I began my career as a special education teacher in Kentucky. From my first group of students and from my principal at the time, I learned the importance of holding high expectations in the classroom while also giving students strong supports and guidance to meet those expectations. It was a lesson that helped shape much of my career.
Since then, special education has always held a special place in my heart. I have to admit that I’m a little biased when it comes to special education teachers. I know that many of them, quietly day-in and day-out in their classrooms, push themselves to think about instruction differently—to continually learn and innovate to meet the diverse and unique learning needs of their students.
The professional development offered by my district was not always enough for me. I felt the need to see more, create more. I was looking for a community.Elizabeth SteinElizabeth Stein is one such teacher. Elizabeth teaches special education in an inclusion setting at Nesaquake Middle School in Smithtown, NY. A 20-year veteran, Elizabeth has taught at the elementary, middle, and college levels, is nationally board certified, coordinates her district’s mentor teacher program, and enjoys creating and facilitating professional development in her district.
Elizabeth also actively pursues her own professional learning and shares her expertise through social media and online communities. “The professional development offered by my district was not always enough for me,” she explains. “I felt the need to see more, create more. I was looking for a community.”
Elizabeth first became connected with other teachers online through the National Board Professional Teaching Standards process after she became Nationally Board Certified. She joined online discussions that were open to other NBCT’s and then became involved in a teacher virtual community called The Collaboratory.
“I’m drawn to online communities because the opportunities for learning and sharing are endless. I can branch out and then bring ideas and strategies back to my school and district,” Elizabeth continues. “With the Collaboratory, it could be two o’clock in the morning and I can get online and put my idea out to other teachers. I can go back and know I’ll get a response from another teacher. It is a perfect way to have constant, ongoing professional development and reflection.”
Writing helps me sift through deep ideas. It makes me more organized, more proactive. The blog also invites other teachers to give their perspectives. Their comments help to push my thinking in other directions that I can bring back to classroom.Elizabeth SteinElizabeth authors a monthly blog at MiddleWeb, a website dedicated to grades 4-8. Aptly named Two Teachers in the Room, Elizabeth’s blog focuses on encouraging general education and special education teachers to collaborate in meaningful ways, both in and outside of the classroom. Her posts range from looking at co-teaching models, to supporting the implementation of the Common Core, to parents and inclusion classrooms. Her pieces are often picked up and circulated by Council for Exceptional Children's (CEC) SmartBrief and Accomplished Teacher from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
“We need to take care of ourselves as teachers. Part of the way I do that is to reflect,” says Elizabeth. “Writing helps me sift through deep ideas. It makes me more organized, more proactive. The blog also invites other teachers to give their perspectives. Their comments help to push my thinking in other directions that I can bring back to classroom.”
Elizabeth is also an avid user of Twitter, which, in her words, she “uses to focus on elevating the instruction of general and special education teachers in helping both meet the needs of all students.” She posts her thoughts almost daily at @ElizabethLStein and leads #udlchat, a bi-monthly conversation she co-founded about implementing Universal Design for Learning strategies. She also created the hashtag #coteachat and leads a monthly discussion about co-teaching in which she posits questions about inclusion classrooms and solicits responses, questions, and solutions from colleagues across the country.
Elizabeth reflects, “Social media is so interesting because it levels the playing field. You can have teachers, authors, and national leaders all collaborating, and it seems so natural. Before, it would have ‘wowed’ me and have seemed almost surreal. The ability to collaborate in these ways has strengthened my teaching and strengthened my voice—both in the national arena and in my district.”