CHANA — Therese Koch, Elementary Program teacher at Chana Education Center (CEC), was recently awarded the Illinois Principal Association’s Teacher Leadership Award for the Northwest Region.
Chana Education Center is a therapeutic day school program of Ogle County Education Cooperative. Koch was selected out of thirty-five strong and deserving nominations for the region. Koch has over nine years of experience in Special Education, with seven years served at CEC.
During her time at CEC, Koch has proven to be a master of incorporating proactive, positive social-emotional and behavioral supports for students into the everyday school routine and academic curriculum. Her first goal when working with a new student is to ensure that they feel cared about, accepted, and a part of a school family. She is dedicated to ensuring that her classroom is a safe and welcoming place for students of all needs. She teaches and leads with the philosophy that a disconnected child is a discouraged child, and that discouraged children need to feel supported through connection and relationship in order to excel in their academic growth.
Koch has made many area connections with her students in order to grow their sense of community. Students in her room connect with individuals from the Mount Morris Senior Center during monthly events called C.A.S.T. (Children and Seniors Together). Her students join with reading buddies at the Chana Methodist Church to read and share books together. She regularly invites local professionals to come in and visit with students to talk about their roles in the community and their jobs. While COVID-19 has made it a challenge to provide these connections in-person with her students, Koch has arranged for these opportunities of connection to continue through virtual and other ways.
Koch creates opportunities for students to find that learning often involves taking healthy risks and accepting responsibility when mistakes are made. She differentiates her lessons to hone in on the specific strengths and interests of each student, while still challenging each student to grow in their targeted areas of struggle. She incorporates fun activities and hands-on projects that help her students find the fun in school. Often the elementary students are scavenging the building for a special clue to answer a mystery puzzle, researching ciphers to break secret codes, or building creations to solve a problem.
A statement by one of her students sums it up succinctly, “Sometimes I don’t even know I’m learning because I’m having so much fun. Mrs. Koch makes it so we can learn AND have fun at the same time.”
She enjoys celebrating big and small steps towards each student’s goals. Students are empowered to feel that they have a choice and a voice in the world, and that they are capable of advocating for themselves and accomplishing great things. She is a dedicated role model to others of unconditional love and support for students, embracing obstacles with a growth mindset, and being a champion for each individual child for all strengths and areas of need.