TCL Instructors

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John has his Masters in Education and brings to TCL more than two decades of experience. He has counseled, taught, and coached at the middle school, high school, and college level. John developed and implemented a developmental guidance curriculum. He was recognized as educator of the year by the Norfolk County Teacher’s Association.  In his free time, John likes to spend his time being active – working out, staying upright in his kayak, camping and fishing. He loves to cook and plays golf.


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Kirstin is currently a teacher and Instructional Coach at Lyons Township High School in LaGrange/Western Springs. She has been in the district for five years, and she has played various roles within the district. Kirstin currently teaches sophomores, but she has taught freshmen in the past. She has taught all levels of English at some point in her 15 year teaching career.  

As an Instructional Coach, Kirstin has the opportunity to help plan Professional Development for her district as well as directly work with 10-12 teachers on-on-one each year. The focus of the Instructional Coaching program is to create more student centered classrooms through the use of standards and skills based instruction while incorporating the formative practices. Kirstin has worked with her small team of coaches to bring the goals of the district to fruition in a range of classrooms. Kirstin has worked with teachers in some capacity from almost every department.  

As well as working at Lyons Township and The Connecting Link, Kirstin is a mother of two young girls. She lives in the city and is a product of The Chicago Public School System. Her daughters attend CPS schools, and Kirstin is committed to raising her children in the city. She also has two dogs, and she would have five more if her husband agreed. He doesn’t.


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Christopher T. Basta has been an educator in Connecticut since 1999. He currently serves as the Assistant Principal at Redding Elementary School in Redding, CT. Previously, he was a 3rd and 5th Grade Teacher, Instructional Team Leader, and Director of Summer and Continuing Education in Darien, CT.  He is committed to safeguarding and promoting the education and well-being of all children, the professional development of educators, and collaboration with families and the community. He is passionate about giving children a high quality, personalized education that supports their growth academically, physically, socially, and emotionally. He enjoys working in a fast-paced environment and managing a diverse workload.  He is fundamentally committed to best-practices, innovation, and technology integration. He is both a confident leader and a dedicated team player. He believes in continuous learning to broaden one's knowledge and experience. He believes that all learners can be successful with targeted support. Outside of his professional duties, he enjoys traveling, singing, and spending time with his two children.


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Dr. Amber Bechard is a full time Associate Professor at the University of La Verne in California. She has 28 years of classroom experience across special education, kindergarten and English Language Arts. She holds a M.Ed. in Special Education from National Louis University, an Ed.D in Curriculum & Instruction from Aurora University and National Board Certification in Early Adolescent Literacy. Dr. Bechard has a recently published book chapter titled, One Teacher’s Journey: Evolving Teacher Identity and Practice and the Changing Sociopolitical Context of Education published January 2017 in Challenges Associated with Cross-Cultural and At-Risk Student Engagement. Her research interests include Twice Exceptional students, inclusive education and international immersion for educators.


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Jennifer Buelow has been a teacher in the northwest suburbs for fifteen years.  In her tenure, she has taught English and History to junior high students ranging from special education to gifted learners. She received her undergraduate degree in Education from the University of Illinois, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from University of Illinois, and an additional Masters degree from Roosevelt University in Educational Leadership and Administration. Jennifer is trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as well as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy in the educational settings. She is a Google Certified Educator and Google Certified Trainer, having presented at several state and national conferences in technology integration.  She is the mother to two young boys and a marathon runner. 


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Carey has been teaching in Deerfield Public Schools since 1999.  She began her career as a second grade teacher and shortly after earned her Masters in Educational Psychology Human Learning and Development.  From there, she continued to grow as an educator by attending various workshops and graduate level courses before deciding to pursue a Masters in Reading and obtaining her Reading Specialist Certification.  In 2009, she made a switch from the classroom to RtI and became a K-5 Interventionist in her district at 1 of the 4 elementary buildings where she serves students who require Tier 1-3 interventions in reading, math and writing.  Carey has recently been working towards her National Board Certification in Early & Middle Childhood/Literacy: Reading and Language Arts.  As an educator she believes in taking risks and always pushing herself to help kids grow as a student.  Carey works well with others and feels collaboration is the key to a successful teaching and learning environment.   

 She is the proud mother of a daughter and son, ages 11 and 9, and loves spending time with them.  In her children’s school, she is an active member of the parents board association as well as the strategic planning committee in regards to academics.  She has had the opportunity to consult with the teachers and work closely with the principal on initiatives.  Carey enjoys crafts, baking and spending her free time enjoying her children and falling into good books.  She looks forward to a new challenge and is excited to be leading courses with The Connecting Link! 


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“Teaching is the act of sharing the knowledge we have been given by others with hope that someday, by some way, it will again be passed on.” 

Shelly Fisher’s passion for teaching is never-ending.  She presently has unlimited energy teaching 2nd graders, but also plays a huge role in her school building as a leader of the Positive Behavior Intervention System team and as a designee for her principal.  Shelly holds her teaching degree in Elementary Education with an endorsement in Mathematics and she also holds her master’s degree in Educational Administration.  Mrs. Fisher continually challenges herself and seeks ways to improve teacher effectiveness by meeting the needs of the ever-changing world of education.  Holding high accountability for the students in her K-5 building who range from ESL learners, Gifted Learners, children with Autism, children with learning disabilities, speech impaired children, and children with social and emotional issues.  She also provides leadership to colleagues, student teachers, teacher’s assistants, and to teachers who explore her classes through The Connecting Link (TCL).  She has been an instructor with The Connecting Link since 1991 and continues to provide classes that are exciting, motivating and useful content for teachers who are always trying to be the key factor in their students’ lives for them to be successful.  She has had experience with many different TCL classes and strives to keep them current and is excited to hear when her students take their knowledge gained from the classes and are able to apply and use them in their educational setting.  Giving time for teachers and educational staff to share, compare, contrast and dig deeper are the strong components of Shelly Fisher’s TCL classes. 


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Lanna grew up in Connecticut, but she and her husband now reside in Michigan. Between them they have five children and four grandchildren, with another on the way!  A love of summer and taking long walks on the beautiful Lake Michigan shores make her happy. She does her best to keep active with things like running, kayaking and bicycling.   

Lanna attended Western Michigan University, and has a Master’s degree in Special Education. She is currently teaching teenage students with autism, in a separate special needs school. She loves teaching and looks forward to her job every day!  In her classroom they use many teaching strategies such as; Discrete Trials, Pivotal Response Techniques and Positive Behavior Supports.  In Michigan, children with special needs may attend school until they are 26 years old. She loves being a part of The Connecting Link and bringing her passion of education to others such as herself.


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Sharon Gerdes has been a high school Spanish teacher for 32 years and currently serves as the department chairperson for World Languages and Cultures at Lockport Township High School. Sharon has taught all levels of Spanish and continuously seeks professional development for herself and her staff.

Sharon received her undergraduate degree in Spanish from Eastern Illinois University and her graduate degree in Educational Administration from Governors State University.

Along with teaching and overseeing the language department Sharon also has been an adjunct professor for the University of St. Francis teaching online and blended courses in the ESL endorsement program for seven years.  In addition, Sharon became an instructor for the Connecting Link for several years and enjoys providing educators with meaningful professional development.  Sharon has taught both face to face courses as well as on line only courses.

Being a lifelong learner is Sharon’s motto and hopes that all of you will enjoy the flexibility of the programs and valuable tools from the various courses offered at TCL.


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Dr. Delphina (Del) Hopkins-Gillispie is devoted to enhancing quality at all levels of education, as a dedicated professional, and educational administrator with over three decades of experience in middle school through the graduate level.

Dr. Gillispie has worked with The Connecting Link (TCL) for over a decade, as director of the TCL program at one of the partner universities developing and teaching on-line courses. She holds masters of science degree in biological sciences and pathology, teaching license in the science field (middle and secondary education), and a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction. Dr. Gillispie believes teachers/instructors should connect and relate to students while making learning authentic. It is critical that students get excited and engaged in the learning process. In addition, Dr. Gillispie believes that classrooms should be inclusive of all students, learning about their backgrounds, culture, similarities as well as differences, as both teachers and students work collaboratively and cooperatively as a team.


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Dr. Julie Gold brings a plethora of experience from over two decades of public education service and private practice. She began her career as a teacher/counselor at special education residential schools for adolescents with emotional and behavioral disabilities. Here, she was frequently faced with the question: What comes first –Depression and Anxiety or failure to acquire literacy and math skills? This question drove her inquiry in her graduate studies in School and Counseling Psychology. Dr. Gold was fortunate to have the opportunity to obtain her Masters and Educational Specialist Degree (School Psychology) in a rural setting at Indiana State University and her Doctoral Degree (School Psychology) in an urban community at Northeastern University. Here, she learned that a myriad of risk factors exist that influence student success. Dr. Gold maintains the premise that Prevention and Intervention is the key to student achievement and wellness. She has worked tirelessly to provide TIER 1, 2, and 3 services for students at-risk for social, emotional, and learning challenges. Through neuropsychological, formative, and behavioral assessment, consultation, coaching, training, counseling, and on-going reflection, Dr. Gold has learned that equipping teachers, families, administrators, and mental health staff with instructional strategies and support ultimately meets the needs of students in public schools. 

 In Dr. Gold’s free time, she loves spending time with her husband and two sons, enjoying Northern New Hampshire’s outdoors -boating, paddle boarding, hiking, and picking blueberries. She also enjoys going to the gym, cooking, baking, and writing. 


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Kelly is blessed to spend her life wearing various hats. As a wife, mother, business owner, and educator she finds great joy in tearing down walls; whether it be facilitating the intellectual and personal growth of her students or spending time with the family business remodeling homes. She treasures her family and enjoys spending time with them biking, camping, rooting on the Chicago Cubs, and hanging out at the beach. Kelly is thrilled to add “TCL Instructor” to her list of blessings and looks forward to sharing her passion for education while providing adult learners with engaging, relevant courses.


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My name is Rita Guzman Ed.D.  I am originally from Joliet and continue to reside there.  I graduated from the University of St. Francis in 2002 with a Bachelor’s degree in Education. I continued my education at National-Louis University and received an endorsement in Bilingual and English as a Second Language.  I then returned to USF to pursue a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and a second Master’s degree specializing in Differentiated Instruction with a minor in Special Education. I returned to pursue a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership. I have been with Valley View School District 365U for the past fifteen years.  I taught first grade bilingual and K-5 ESL.  I can honestly say that I love my current position as assistant principal.  However, I must admit that at times I do miss having my own classroom.  I enjoyed being an ESL teacher because it allows me to work with students who speak 37 different languages and it enabled me to learn more about individual cultures and customs.

When I am not working, what I enjoy the most is simply spending time with my family.  My wonderful family consists of my husband of nineteen years, Alex, and our two beautiful daughters.  Our fourteen year old, Brittney, is currently attending ninth grade and our active nine year old, Lindsey, is in fourth grade.  I enjoy listening to my daughters tell me about their day and going to the movies.


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Diane Malsom has worked with learners aged 5 to 75 for over 25 years.  She has a BS in Elementary Education from The University of Illinois and a MS in Special Ed with a Gifted concentration. Diane has taught grades 3 – 8 in public and private schools in 4 states as a classroom teacher, and she has worked with gifted students for 14 years in both resource and self-contained settings. In between her school careers, Diane was Manager of IT Training and Professional Development for United Airlines, where she and her team were responsible for needs assessment, course development and delivery of online and live classes for 1500 United IT professionals around the world. Now retired from full-time teaching, Diane enjoys her book clubs, tutoring adult English language learners, swimming, golf, ethnic cooking, and international travel, and loves being a lifelong learner!


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Mike McGowan is currently a Technology Director and building administrator for Sunnybrook School District 171, a Pre-K to 8th grade district in Lansing, Illinois.  Mike is also an Executive Board member for ICE (Illinois Computing Educators) the Illinois ISTE (International Society for Technology in Educators) affiliate.  Mike has a Bachelors of Science degree in Computer Science from the University of St. Francis, a degree in Education with a focus on teaching Computers and Business from Lewis University, and a Masters Degree from Concordia University in the area of School Administration.  Mike started his teaching career right out of collage teaching Computer Basics classes at Joliet Junior Collage.  Then after receiving is Teaching certificate form Lewis, Mike has taught everything from Pre-K up through High School.  For the past 10 years Mike has been a Technology Director and Administrator helping school districts integrate technology into the everyday life and curriculum of his schools.  Mike is a firm believer that technology can be used to enhance the learning experience as long as it is there to supplement the instruction not take it over. 

 Mike is also an International speaker on a variety of Educational Technology topics.  Mike has spoken on topics from the use of Interactive Whiteboards in the classroom, to free resources to use in the classroom, to using coding to engage and enhance learning, to more recently the setting up and creation of Makerspaces/STEM Labs in school and the use of Virtual Reality in the classroom.  Mike has had the privilege to speak at conferences all across Illinois, in states such as Maryland, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and more, along with presenting in countries such as Canada and Germany.  Mike's true passion is making sure students have access to available technology to use as students in today's classrooms will all have jobs that are connected to technology in some way.  To get students engaged and proficient in computer based skills now will only make them even more ready for the careers they will have in the future. 


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Judith McManus is a seasoned educator and the curriculum developer of over fifty online courses, author of seven published books, and creator of instructional media materials used by schools, organizations, and libraries around the world. Judith has received numerous awards and international recognition for her contributions to education. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa, holds K-12 teaching certifications in Iowa and Arizona, and has taught at all grade levels (elementary through graduate college). Judith is also the producer, director, and editor of a short film exhibited on HBO and Cinemax. Her latest chapter book for tween girls, Nellie Mack of Sabino Canyon, is based on third grade common core performance objectives, STEM principles, and real-life role models.    

In Teaching and Reaching 21st Century Online Learners (K-12), Judith will facilitate your understanding of and instruction in the online educational environment. In addition, you’ll directly apply the course material to your own individualized plan for reaching and motivating online learners.   

Judith received her B.S. in Education and Special Education and M.A. & doctoral coursework in  Communication and Theatre Arts from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.


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Steve brings over thirty years experience in K-12 education that have ranged from, teacher, assistant principal, elementary school principal, administrator, project manager and executive coach. His graduate degrees are in Educational Administration and Supervision and Music Education. Steve has designed professional development and workshops for teachers, directors, and parents on student assessments, 21st-century learning, Common Core Standards, Danielson Framework for Teaching and best practices. In his free time, he enjoys writing and listen to music, taking long walks, biking, and kayaking.


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Sarah has been a special education teacher working with adjudicated youth for 15 years. Her desire to meet challenges of working with a students with a variety of ability levels sent her back into the classroom to complete a Master of Arts in Special Education Degree, concentrating on Learning Disabilities. Sarah considers herself a life-long learner thus continued her education with courses through various continuing education forums for teachers. She fell in love with The Connecting Link Site-Based programs! She found the fast-paced, current and practical application of knowledge was prefect for the ever-changing world of education. She liked the course work so much that she signed on to teach with TCL 3 years ago.

In her free time, Sarah loves to stay active and travel. She believes that new experiences are a great learning tool! She shares those new experiences with her two children, Eliza and Grady, and husband, who has also been in the teaching field for 15 years. As hard as it is to keep up on her love of reading between teaching & chasing sporty kids around, she finds a good read is food for the soul.

Sarah’s favorite part of being a TCL instructor is working along the side of teachers, helping them create meaningful material for their classrooms, problem-solve, and develop their craft.


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Kelli Ponce has been a teacher in Collinsville Illinois for twenty years.  In her tenure, she has taught just about every business course to high school students ranging from special education to gifted learners. She received her undergraduate degree and Masters in Business Administration from Southwestern Illinois University at Edwardsville.  She also received her teaching certificate and 32 additional hours in technology and education from SIU-E.  She is a Google Certified Educator and has taught many technology classes at the college level locally as well.  She is the mother to two grown sons and a 15 year old daughter.   


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My name is Sisie Puntil-Wilcek and I have been teaching for 42 years, primarily in special ed.  I have taught at all grade levels from early childhood through high school. My first 20 years, I was a teacher of the deaf/ hearing impaired and moved to special education at a suburb in the Chicagoland area.  I retired from teaching in the suburbs after 36 years of teaching and for the last 7 years have been teaching at a Virtual School in the city of Chicago.  I have been married for 41 years, have 3 grown children:  2 boys in tech and 1 girl, who works with me at my school and happens to be my boss.  My hobbies are sewing, reading and golf.  I love to travel however with the job I have now it's been very difficult to get time off.  I am looking forward to working with all of you.  


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"Why is it that in society if someone says 'Hey I can't do math, I am no good at it!' that many others respond by saying 'I know what you are talking about, I can't do it either!' and everyone laughs and cuts up BUT if someone says 'Hey I can't read or write, I am no good at it!' the whole room goes quiet, eyes shift to the floor and everyone walks away from that person like something was wrong with them." – Patrick Raleigh

Patrick has been an educator for 14 years. He began his working career in the financial arena.  Although he liked his work, he felt like something was missing.  Patrick then went to back to school to receive his Masters' Degree in Education. He says he has never regretted the decision to become a teacher.  He has enjoyed every day of teaching.

Patrick has a broad range of teaching experiences from 6th Grade Math, 8th Grade Science, 8th Grade U.S. History, and 8th Grade Math.  However, his favorite classes are Algebra and Geometry.  These are two classes where there are so many real world applications.

Outside my school, Patrick loves being outdoors running in the woods, biking through farmlands, or teeing it up on the golf course  In addition to being active, he enjoys hanging by the pool and reading a good book.  His family is so important to him.  His wife of over 20 years is his rock. His three children are active and keep them both busy.  One is playing college lacrosse, one is super involved in chorus, and his youngest loves school.   

Patrick says the reason he teaches is to learn.  Working with teachers is best part of this career. “You can always learn something from other teachers if you are open to it.  Be open!”


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Jill has over 13 years of experience as a licensed teacher in the areas of Special Education, Reading Education, and Health Education. She embraces diversity and has worked with students in grades K-12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California.

Jill completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls while teaching full time. She fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of all educators by providing engaging, meaningful, and applicable activities which can be used to enhance teaching practices. She focuses on research-based best practices and technology integration throughout her own instructional practices.

Together with her husband and two young boys, Jill enjoys traveling, biking and the changing seasons of the great outdoors in Wisconsin. 


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Matthew was formerly a teacher at Freeland High School in Freeland, Michigan and an assistant principal at H.H. Dow High School in Midland, Michigan.  In Matthew's current administrative role with Central Michigan SMTC at Central Michigan University, he continues to work with K-12 educators and establish relationships with state-wide educational organizations while working on STEM related projects.

After he receives his Ed.D.in Educational Leadership from Central Michigan University, he aspires to continue in administrative roles in higher education or to become a faculty member in higher education. 


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For over 14 years, Heidi was a Language Arts teacher to thousands of 7th & 8th graders in Spokane, Washington while raising five children. She also spent many of her weekends, summers, and evenings on stage in local theaters and in numerous commercials, as well as, singing for weddings, funerals and churches. 

In 2015/2016, she was cast in a National Broadway tour along with her 10 and 14 year-olds who also love singing, acting and dancing. In addition to her performances each night, Heidi was hired to teach the children during the day. They spent the year performing in beautiful theaters in over 40 states and 100 cities. 

Presently, Heidi’s focus is on helping educators meet their re-certification needs as a TCL instructor. Heidi aspires to be a champion of people and she fully understands the high demands on educators and is passionate about doing her best to make each course she instructs as pleasant and enjoyable as possible. 


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My name is Sarah Steinmetz. I am a secondary teacher that teaches ACT prep and Talented and Gifted Seminars. I have taught 8th grade science, alternative education math and science, and  high school science. I love working with children and seeing them reach their goals. It excites me to see where their next chapter in life will take place. Every child should be treated with respect, because every child has a story behind them.  

My husband and I have a beautiful family of three daughters and a rabbit that lives outside. We love spending time outdoors. I spend my free-time running, baking, gardening, hiking, and reading. However much free time is at gymnastics and swim team between the girls. I love it and wouldn't change the busy schedule. 

I look forward to getting to know all of you in a Connecting Link course!


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Lori Truter is a school counselor and educator from the state of Illinois. She has over 20 years of teaching and counseling experience with students from pre-kindergarten to post-graduate in a variety of settings. Her passion is helping people “see the best and be the best” version of themselves.  Mrs. Truter has taught for TCL for over 17 years and holds a master’s degree in School Counseling, a certificate in Educational Leadership and Elementary Education, and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.


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Education is Bonnie's passion. Her favorite quote, “If you think education is expensive, just try ignorance.”

Being retired from the classroom, she is enjoying her continuing work with Connecting Link students and is able to focus on their needs.  The opportunity to learn and grow with students each day is fulfilling. She still enjoys that “light bulb” moment with learners.

Working with Connecting Link for over 20 years as a site-based instructor, an online instructor and a course writer demonstrates a desire to make sure that the excellence of Connecting Link courses shines. As a classroom teacher, educating grades K-5 and a Technology Integration Coordinator for the school district which included educating educators, students (K-12) and parents she has a wide variety of teaching experiences.  In her final years she enjoyed teaching in a self-contained gifted/talented classroom.

In 1978 she received her first degree from Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, AZ and in 1988 she received a Masters of Science in Education in 1988 from Indiana University. A Gifted/Talented Endorsement was earned in 2005.

She enjoys teaching, traveling, sailing, gardening, reading, cooking and spending time with her family.


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Hello my name is Joy Westendorf and I have enjoyed teaching courses with The Connecting Link for the past 10 years.  I hold a Bachelors of Science,  2 Masters degrees (Teaching and Special Education), and am a National Board Certified Teacher.  I find that utilizing best practices, providing active learning, prompt feedback, communicating high expectations, and respecting the unique differences and experiences of every learner, positively impacts the overall learning experience in my class.

I enjoy traveling the world and being adventurous!  I have been skydiving, enjoy skiing, backpacking and hiking.  I enjoy anything that includes the outdoors, watching and playing sports, photography, and reading.  I absolutely love spending time with my family, 3 dogs, and my nieces and nephews!  


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Mary Wolf has been working for The Connecting Link for 5 years. She is a 5th grade math teacher in suburban Chicago, where she has been teaching for 13 years. She began her association with the Connecting Link as a student, and was intrigued by the varied course offerings and the multiple instructional delivery methods (in person, online, structured). Over the years, she has met many outstanding educators through The Connecting Link classes and she looks forward to enhancing those and forging new ones!


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Paul has developed and written many of our most sought after tech courses.  Technology is changing the face and direction of education; however, Paul makes it a point in all of his courses to bring in the human side of the classroom.  Technology should be a medium to reach students, but the teacher is what drives the learning and engagement.  Paul’s work experiences have taken him around the world in a variety of school districts and classrooms.  He is eager to hear your experiences and shares his and reflect together on the art of teaching.

In Paul’s free time, he travels around North America watching his child play hockey.  His passion for teaching never stops and he even finds time to stop into local schools in the communities he is visiting to see what they are doing!


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