Instructors | Online Learning for Teachers pursuing Continuing Education and Professional Development | The Connecting Link

 

TCL Instructors

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John has his Master of 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 levels. 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 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 where she has played various roles. Kirstin currently teaches sophomores, but she has taught freshmen in the past. She has taught all levels of English at some point in her eighteen 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 one-on-one every 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. She 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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Dr. Amber Bechard is a full-time Associate Professor at the University of La Verne in California. She has 31 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 a 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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Cheryl Brand has a Masters of Education in Special Needs/Inclusive Learning. Her experience of teaching and differentiating to meet the needs of learning of all ages, circumnavigates the globe. As a digital immigrant, she is continually learning through experience how to synthesize current teaching practices with 21st century beliefs to expand learning experiences of all her digital native and digital immigrant students. At present, she is a sophomore English teacher with a diverse student population. The ethnic and academic diverseness of her students is vast. She is grateful to be able to meet the challenges of a diverse classroom and customize lessons that incorporate the four tools for differentiation: Instructional Strategies, Assessment Strategies, Group Strategies, and Classroom Management Strategies. She understands the critical need to differentiate instruction for learners in relation to their cultural needs, learning styles, intelligence theories, and cognition. Her philosophy that everyone can learn is based on her knowledge of brain-based learning.


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My name is Rita Guzman Ed.D. I am originally from Joliet where I continue to reside. 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've been working in 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 allowed me to work with students who spoke 37 different languages and it enabled me to learn more about individual cultures and customs.

When I am not working I most enjoy simply spending time with my family. My wonderful family includes my husband of 22 years, Alex, and our two beautiful daughters. Our sixteen year old, Brittney, is currently in 12th grade and our active eleven year old, Lindsey, is in seventh grade. I enjoy listening to my daughters tell me about their day and going to the movies.


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Sandy Horan is a Special Education Teacher and co-teacher at a high school in the northern suburbs of Chicago, where she has taught for 25 years. During her tenure, she has served in many roles, to include Special Education Teacher, Executive Function Teacher and Coach, Vocational Coordinator, Transition Coordinator, Co-Teacher in English and Social Studies, and has presented to many parent groups in the areas of executive function, transition, and independent living. Prior to her current high school teaching position, she served as a special education teacher and case manager for students grades k-12, a Head Start Director, and a Behavior Analyst, all while living in both North and South Dakota. Sandy earned her Bachelor of Science in Special Education from Moorhead (Minnesota) State University and a Master of Arts in Teaching and Leadership from Saint Xavier University.

In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, two sons and their families. She loves playing with her four grandchildren! She enjoys being active in the outdoors and working out, as well as reading - she loves being a life-long 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. He is also an executive board member for ICE (Illinois Computing Educators), the Illinois ISTE (International Society for Technology in Educators) affiliate. Mike has a Bachelor 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 master's degree from Concordia University in School Administration. 

Mike started his career right out of college teaching Computer Basics classes at Joliet Junior College. He has taught everything from Pre-K up through high school. For the past 13 years he has been a Technology Director and administrator, helping school districts integrate technology into daily operations and curriculum for his schools. Mike is a firm believer that technology can be a vital enhancement to the learning experience so long as it is intended to supplement instruction rather than supplant it. 

Mike is also an international speaker on a variety of educational technology topics. He has spoken on topics including the use of interactive white boards in the classroom, free educational technology resources, use of coding to engage and enhance learning, more recently the design and construction of Makerspaces/STEM labs and the use of virtual reality in the classroom. Mike has had the privilege to speak at conferences all across Illinois and in Maryland, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa, as well as presenting in Canada and Germany. 

His true passion is making sure all students have access to available technology as they will likely have technology-related jobs. Engaging students to become proficient in computer-based skills now will better prepare them for those future careers. 


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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 ranging 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, listening to music, taking long walks, biking, and kayaking.


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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 17 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 master's degree in Education. He has never regretted the decision to become a teacher and has enjoyed every day.

Patrick has a broad range of teaching experiences including 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 of 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’s career began in 2002 as a licensed teacher in the areas of special education, reading, and health. 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. While her role in education has recently shifted to curriculum and instruction, she fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of educators by providing meaningful, applicable, and research-based activities and resources to enhance professional practices. Jill lives in Wisconsin and enjoys traveling and exploring the great outdoors with her husband and two young sons. 


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Toni Schrage has been a teacher for 24 years. She currently teaches ESL in grades K-5 at Springfield School District 186 in Springfield, Illinois. She is also a reading skills teacher for Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois. Toni teaches online and blended graduate-level courses to educators seeking their ESL endorsements for the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. She has experience teaching in grades K-12, undergraduate students and master's degree-seeking students. Toni has worked with gifted students at the middle school level, and special education students at the elementary, middle school and college levels. 

Toni was born and grew up in Auburn, Illinois. She received her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. She moved to Arizona for her first teaching position and received her master’s degree in Elementary Education with an endorsement in English as a Second Language from Northern Arizona University. Toni enjoys providing educators with information that will enhance their teaching.  

Since Toni is constantly learning and seeking new ideas she hopes you will enjoy the flexibility of the programs that are offered at TCL.


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Hello my name is Joy Westendorf and I have enjoyed teaching courses with The Connecting Link for the past 13 years. I hold a Bachelor of Science, two master's 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, three dogs and my nieces and nephews!  


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Mary Wolf has been working for The Connecting Link for eight years. She is a 5th grade math teacher in suburban Chicago, where she has been teaching for thirteen years. She began her association with TCL 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 Connecting Link classes and looks forward to enhancing those and forging new ones!


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Paul has developed and written many of our most popular tech courses. Technology is changing the face and direction of education; however, Paul makes it a point in all of his courses to invoke 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 to a variety of school districts and classrooms. He is eager to hear your experiences and shares his to reflect together on the art of teaching.

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


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