Sunflowers and Butterflies by Toby J. Karten

As I painted the sunflowers on the cedar planked walls of our A-shaped Vermont cabin, I smiled at the field that emerged. Broad and fine brushstrokes gave birth to each root, stem, leaf, and flower. Together they grew as I dug into the walls and feverishly painted. Some sunflowers overlapped and intertwined, some stood apart, some were taller, some were smaller, some had deeper hues and shades of ochre, cadmium yellow, and brown. Each sunflower, although different than the next, stood tall, immersed in a field of green.

As advocates, professionals use broad and fine brush strokes to propagate seeds that reach and teach learners to grow in that “field” called life. Each student is an individual learner in a collective classroom. My website, Inclusion Workshops, offers sunflowers, along with inclusion principles, strategies, and tools that assist professionals, students, and their families to know and grow. For inclusion to be appropriately implemented, it requires: a. structure; b. awareness; c. compassion; d. collaboration, and; e. reflection. The next 18 inclusion principles are applicable for all inclusion partners. As a consummate learner, you are invited to click on any of the 18 hyperlinks to find out more on how to propagate your “sunflowers.” And last, but not least, honor butterflies. They grow in stages and pollinate “other sunflowers.” Just remember, that like sunflowers and butterflies, school professionals, families, and students evolve as we embrace the sunshine together.

Inclusion Principles for Professionals, Students, and Families
1. Establish awareness of each student’s zone of proximal development (ZPD).
2. Plan for outcomes (UbD) and structure the classroom environment accordingly.
3. Subdivide concepts into their steps and tasks, valuing discrete task analysis.
4. Offer practice for social skills.
5. Show concrete, representational, abstract, and virtual examples.
6. Provide academic accommodations and modifications that help, but do not enable
7. Infuse (VAKT) visual, auditory, kinesthetic-tactile sensory elements
8. Tap into student/staff strengths by communicating a growth mindset: “I can’t YET!” Simply put, create the environment that allows all learners to shine. More about DI at:
9. Concentrate on children, not the label, have high expectations; acknowledge the challenges but focus on the solutions.
10. Increase student self-efficacy and self-regulation.
11. Offer positives before negatives to learners with affirmation and validation.
12.Model and demonstrate desired outcomes for students with ASD, e.g., work samples, video clips, social narratives, adaptations, visual cues, rubrics.
13. Vary instruction and assessments, and let the data guide your next steps.
14. Relate to students’ lives; e.g., culture, ethnicity, gender, abilities, families.
15. Teach basics and 3Rs across curricula with evidence-based UDL practices.
16. Set up a pleasant, fun atmosphere with active learning opportunities and connections
17. Increase student and staff self-awareness and reflection to advance social skills with data collection for positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS).   
18. Communicate & collaborate with colleagues, students, families, related service providers… Remember sunflowers rarely flourish in isolation!
Adapted from: Inclusion Strategies That Work!  (Karten, 2015, 3rd Ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
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Disproportionality in Special Education


Fact: Inequities in special education exist for students of color, students from low socio-economic levels, and students with disabilities.

These disparities occur because certain racial and ethic groups are inaccurately identified and placed in more restrictive settings. Inappropriate IDEA assessment then leads to less rigorous academics and harsher discipline measures in more restrictive environments. Fast forward, a widening disparity of outcomes for students with disabilities and students of color results in less rigorous educational opportunities and fewer postsecondary options. We need to value and embrace diversity within inclusion environments in school, at home, and in communities.


As per suffragist, Mary T. Lathrap, we better understand another person if we walk a mile in his or her moccasins. Student diversity is rapidly increasing, yet teacher diversity is not. Diversity exists. Diversity is not adversity. Professionals can spin negative and skewed viewpoints into positive perspectives. This means we increase awareness of what to do, what not to do, and what to do better. This rings true for administrators, general and special educators, related service providers, families, and students. Yes, they can, and yes we will learn and do more to address disproportionality in special education!

Evidence-Based Practices

We prepare, plan, and pace; we never force or coerce.

Universal design for learning (UDL), positive behavioral interventions and support(PBIS), multi-tier systems of support (MTSS) and culturally responsive teaching (CRT) are just a few of the EBP. In my professional development seminars, I often share, “It’s okay not to know, but it’s not okay to stay that way!” Here are a few links that I invite you to click to learn more about the evidence-based practices.

Collaborative practices

Culturally responsive teaching

Differentiated instruction

Inclusive strategies, resources, tools, and interventions

Multi-tiered systems of support

 Positive behavioral interventions and support

Social-emotional learning

Specially designed instruction

 Understanding by design     

Universal Design for Learning

Never Marginalize, ALWAYS Embrace!

Time, fidelity, and realistic specific feedback moves everyone forward! No group or individual can, nor should marginalize and/or limit any student’s future potential based on his or her disability label, culture, race, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual preference, or place of birth. Equity is not the same as equality. When educational professionals embrace difference, then disproportionality in schools is erased. Together we learn; together we grow. Tomorrow belongs to everyone.

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Nurture Confidence & Courage

by Toby Karten

Together we grow.

Together we learn.

Plant the seeds.

Support with warmth, water, and smiles.

Nurture and believe.

Share confidence.

Embrace the courage to learn.

And the wisdom to fail.

So WE can welcome tomorrow’s sunshine.

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Distance Learning Connections

by Toby Karten

While delivering an online professional development co-teaching session via a Zoom platform, I received one of favorite private messages in the chat. It was from a participant who was seated six feet away from two of her colleagues in an Alaskan classroom. Since they were all wearing masks and muted, their reactions were somewhat hidden. The participant shared:

“You can’t hear us, but are cracking up at your subtle sense of humor. TY; we needed that!”

Here I was in New Jersey and there they were in Alaska. Even though we were distance learning, and the masks hid some reactions, the connections continued!

Bottom line: The pandemic changed platforms and protocols, but it has not deterred administrators, educators, students and their families from creatively turning the page. We communicate and learn in classrooms and online. Each day presents challenges, but if positivity and resiliency prevail, challenges are morphed into opportunities. A pandemic cannot mask learning. A pandemic cannot mask smiles! Learning may be different, but learning and connections continue. Onward, please!

Connections continue!
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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.

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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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