a way to exercise and stress relief.  During the summer, I have more choices of classes and can take them throughout the day.  This summer, I decided to do Yoga Teacher Training to get certified to teach.  I have taken 3 training classes a week to learn how to teach, the history, anatomy-it’s a lot of information!  Additionally, I have taken a ton of classes and learned a lot about myself and my body.

The summer is a perfect time to read.  During the year, I try to read at night, but sometimes I’m too exhausted.  I’ve been able to read throughout the day and have added to my yearly total.  I’ve been able to read more books than just my monthly book club book as well!

I love being outside when the weather is warm!  Whether it’s taking a walk, eating on a patio, or sitting on the pool deck relaxing or reading, it’s perfect!

Join in the fun-how do you recharge over the summer?

Tell All Tuesday-Summer Snapshot

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I’m so glad to be participating again in Tell All Tuesday (even if I’m a couple days late-it’s summer!).  This week’s theme is Summer Snapshot-Where is a fun place you have gone, activity you have done, or something special that has happened this summer?


When I saw that this week’s theme was Summer Snapshot, I immediately knew what to write about!


In June, I got engaged!!  I was not expecting it when he proposed-he was teasing me that he wasn’t proposing for a few more months; he definitely threw me off!  He proposed at the White Sox game in a sky box-our family held signs that read Karen, will you marry me?  It was so sweet having our families involved, and I loved their creativity in creating the signs!  IMG_0005

Now’s the fun in beginning to plan! We’ve been looking at venues, and are close to making a choice and setting a date!


Tell All Tuesday-2 Truths and a Lie


IMG_8031 (1)I have been meaning to get back into writing blog posts, and have struggled with what to write about.  I’m excited to participate in this summer’s Tell All Tuesday to meet and connect with other bloggers and help myself write weekly blog posts.

To start the summer off, we’re going to play Two Truths and a Lie to get to know each other.  Here we go.IMG_80301. I am obsessed with pandas.  I have visited 3/4 zoos in the United States and have seen cubs twice.

2. I love traveling, but have never been out of the United States.  I have been to around 30 states and would love to go abroad someday.

3. I have a dog named Smores.  She is the quietest dog because she whines rather than barks!

Play along by posting in the comments which one you think is the lie-I’ll share in 3 days.


Have fun!

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