We All Have Special Needs

Co-Teaching: Transitions from Online Learning Back into Classrooms

Stability and security are essential despite where and how students are learning. Whether the teaching and learning occurs in person or at home, co-teachers collaboratively ensure productivity. Some co-teachers are walking into a teacher’s room together or now grabbing a cup of coffee from their own kitchens, or the local coffee shop. Both students and co-teachers are also transitioning back and forth from kitchens to classrooms. The “school norms” include “home norms” for a combination of co-taught environments.  Sometimes co-teachers are in a room with students seated at their desks as they socially distance next to their peers, while some co-teachers and students are trying to quiet their dogs while learning or co-teaching with devices in break out rooms during online parallel lessons. An IEP that states a student needs increased proximity is being redefined in remote learning! Students are often sharing a computer with a sibling as they are “in class” at home alongside a parent for part of the week and in school learning for other days.  Some co-teachers are also juggling how to support their own children who are learning remotely from home.  Some parents or caregivers and spouses are also commuting to a job during the school hours.

The variables include being in a school building for part of the day or week in limited numbers, wearing masks, and following arrows on the floor that indicate which direction to walk. Some students in the same class are opening up their lockers and some students are opening up links. Different plans and settings are juggled by students and their families, school administrators, special and general education teachers and their families, and legislators who are trying to prepare for next, when some of the next pages are not yet written. Co-teachers still plan together to ensure students achieve the K-12 standards, but they also co-offer empathy and compassion for students and families who respectively have more or less on their plates-literally and figuratively than missing the due date for an online or in person assignment. Administrators are also collaborative players who need to provide guidelines and set protocols. This is often easier to do on paper, than in real or virtual times in co-taught platforms. The next chart offers an overview of how co-teachers and school staff can transition back to classrooms as partners with each other and as advocates for their students. Today, no matter what your age, if you are a “creature of habit” who feels more comfortable doing the same thing, you require adaptability skills. Students with special needs can succeed during tough times, but not without the preparation, encouragement, models, and expectations outlined. Co-teachers need to partner with each other, administrators, related staff, and their shared students and families. Today, we all have special needs, but individually and collaboratively we also have many strengths!

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Writing Strategy: Easy as ABC’s!

Often when you ask students to write something, the first  question they ask is “How many words?” This PPT offers an organized way for students to house vocabulary across the curriculum with A-Z listing. You are invited to apply this strategy to your curriculum and learners! The attached powerpoint offers more explanation and curriculum application.



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Celebrate Successes!

Celebrate Successes!

It’s easy to complain, shake heads in disbelief, and be sad when presented with the unknown. Been there, done that! As I watch the daily news briefings and venture outside wearing a mask and Latex gloves to walk the dog, I could easily be consumed by frustration, sadness, anxiety, and uncertainty. However, when I notice the geese hanging out in the river and the kids who scoot by on the walkway riding their bikes, I am reminded that we live in a beautiful world. Although we don’t always choose personal and professional events, let’s collectively see beyond the pitfalls and uncertainties and find the time to “celebrate the successes.”

Find Silver Linings

Before COVID-19, one of my husband’s friends joked about my ridiculous work schedule by asking “Where’s Waldo Karten off to this week?” Now, that I’m home more, I’m not lost in that crowd that surrounded Waldo. Good thing, because ‘Waldo’ is the antithesis of the six feet apart mantra that the medical experts recommend. So, by traveling less for professional development, I can be introspective, creative, nostalgic, and hone my social distancing skills. The silver lining is that I have more time to read, write, paint, cook, explore a new tech tool, watch a new Netflix series, and soak up some memorabilia. I host a video book club, conduct online PD for families and teachers, write books, and attend WW Zoom meetings. The best thing happened when my husband brought home a suitcase, he found in our storage unit that was filled with old pictures and love letters that my mom and dad wrote to each other in the 1940s, while he was a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Since I no longer have my brothers and parents beside me today, I viewed this suitcase filled with photos, letters, and school albums as their way of saying, “Hi, we’re thinking of you.” Under different times, we never would have reconnected.

Students with Exceptionalities

The silver lining also connects to online instruction for students with exceptionalities. Distractions from other students are lessened, students on the spectrum who were upset by fire drills are no longer faced with that trigger, learners have flexibility on time requirements to complete work, and bullies have no one to bother in the hallway or at lunch. General and special educators who co-teach can still plan together to instruct the whole class by splitting the screen as hosts, or work with video chats and online platforms with cooperative groups and individual students for practice, remediation, and enrichment. Teletherapy is offered for speech and OT, and emotional check-ins are valued. Some students are even thriving. Yes, some learners will regress and lose skills, and some families are overwhelmed. However, the silver lining is that some children will gain other skills, such as how to do yard work, make a bed, and tutor a sibling in math. Families are spending time together playing games, telling jokes, and getting to know each other again.



Success includes an accomplishment of a desired aim. We have successfully forged ahead, without a “pandemic playbook.” I am certain that prosperity will follow. The rain here in New Jersey literally has finally stopped, just as I complete this post. Looking forward to a beautiful night. Onward.

Posted in #Co-Vid-19-2020Strong, #Rethinking-Inclusion, co-teaching strategies, Collaboration, COVID Home Strategies, Help Don't Enable, Home Schooling, Inclusion Collaboration, Inclusion: Families Partnering with Educators, KartenInclusiveThoughts-Covid-19, multi-tiered systems of support, online learning, Student Connections, Successes of Students with Disabilities | Tagged | Comments Off on Celebrate Successes!

Staying on Target

There’s no rule book on how to simultaneously tackle a lost job, how to educate children at home, pay bills, and stay healthy and sane amidst a pandemic. New realities warrant plausible solutions to stay on target to achieve goals.

Yes, there are challenges, however there are also creative and evidence-based strategies and interventions. These five tips offer ways to circumvent negativity, stagnation, instability, regression, and depression. Yes, we hate it all, but onward, please!

Tip One: Establish Positive Attitudes

“Can do and will do” attitudes are nonnegotiable. Individual and or group panic is never a productive option. Think and communicate “better horizons ahead” for yourself and children. Keep family gratitude journals that house positive sentiments. Concentrate on flowers that bloom and the music in our world. Focus on solutions. whether that’s more frequent hand washing, task analysis to increase positive behaviors, having video playdates, or connecting virtually with teachers, family, and friends. Different, but onward.

     Tip Two: Help, Don’t Enable

Goldilocks said it best, but what does “just right” look like in a pandemic? Supports need to help, but not enable children or families. Instead of spoon-feeding answers, provide the resources and tools that lead to discovery. That includes a “do-it-yourself semi-supervised cooking lesson,” providing a link to a math video tutorial, offering science visuals for more difficult vocabulary, or asking a child to tally his or her progress. Monitor frustrations, but help, do not enable. Goal is to target learning and self-efficacy.

Tip Three: Plan & Prepare

Proactivity is crucial for “what-if” scenarios. If online connectivity is lost, prepare alternate activities. As age-and interest appropriate, kids can color, read a comic book, listen to music, post an Instagram, or perhaps call their grandmother. If a child has a meltdown, provide sensory items and procedures to soothe and regulate. That might mean looking at a montage of family photos, counting to ten or twenty, listening to or reading a book, or pounding some clay. Having consistency with schedules is important, but expect the “curveballs.” If the cat walks across the keyboard, it’s ok to laugh, but then it’s back on track to avoid a total derailing. In challenging times, honor the distractions, but offer redirections with planning and preparation for “children of all ages.”

Tip Four: Balance

Evenly distributing our weight is tough to do, whether we’re trying to stand like a tree in a yoga pose or juggling difficult agendas. Unprecedented times require managing “wobbly” behaviors and emotions. It’s important to learn, but in healthy doses. Balance textbooks and screen time with fun times, like teaching the dog a new trick, stretching, learning a new language, playing a video game, or creating a watercolor, haiku, or animated video. Acknowledge and validate emotions, but balance academics and emotions.

 Tip Five: Breathe & Smile

Deep breaths lower stress levels  and offer positive connections to internal organs and glands. Although we can receive a message to “breathe” on a device, we need to regularly “message ourselves” to continually take deep breaths of inhalation and exhalation. Mindfulness leads to coping strategies. Upturned lips are difficult to see, but masks don’t mask smiles.

Together WE CAN and WILL!







Posted in Balance, Being a Teacher at Home, Breathe & Smile, Collaboration, COVID Home Strategies, COVID-19 Families, Families Teaching Kids, Help Don't Enable, Home Schooling, Ideas for Families and Caregivers, Plan & Prepare, Positive Attitudes, TobyKarten-Inclusion-Without-CoVid19 | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Staying on Target

Resiliency, Creativity, and Knowledge

Resiliency, Creativity, and Knowledge  

These are extraordinary times for our society and our world. The COVID-19 pandemic impacts us all-physically, emotionally, economically, and educationally. As a special educator, inclusion coach, and a firm believer in resiliency, creativity, knowledge, and growth, I offer these insights, strategies and resources to move family providers/AKA-newly inducted teachers forward.The goal is to ultimately establish a “new now,” with routines, schedules, creativity, and positive thoughts to collaboratively navigate this new turf!


  1. All students are appropriately included.
  2. These are exceptional times, but optimism needs to prevail.
  3. Navigation requires different and resilient strategies and resources.
  4. Education is never denied, just redefined.
  5. Healthy practices include taking care of yourself and others.

It’ s important to understand the impact of remote learning. This includes understanding:

  1. how behavior affects performance; attention issues, sensory processing
  2. how to set goals
  3. how to recognize and handle anxiety
  4. how to emphasize self-advocacy

Some More Thoughts  & Resources

All emotions are okay-Check out Child Mind Institute for more insights.

Excellent resources at Understood on how to talk to kids and how to avoid “emotional sunburn.”

This animated Brain Pop video from Tim and Moby shares CO-VID 19 basics.

Scheduling ideas and  a ton of resources from Khan Academy

Connections &  Creativity

Don’t forget that learning occurs beyond books, websites, worksheets, and PDFs. Great time to explore your child’s strengths and interests through real life examples and projects in your home, whether that is creating a menu, cooking, setting up a pretend business, writing letters or emails to relatives, drawing, painting, learning sign language, singing a song, dancing, caring for and playing with a pet, cleaning a closet, organizing a messy room, AND most importantly- smiling together!

Wishing everyone the best!

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Rethinking Inclusion

Hi y’all!

Two weeks ago, I was at a Broadway show, presenting at an educational conference, offering on site inclusion coaching, getting a massage, and whispering “Namaste” in a yoga class. Today is different. Never has my refrigerator been so clean, nor has my dog received so much attention. The inclusion of Co-Vid 19 in our lives, precipitates this post.

As a staunch inclusion advocate, I facilitate the provision of appropriate supports and adaptations. However, the caveat is that scaffolding needs to help, never enable. This post offers resources on how to “appropriately” include Co-Vid-19 in our lives, minus the frustration, depression, and pessimism. Although people may prefer denial, dismissal, and deletion, Co-Vid 19 is a reality to be handled  calmly, swiftly, and wisely.



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Co-Teaching Do’s, Don’ts, & Do Betters

Together general and special educators, administrators, and related staff support each other and  their students to create shared learning environments.This includes setting up co-teaching norms and expectations for planning, instructing, observing, assessing, documenting, and reflecting. Learners then receive, not only access to the general education curriculum, but ongoing inclusive  achievements with the facilitation of two qualified professionals. These resources invite you to explore the co-teaching spokes that empower both educators and students!

Resources for Evidence-Based Practices to Support the Co-Teaching Spokes

* Accommodation Central: http://acentral.education/learning-library/specially-designed-instruction

* ASCD: www.ascd.org

*Building on the Strengths of Students with Special Needs: Move Beyond Disability Labels: Karten, ASCD

* CASEL: https://casel.org/guide/

*Co-Teaching Do’s, Don’ts, & Do Betters: Karten & Murawski, ASCD

* Council for Exceptional Children: www.cec.sped.org/Standards/Evidence-Based-Practice-Resources-Original

* High-Leverage Practices in Special Education: https://highleveragepractices.org

*Inclusion Do’s, Don’ts, & Do Betters: Karten, ASCD

*Inclusion Strategies & Interventions: Karten: Solution Tree

*Inclusion  Strategies That Work! Karten:Corwin Press

* Learning Designed: www.learningdesigned.org

* Learning Forward: https://learningforward.org

*Mindfulness for the Inclusive Classroom: National Professional Resources

* Multicultural Pavilion: www.edchange.org/multicultural/

* National Council of Teachers of English: www.ncte.org

* National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: www.nctm.org

*Specially Designed Instruction   https://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/specialed/specially-designed-instruction.pdf

* Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports: www.pbis.org/

* The UDL Guidelines: http://udlguidelines.cast.org/

* Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/understanding-by-design/

* What Works Clearinghouse: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/FWW

Let’s continue the collaboration:  Email: toby@inclusionworkshops.com

Website: http://www.inclusionworkshops.com

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Follow Toby on Twitter: @TJK2INCLUDE























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“Starring” OUR Students with Differentiated Instruction


Posted in assessment, Classroom Ideas, Collaboration, diversity, diversity, Inclusion, Inclusion Collaboration, inclusion partners, multi-tiered systems of support, student diversity, UDL | Tagged , , | Comments Off on “Starring” OUR Students with Differentiated Instruction

“I’m Just a Teacher”

As an inclusion coach and consultant, upon a principal’s request, I arrived at a New Jersey school site last week to deliver a professional development session on the topic of co-teaching strategies. As a special educator, I arrived armed with my resources, AKA toys. You see a presenter who talks about using concrete materials has less effect than a person who allows others to see and hold the actual materials. In my rolled suitcase, topped with a another bag filled with fidget toys, I also brought books across the disciplines and grade levels to offer literacy, math, science, social studies, art, music, and social-emotional learning connections. Since I live in New Jersey, it is easier to throw one more of my favorite things into the car trunk, to invite the co-teachers to collaboratively divide and conquer. Like a girl scout, I was prepared with educational trinkets and of course the juxtaposition chocolates intended to make the activities more palatable, along with my laptop and dongle.

A kind woman held the door open and escorted me to the office to sign in. She pegged me as the presenter, and I introduced myself. She quietly mumbled her name and humbly added her title, “I’m just a teacher.” I immediately offered my take on this comment, by saying that is quite an understatement. “You are not just a teacher; you are a teacher!” My morning greeter, my new best friend, smiled as she juggled five bags filled with classroom supplies from home.

The audience of one hundred educators convened in a school cafeteria on this warm August day. The staff from three neighboring districts arrived at this central location. By the smiles on their faces, I never would have guessed that it was their first day back from summer vacation. The temperature in the room wasn’t the only warmth, but their reception and willingness to learn how to assist their learners with differences to succeed was the norm that was exuded by all this day.   During one of the activities, I met up again with the kind woman who escorted me into the school. I shared with her that for many years I had the privilege of being a teacher at a local school district. She smiled when I asked her to always remember  “You are not just a teacher, you are a teacher!”

Whether you are a general or special educator, nothing is better than meeting a new group of learners and leading them from shallow waters to increase their depth of knowledge. Together co-teachers are a powerful force for learners. I wish these co-teachers and all returning educators many successes as they forge ahead with their profession. I invite all of you to continue smiling and remember that you chose a profession that warrants pedestals and accolades as you support each other and your students. Kudos to all of you!

coteachingplanner copy 2,


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Unable and Unwilling is Unacceptable!

Communications from parents of students with Down syndrome (DS) prompted this blog post.  Students with a label of DS possess different ages, genders, academic, social, and communicative levels, as well as varied likes and dislikes; hence each student is unique.  We cannot allow the common denominator of DS  to  reduce learners’ abilities to succeed in school and ultimately in life. It is okay to reduce fractions, but it is never okay to reduce,  limit, or cap an individual’s potential to learn with preconceived notions that ignore how evidence-based practices apply to learners with chromosomal differences.

A parent of an 11-yr old who has Down syndrome shared that his daughter has significant speech challenges – especially expressive; but has relatively strong cognitive skills and social awareness.  She is currently educated in a 4th grade inclusion class in a public school, but as communicated by her parent the teachers are unwilling and unable to fully include her appropriately. They recommend that she is educated in a class alongside students with autism. She is about three years behind the class in academics like reading and writing.  The parents of a kindergarten student were told by school personnel that their daughter cannot be included in the GE math class because she only received a 78% on a math assessment, which was 2 percentile levels below the 80% mastery required. Another family of an elementary level girl with Down syndrome requested that their daughter is included for more subjects than science and social studies.  Some of you reading this post have had experiences with districts across the country and world who view students with Down syndrome as challenging to teach in the gen. ed classroom, while others have been part of school districts who challenge learners and never cap their potential.

Each child is unique, whether or not he or she has a labeled difference. All learners have strengths, those with dyslexia, autism, Down syndrome, emotional, social,  behavioral, physical, or learning  difference. Neurodiversity values difference as a competitive advantage  with opportunities to challenge-not cure or pigeon-hole individuals. We need not sacrifice our curriculum goals and standards, nor redefine the definition of quality work, but we as a profession do need to rethink how learners with different starting levels can learn side-by-side with grade level peers who will one day be co-workers and neighbors who offer advice, smiles, and perhaps a cup of sugar. 

 Multi-tiered systems of support provide the responsive-never generic interventions that allow educators and students to navigate the core curriculum. How to increase inclusive experiences is never an exact formula, but  determining the general education classroom setting/placement as a student’s least restrictive environment (LRE), with the specially designed instruction need not be viewed as a challenging task. Inclusion principles are basically good teaching practices for learners of all levels.

Academic gaps exist, but so do the practices that figure out how to include learners beyond their labels.  A student who has an extra chromosome, different way of seeing, hearing, communicating, moving, or learning is able to achieve  excellent outcomes when the environment is structured to welcome, embrace, and appropriately include learners to honor their current levels, with an eye on how future advancements are accomplished. Grade level peers are never defined as competitors, but need to be viewed as collaborators and life long partners.  Here are a few thoughts about inclusion that highlight specifics that need to live and breathe in each environment. 

Bottom line-InclusionRules-Figure_15.1-now let’s collaboratively figure out how to make that happen in each and every school for each and EVERY child.

Posted in Collaboration, diversity, Down syndrome, Full inclusion, Inclusion Collaboration, Inclusion Ouches, inclusion rules, Inclusion Strategies, Inclusion: Families Partnering with Educators, multi-tiered systems of support, navigate the core curriculum, neurodiversity, positive disability attitudes, Special Education, Successes of Students with Disabilities | Comments Off on Unable and Unwilling is Unacceptable!