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!

 

Yoga: Letting Go and Trying Something New

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Last week, I went to yoga expecting my normal class.  To my surprise, class was cancelled due to an arm balance and inversion workshop.  Since I was there, I decided to go for it, with a little hesitation.  I’ve gained strength doing yoga, but still struggle with balances and being comfortable being upside down.  As I walked into the crowded room, I assumed I’d be the only one who couldn’t do a headstand.

Luckily, the workshop started off slowly with warmups and more basic postures.  I decided to give everything a try because what did I have to lose?!  As the workshop continued and the instructor demonstrated inversions and more advanced positions, I realized others were giving the same looks of bewilderment and I was not alone in beginning inversions.  Everyone gave her best effort, with some falling and laughter along the way.

By the end of the workshop, I had done a pike headstand independently, and a full headstand and handstand with someone spotting me.  I’m capable of doing it, I just need to figure out where my body should be independently to balance.  I was proud of my efforts.

As a new school is about to begin, I think of bringing this same mindset to my new role.  As a special education teacher, I’ll be working with a variety of students at different ability levels.  They will need to learn new skills and be supported along the way.  They will be given modifications, not to make things easier, but to help them be successful at their level.  As time goes on, they will be given challenges as well.  This will allow them to grow, learn, and build self-confidence.  Then, hopefully, they will feel balanced and proud of their efforts as well.

The Power of We: PLCs

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teamLast week, I had an amazing opportunity of 2 days of Professional Development provided by my school district to learn how to become better and stronger PLCs (Professional Learning Communities).  There were so many ideas and information presented to us as we learned what makes up a PLN and how some of these ideas can be applied to make us better teachers.

The presentations gave me many opportunities to reflect and ask questions: What aspects of a PLC do we already do well?  What are some components we need to implement or do better?  How can we change the schedule to better utilize our time and resources to become a stronger Team?  When will we start this process?

 

I was able to also reflect on how lucky I am to be working in a welcoming and strong school.  As an assistant, the first grade team has welcomed my knowledge and experiences as an additional resource; I know what is going on with the schedule, help plan lessons and activities, and share my observations and suggestions.  The support team has also welcomed me and been appreciative of the assistance I’ve provided in the classroom and data I’ve collected for specific students.  We meet and collaborate often to continue supporting students and best meet their needs.  Slowly, these teams are becoming more aware of creating common assessments and collecting data.  While we have a lot of strengths, there are still areas we can improve; with everyone working together, brainstorming, trying new assessments, analyzing data, and providing additional teacher, I am confident we will be able to get better and stronger.

 

Also, I have continued to realize the strong PLN I have connecting with others via Twitter.  I have access to many articles and blogs, can ask questions, share my ideas, and participate in chats when possible.  I have learned a lot and gathered ideas I have used or want to try in the future in my classroom.  I have also participated in three EdCamps, where I have met some of the people I communicate with in person and have continued learning and growing.  I’m grateful to everyone I have connected with and learned from.

 

PLCs and PLNs are powerful tools that have helped me become a stronger teacher and learn ideas I never would have created on my own.  I can’t wait to see what the future brings as we continue working together and becoming stronger.