Tips for Implementing Online Learning

By Michelle Mueller


Online classrooms have become a revolution in today’s education. As principal of Wisconsin Connections Academy (WCA), one of Wisconsin’s first virtual schools, I have seen first-hand the benefits that online learning brings to students and their families. WCA’s virtual school program helps students build on their individual skills and interests in a setting that is both personalized and connected to a larger school community. I started with WCA in 2002, and since then have helped serve thousands of K-12 students throughout the state. With online learning becoming more and more popular, it is incredibly beneficial to understand the anatomy of what makes an online classroom successful.


Here are some tips to consider when teaching online:


  • Ensure that students have access to needed tools. It isn’t uncommon that a student doesn’t have regular access to the internet or a computer, or their ability to access these tools is limited. It is important to help students connect with needed resources prior to starting any online lesson plan.


  • Be available. To defeat the stigma that online classrooms are impersonal, it’s vital that teachers are available for questions and feedback as they would be in a traditional face-to-face classroom. Setting up a timeframe that you will be available for students not only helps you connect with your class, but also helps ensure your students don’t fall behind or become overwhelmed. We have found that our online school teachers get to know the learning styles, skills, and interests of their students, which in turn gives students the best opportunities to excel.


  • Create a collaborative online community. When designing a course, a great strategy is to develop a plan that involves consistent social feedback from each student. Discussion forums and group projects are an easy way for students to connect with each other and share ideas, compare experiences, and have fun learning together. Our school even has opportunities for students to attend in-person gatherings, activities, and field trips that bridge online and offline experiences.


  • Provide effective feedback. Written feedback isn’t the only way to provide responses to students. Alternative, more interactive methods of communication can foster engagement and success in the learning environment. For example, video chats make feedback more personal and also give the student a better idea of what they did well on or where they could improve.


  • Reflect on your teaching. Whether online learning is something new or you’ve been involved in a virtual classroom before, it’s not a bad idea to reflect on successes and opportunities for improvement after conducting classes. At WCA, our teachers are committed to continuous improvement. Working with parents, we regularly hold conversations to evaluate effective approaches to curriculum. We have found that this feedback is vital to the success of the student. Likewise, it can be beneficial to gain feedback from students to see what works and what doesn’t. Nurturing relationships and extending the student experience beyond the screen really helps to open communication with students.


I love working at a virtual school. Technology has given us the ability to grow and adapt to individual student needs and provide flexibility for those who need it. Knowing that we are able to make such a positive effect on students’ lives tells me that we’re doing something right.

Teachers Share Their Most Important Books

By Meemic Insurance

Last year, when we offered a grant for teachers to spend on Scholastic books, the main question on the application was: “What books impacted you the most – as a child and as an educator?”

We got some great responses. And in honor of National Reading Month in March, we’re sharing some of our favorites.

“I fell in love with the ‘Little House’ series as a child. I also loved Beverly Cleary books. I use these books in my classroom. We even make butter like they did in ‘the olden days’ to celebrate the end of ‘Little House in the Big Woods.’ We then use the butter on a pancake breakfast.”

Dawn V., Big Bend

“How can I choose only a few? As a teen, I fell in love with ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ In college, I was required to read a LOT of picture books and young adult books. I love children’s books because they make difficult concepts accessible to children. Today, my favorites include ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events,’ ‘The Crossover,’ ‘Wonder’ and books with diverse characters.”

Robin B., Milwaukee

“There are several books that impacted me the most as a child and as an educator. First and foremost was ‘Matilda.’ I could relate to Matilda finding solace in books, and it caused me to enjoy reading even more than I already did. I often found escape in the story, and went through many copies of the book. Additionally, ‘The Giving Tree’ is another book that really impacted me as a child. It taught me to always be generous in spirit and give whatever I am able to. Further, and most importantly of all, it taught me that no matter what status you currently are in life, there is always something you can contribute. As an educator, I think texts by Dr. Ross Greene, ‘The Explosive Child’ being foremost, have really provided me a wonderful foundation and changed the way that I view and interact with children with emotional and behavioral disorders.”

Barry W., Stevens Point

“As a child, a maroon bound book of diverse poetry styles was my favorite. It was given to me by a school librarian who was a published poet and encouraged me to write. I also enjoyed reading ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and discussing the book with my mother. As an educator, my favorite book for students is ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio. It opens the eyes of intermediate students to a broader world around them and the struggles some go through. As an educator, my favorite book for colleagues is ‘Mindsets in the Classroom.’ ”

Cheri A., Sherwood

“There is no way to limit this to a few specific titles! I was a constant reader of all thing history, as well as historical fiction. It was these books that helped history to come alive for me. I love to try and spread the world of American history with my students.”

Tom T., Sheboygan

“So, so many books have impacted me!!! As a child, I still remember sitting on my dad’s lap while he read me ‘Curious George.’ I remember the first time I read ‘Where the Red Fern Grows,’ and I remember reading it to my daughter for the first time. I cried both times. As an educator, I find that I use the lessons discussed in ‘The Four Agreements’ time and again in the classroom (to help the students take responsibility and feel good about themselves) and in my interactions with colleagues.”

Kristine N., Middleton


10 Tips to Prevent Laptop and Mobile Device Theft

By Meemic Insurance

In today’s school environment, the theft or loss of even a single laptop computer cell phone or tablet can be devastating – unless you take some common sense measures to mitigate the damage ahead of time.

It’s not just the cost of the lost device itself. If there is confidential, proprietary or personally identifiable information on the device – or readily accessible through it – your school could be exposed to substantial liability, fines and penalties.

Here are some tips to help you prevent mobile device theft.

1. Don’t let strangers “borrow” your phone or computer to look up directions or send an email. There are cases of criminals bolting as soon as they have possession of the device. In other cases, they may surreptitiously install malware or spyware on your device that could compromise your sensitive information.

2. Don’t use computer carrying cases that look too much like computer carrying cases. These attract the attention of thieves. Ideally, your carrying case will not attract attention to itself.

3. Use device tracking services. Many laptop manufacturers include optional tracing services. Alternatively, you can install or attach an external tracking device to your computer. It may not prevent theft, but you may be able to quickly recover the computer, or force the criminal to get rid of it prematurely, limiting the damage they cause.

4. Maintain situational awareness. Don’t flaunt your brand new mobile device by using it prominently and visibly in public out on the street. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 55 percent of all larcenies in New York City involve smartphone theft, as did 46 percent of all robberies.

5. Install an irremovable tag. These make these computers very difficult for criminals to resell or pawn and may help deter theft.

6. Going through an airport security checkpoint? Don’t put your laptop on the conveyor belt until you are very next in line. Otherwise your laptop may make it through security before you do – and be vulnerable to theft on the other side of the checkpoint.

7. Cable your laptop. Several vendors make a lightweight but very strong cable that you can use to secure your laptop to your wrist, your briefcase or even temporarily to a table you are working on in public – making it nearly impossible for thieves to run away with your computer. Most thieves, seeing the cable, will move on to an easier target.

8. Traveling? Store the laptop in your hotel room safe, if possible. If there is no safe and you can’t bring your laptop with you, lock your suitcase and store it there.

9. Never ask a stranger to “watch your computer” for a moment in public. Always pack your computer back up to go use the restroom, get another drink or anything else.

10. Never leave your laptop in the car. Your insurance may cover the cost of a stolen laptop (minus a deductible). It does not cover the cost of lost productivity or data loss mitigation.

Winter Learning – Inside and Outside

By Tracy Ostwald Kowald
Long ago, in the sparsely populated Dakota Territory, Laura Ingalls and her family experienced a lengthy winter with devastating blizzards. To carry on in their cold and isolated setting, the Ingalls family learned to heat their home with alternative fuel (logs made from hay) and make a small amount of food and water last as long as possible. This is the premise of The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the sixth of nine books in her Little House series. The Long Winter is one of many examples of literature that make good reading during a winter break. 

In The Long Winter, readers learn about the difficulties pioneers faced in earlier times. At the same time, students on break keep their brains active by reading and thinking. To add an element of fun, suggest a blanket fort or curling up in a sleeping bag as two ways to create a safe and warm environment in which to read these winter adventures. 

My students at Wisconsin Connections Academy, a tuition-free public virtual charter school, learn a lot online. Stepping away from the screen and getting immersed in a book is still a wonderful way to keep young minds active and growing. In addition to reading, there are many options for learning during a midwinter break. 

Jan Brett’s books will fascinate young readers and artists of any age. Trouble with Trolls; The Night Before Christmas; Annie and the Wild Animals; Three Snow Bears; The Mitten – the list of winter weather literature goes on and on. Brett’s web site,, features her latest book tours, games, activities, and coloring pages, too. 

Coloring isn’t just for kids, either. Coloring books for all ages, even grown-ups, fill the shelves at craft stores. Look for an interesting theme like cats, flowers, fashion, or butterflies. Mandalas, repeating patterns in a circular design, make especially therapeutic coloring materials. Next, look at the vast and varied inventory of colored pencils – it could take quite a while to gather supplies and make the trek to the checkout!

Reading and coloring can be solitary and quiet pursuits. On the other hand, playing old fashioned board games in a group is a great way to practice both skill and socialization. Look for Yahtzee for the family math whiz. Word games like Scrabble and Bananagrams appeal to the verbal-linguistic types. History buffs often excel at Trivial Pursuit. Games of strategy like checkers and chess can be competitive or not, as best fits the family.

Everyday household activities can be amazing learning opportunities. Bring your beginning cook or aspiring chef into the kitchen to make sandwiches or cook a simple meal. Bake cookies, brownies, or other tasty treats – good luck waiting for these to cool! Math and science are natural extensions of cooking and baking, too. Double a recipe or cut it in half, and computing with fractions becomes a real-life skill. An experience with yeast and sugar can inspire curiosity and lead to research on chemical reactions. Without yeast, how do biscuits or muffins rise? There’s a query for the budding food scientist.

Take time to observe the many creatures that choose not to hibernate or migrate to the south. A small birdfeeder in a sheltered spot under a tree or shrub can attract a wide variety of bird breeds. Watching the visitors to a bird feeder can lead to reading bird guides or learning to use a camera well to document the brightly colored species that visit. Once the birds discover the feeder, however, keep it full. Those feathered friends will depend on their human cousins to provide until spring arrives. 

Restless? Try yoga. The physical and mental focus of yoga can energize both the body and the mind. Weather permitting, go outside! Shoveling snow, snow-shoeing, skiing downhill or cross-country – with snow and a little energy, winter sports are a fun way to fill the short daylight hours of December. Look around your community; some parks maintain ice rinks for skating, and many hills call out for sledding. 

School breaks provide a time to rest – a mental and physical break from school structure. But learning doesn’t have to stop. Opportunities abound during breaks, if parents and students know how to find them. 

Tracy Ostwald-Kowald is a Language Arts, Social Studies and Music teacher at Wisconsin Connections Academy

Trauma-Informed Care in PK-12

Patricia A. Markos, Ph.D., CRC

Institute for Professional Studies in Education, UW-La Crosse
Perhaps you have one, or maybe two, or even more children in your classroom who are exhibiting behaviors that are disrupting your classroom, negatively impacting the learning of other students. If you do, I’m not surprised. These behaviors may be due to mental health issues and/or past trauma. According to research from the National Traumatic Stress Network, one in four children experience a traumatic event before they reach the age of 16 (National Traumatic Stress Network, 2003). 

The incidence of mental health and trauma in children continues to increase (National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH], 2015). It’s important to note that children react differently to trauma and some may not react immediately. A child may be more reactive to trauma if they already have a mental health issue, if they have experienced previous traumas, or have little support from home (NIMH, 2015).

We know that trauma impacts children’s ability to learn, develop relationships, and act appropriately in class (Cole, Greenwald O’Brien, Gadd, Ristuccia, Wallace, Michael Gregory, 2014). Teachers and school staff then, play a critical role in helping children deal with mental health and trauma since they see children every day during the school year and are on the front line.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2014), some stress is normal and expected. It’s when stress becomes toxic due to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that happen frequently, are strong, and occur over a long period of time that there is increased concern. There are three categories of Adverse Childhood Experiences: abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2017). 

Abuse includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2017). Neglect is defined as physical neglect and emotional neglect. Household dysfunction encompasses mental illness, incarcerated relative, mother treated violently, substance abuse, and divorce. In an ACE study of 17,000 participants, 28.3% experienced physical abuse, 20,7% experienced sexual abuse, and 10.6% experienced emotional abuse. In the area of neglect 14.8% experienced emotional neglect and 9.9% experienced physical neglect. Household dysfunction showed 26.9% of participants experienced household substance abuse, 23.3% experienced parental divorce, 19.4% experienced household mental illness, 12.7% of mothers were treated violently, and 4.7% had an incarcerated family member.  

Here are the behavioral characteristics you may see if a child has experienced trauma. A child may exhibit cognitive behaviors such as poor verbal skills, memory problems, difficulties focusing or learning in school, development of learning disabilities, and poor skill development (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2017). There may also be behavioral characteristics such as excessive temper, demanding attention, regressive behaviors, aggressive behaviors, acting out, verbal abuse, startling easily, inability to trust others or make friends, belief they are to blame for the traumatic experience, show sadness, or are anxious, avoidant, fearful, act withdrawn and lack self-confidence. Last are physiological symptoms including poor appetite, and digestive problems, stomachaches and headaches, poor sleeping, nightmares or sleep problems, or wetting the bed or self.

So what is being done to help children who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences? The answer is Trauma-informed Care. According to the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) in Milwaukee, Trauma-informed Care is “a framework of thinking and interventions that are directed by a thorough understanding of the profound neurological, biological, psychological, and social effects trauma has on an individual (p. 3, 2017).”  We also know that an individual is constantly striving for safety, relationships, and the ability to cope with reactions that interfere with daily living skills. 

Trauma-informed refers to the impact of trauma on a child’s life (Trauma-Informed Schools, 2015). SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2015) describes the 4 R’s of trauma-informed: 

1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery; 

2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families staff, and others involved with the system; 

3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures and practices; and 

4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization (p. 3).

Walkley and Cox (2013, p. 124) describe several ways to help schools to develop a trauma-responsive system: 

Calm – Educators should strive to keep themselves and their students in a calm state. 

Attuned – Educators should be aware of students’ non-verbal cues. 

Present – Educators should be in the moment with their students, focusing their attention on them. 

Predictable – Educators should provide structured, repeated and consistent positive experiences for students. 

Don’t let children’s emotions escalate your own – Educators should remain in control of their own emotions and expression. 

Schools can effectively work with students feeling the effects of trauma in the school environment by being mindful when using trauma-specific interventions to 

1. recognize students’ needs to be respected, informed, connected, and hopeful regarding their recovery, 

2. recognize the relationship between trauma and mental health symptoms of trauma, and 

3. work collaboratively with students, their families, and other agencies in an empowering way (SAMHSA, 2015, p. 3). 

The WI Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has a website dedicated to Mental Health – Trauma (2017). The site includes 14 training modules on Trauma-Informed Schools, Trauma Strategies, Incorporating Trauma Sensitive Practices, Trauma and PBIS, Professional Development, Presentation Materials, Childhood, Evaluation, and E-Resources. The link for this information is: 

In conclusion, trauma and mental health issues continue to be a growing concern in schools. To address these issues the Institute for Professional Studies in Education at UW-La Crosse is sponsoring the Fall for Education Conference with the theme of Mental Health and Trauma in PK-12.  The conference is November 4-5, 2017 at UW-La Crosse and is free and open to WI teachers. We have room for 250 more teachers and administrators. If interested, please register at: 

American Academy of Pediatrics (2014). 

Cole, S. F., Greenwald O’Brien, J., Gadd, G., Ristuccia, J., Wallace, L., Gregory, M. (2014). Helping traumatized children learn, Massachusetts Advocates for Children Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. 

Crisis Prevention Institute (2017). Trauma-Informed Care Resources Guide. 

WI Department of Public Instruction (2017). (2016). 

National Institute of Mental Health. What Community Members Can Do (2015). 

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2017). 

SAMHSA. (2015). Trauma-informed approach and trauma-specific interventions. Retrieved from: 

Trauma Informed Schools (2015). Ohio Project AWARE Brief, NO. 4. 

Walkley, M., & Cox, T. L. (2013). Building trauma-informed schools and communities. Children Schools, 35 (2), 123-126. doi:10.l093/cs/cdt007