PSD70 Learning Coach Program

A Parkland School Division Blog Site

Magic!?

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I hate how Iphone’s only hold their charge for around 5 hours and obviously less if they are used. In frustration I walked out to my car to get my charger card and saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. My body had a little shiver as I dislike the vermin that are mice. I saw the movement again and focused on a small sandwich bag moving away from me. I took a step away from my car to get a closer look and couldn’t believe my eyes. There before me was a little green man with a sandwich bag flung over one shoulder with a strange green object inside and on his other a wrapped up tiny piece of paper. Some would say that the next sound they heard was a shriek, but I think it was more of a deep yell that came from inside me. The little man dropped his bag and piece of paper and disappeared up a pipe that was nearby. I slowly made my way to the discarded objects and picked them up. Inside the bag was a tiny green rock and when I touched it a gold coin was revealed as the rock broke in two. I unrolled the small piece of paper and saw a tiny map with 16 x’s marked on it. I immediately went to the photocopier and enlarged the map and saw markings that resembled the school grounds and locations where I hoped to find buried treasure.

Now I am obviously a confident person and not afraid of small creatures but I thought it might be valuable to enlist some helpers on my quest. I ran upstairs to Mrs. Lee’s k-2 class and asked if they could help me. They are small, I could probably out run them if anything bad went down and they seemed to have a keen interest in small green men since it was St. Patrick’s day. I told them what I had seen and sure enough they were in for the adventure.

We split into two groups and made our way outside with maps in hand. We went to the first location and there was another bag with the green rock inside. After the map was found to be legitimate the race was on. We travelled all over the school yard in search of treasure, using our maps as a guide and teamwork as a tool. In the end we all found a piece of treasure.

When we made it back to class and Mrs. Lee said that she had some magical water that we could wash the rocks in. It smelt a little funny, almost like vinegar. We put our rocks in and it bubbled and frothed like a magic green potion. The rocks disappeared and sure enough each rock had a gold coin inside. We were pretty excited as a class and a little sad that the adventure was over. Who knows what magic we will encounter in our learning tomorrow?

YES….

you are awesomeCreative Commons License ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓ via Compfight

This is the third time I have begun my blog post. It took me awhile to decide on a topic. Finally, in a flash it came to me. I want to share the “YES” that is becoming more common in my daily work. I have been in many classrooms in both schools, actually probably most classrooms. In the last little while, I have revisited some classrooms for check-in and follow-up make observations of both students and the teachers’ practices. Through these observations, I have had the most remarkable insight and consequently, heart-warming conferences following the observation period. During our debrief, I have been able to point out to the teacher that the work  they have put into implementing strategies we have previously collaborated on are, in my humble opinion, successful and require only a few small tweaks. It is clear to me that over the last few months, these teachers have made changes to their practices rather than trying to change the students. Their dedication to improving their craft to meet the students “where they are at” has resulted in improved student engagement and learning. It is so satisfying to go through a list of successful strategies rather than a list of “suggested” strategies. It is so heart-warming to affirm for the teacher the awesomeness of their work. Many teachers are taken aback as they are in the moment and too close to see how far the students have moved. I tell them it is like being an athlete who never accepts a personal best as the best they can be. Always striving for more is what athletes, musicians, artists, and yes, teachers do; it is in our nature. Once they see their way past the haze of the moment and look at the big picture, these teachers recognize their success at nurturing the best learning environment for their students and that sometimes, our best is letting our search for perfection go and accepting that what may be perceived as a small change is often BIG for the success of their students.

How Are You? How Are Things In Your World?

 

 

That Is A Great Moment! I feel this is how I could look in many conversations – happy, engaged, alert, committed and cemented in that moment.

 

How are you?  or…How are things in your world?

These have become my most exciting two questions in day!  Not when I am asked, although if you know me well I am a talker and would be happy to chat; but I love to ask these questions, in a casual and sincere passing in the hall or meeting at the coffee pot.   I find the world falls away and that person and I can go quickly into a conversation that is professional and collaborative.  Two years ago, when I asked those questions I would get a response that was personal or vague – not inviting (by most not all).  But now I find that I love how two professionals can so quickly be focused and seeking solutions together. Sometimes I walk away from quick incidental conversations in a zombie state, trying to remember blocks that are now booked and all the supports running through my head as I leave that amazing state where we were in our own world of professional collaboration.

Recently,   I was passing a colleague in the hall; this person was going one way and I the other.  I really was intending a quick “Hello – How are you” when I noted the response was ‘come with me’.  Their class was creating some stress and anxiety for them.  I knew the class fairly well from and was thrilled to be going in.  The work we did was elbow to elbow and resulted in discussions around collaborative structures, multiple intelligence theory and some management ideas.  I was thrilled a few days later to get a note indicating this person had put to practice some of the things we chatted about.  They shared that they were somewhat adjusting to the new approach but noticed higher engagement in their students and therefore felt it would be  worth further discussion and learning.

I really believe we are teaching in exciting times (despite politics and budgets).  We know so much more about learning and the art of teaching – I do not want to wish away anytime but I can not wait to see our classrooms in 10 years from now!!  Please do not let this take anything away from all the great teaching before this time!!  I come from a long line of educators and all I believe they were superb in their time…. I just want to recognize the research and advances we are making.  Students truly are our focus…and for me that makes teaching is my passion….OK that is maybe my next post:  Neuroscience:  Feeding the Passion of Teaching!!

Problems that Lead to Growth

Problems that leads to growth

You learn more from your mistakes than from your successes. This is definitely a saying that I am finding to be true. Last week I taught a physical education lesson to a grade ¾ class that didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. The students came in and followed their normal routine and then I wanted to teach them two games that I recently learned at teacher’s convention. I started out by making sure I had all attention on me, explained the game, asked for any questions and cold called on a few students to check for understanding. We began to play the game and it went well for all but one boy that the teacher noticed was disengaged in the activity. I did not notice as I was avoiding and throwing dodge balls as the rest of the class enjoying the game.

I stopped the game and called the students back in to explain the next game. The game had a lot of strategy and rules to follow and had a number of students asking for clarification. I thought that it would just be best if we started the game and then work out the issues as we played. As we started the first round one of the boys who didn’t understand the rules went out of the game as he failed to tag someone. He did not understand why and was overwhelmed with the instruction and ambiguousness of the game. There was an outburst at that time and the boy was removed so he could calm down and discusses the situation by the teacher and the EA. I continued to play the game explaining the rules as we played and getting into the strategy as we progressed. In the end the students had a lot of fun and I thought it was a successful lesson minus the one outburst. That all changed when the teacher approached me and started asking questions.

As a teacher of 20 plus years and a learning coach I found myself a little defensive as the teacher started asking why I didn’t give greater clarification at the beginning of the game so to avoid the outburst that occurred. I tried to explain that sometimes it is best to learn by doing but that didn’t feel right. I went back and reflected on my practice and came up with this:

Things I would have done differently.

  1. Needed a visual to put rules on and to explain games
  2. Check for understanding…bad one to miss
  3. Those that don’t understand can sit and watch the game and then bring them in to restart.
  4. Have established start and go signals…you have those but I needed to either use yours or tell them new ones.
  5. Had some closure but could have used more, gone over games and why we do them.
  6. Dynamite is warm up game and plunger is cooperation and teamwork…I should let kids know why they are doing activities or what I am looking for in PE. For ex. if I see people getting hit and not going out. (good time for a class conversation) Having said that I only saw one person get hit and not go out. I only saw one because it affected me. Your kids are generally pretty and didn’t complain when the ref made a call which does happen often if the culture isn’t established
  7. As for the little guy…maybe he needs to know what is happening in advance, could review at end of class what is happening the next class. Could check for understanding as a group and then pull him aside so he understands? Give him visuals? Give him a time out area he can go to or access EA when he is feeling overwhelmed or confused? Definitely for him three new games and not knowing what was going on was too much.

After further discussion with the teacher we agreed that some of the preventative measures could be put in place to support this student and all of the class. Through my mistakes we were able to make positive changes to improve practice. My mistakes helped me think about improving my practice and provided the teacher with ways to help her students. Success through failure.

dodge

Picture taken from: http://www.sportsmonster.net/st-louis/dodgeball

Is it Worth the Risk?

 

Photo Credit: joserrai via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: joserrai via Compfight cc

I’m not a real risk-taker.  That’s not to say I don’t try new things or that I don’t push myself out of my comfort zone.  I do.  But I generally don’t seek out risks.  Since becoming a learning coach, though, that’s exactly what I have tried to encourage teachers (and students) to do.  I realize that sounds hugely hypocritical, but in the process it turns out I have actually started to take a few more risks myself.  It hasn’t always been comfortable and it definitely hasn’t always been successful, but usually I am happy for the risks that I have taken.  Occasionally, though, it ends with, “That was a bit of a disaster.  Why did I do that?”  Not too long ago I had one of those days, but by some crazy coincidence, I received this post “How to Deal With Criticism When You Take Consistent Risks” by A.J. Juliani the very next day in my Inbox.  I can’t say the title really grabbed me (and again, I certainly wouldn’t say my life is full of “consistent risks”), but I read it and I’m glad I did.  Juliani not only acknowledges that with anything new comes criticism, he encourages looking closer for the feedback that might actually help make you better, and he supports the use of that criticism as a motivator for newer and better things.  One more thing: he feels that sharing your “criticism stories” might help others.  It turns out he was right.  I’m not done being uncomfortable just yet.

Engaging Games

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When teaching Language Arts a number of years ago, one of the choices I often gave students was to create a board game as a means to visually demonstrate their understanding of characters and events in a novel.  I remember the rich learning and enjoyment experienced not only by the student who created the game, but by the students who participated in playing with the game once it was completed.  Although I observed and assessed these projects, I was never involved in the process of building a game- until this year.  I have had the pleasure of working with teachers and groups of students, creating board games based on regions of Alberta (grade 4) and now regions of Canada (grade 5).

Starting with setting criteria for powerful questions, students then proceed to create questions based on grade level appropriate information. Each student chooses a specific aspect of the region they will focus on.  Initially students try to seek my approval for the questions they create, but once they realize that I will always  refer them to the criteria to determine whether a question “makes the cut” or not, they will invariably self assess based on the criteria and feedback from their peers.  Working as a group, students then determine what type of game format they want to use. They brainstorm possible ways to make it visually appealing, and ensure the game is challenging yet achievable for those playing. It’s amazing to watch students dig into the information so that they can find creative ways to provide participants with potential learning opportunities while playing.

The first game created was a Chutes and Ladders style game that was based on the Rocky Mountain Region.   The group that created the game was tasked with the responsibility of establishing the rules for the game and explaining those to the rest of the students.   They renamed the game “Waterfalls, Chairlifts and Trails” and used shiny paper, stickers, and other embellishments to make it visually appealing and align with the characteristics of the region.  Needless to say, the rest of the students thoroughly enjoyed playing the game and provided effective feedback to the students who created it. I’m now working with two other groups of very excited students who are in the process of creating games based on different regions.

If you are interested in finding out more about this project idea, don’t hesitate to ask.

Breaking Down Walls Through Technology Use in the Classroom

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I am so fortunate to be working with such a wonderful group of teachers and administrator who want to continually learn ways to challenge our students’ learning.

Through the support of school administration a review of needs assessment was done by striking a committee that included, the principal, Richard Kniel, LC Valerie Schamehorn two teachers Rae-Anne Wevers and Jill Worthington.  The four of us were provided with the time to brainstorm and collaborate on ways to increase authentic technology use in the classrooms in order to increase student learning even more.  Jill, Rae-Anne, Richard and I spent a full day discussing ways in which we could ensure that all staff feel competent with using Google docs, effective blog posts, Twitter and other pieces of technology and digital resources within our classrooms to support student learning in an innovative manner.  We spent the day looking at and creating blog posts, tweeting out information, researching and discussing our own background knowledge as well as identifying what we still need to learn and what we will need to share with our colleagues.  We identified ways that we could utilize the Learning Coach and Technology Lead Teachers to build capacity within our school.

 

We looked at how we would tie our goals to the 5 Competencies of the Framework for Supporting Learning with Technology from Alberta Education.

1: Student-Centered Learning

2: Research and Innovation

3: Professional Learning

4: Leadership

5: Access, Infrastructure and Digital Learning Environments

 

We focused in on:

  1. are all well prepared to use technology and digital resources innovatively and effectively for learning, teaching, leadership and administration

  2. use technology and research to design personalized, authentic and student centered learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs and interests of all students

  3. engage in professional growth opportunities that are broadened and diversified through technology, social media and communities of practice

 

Wabamun School has developed a Plan and objectives to work toward this year:

  • All teachers and principal are comfortable using Google Apps (Docs and Forms)

  • All students grades 2-9 are comfortable using Google Apps (Docs and Forms)

  • All teachers have a classroom blog that post at least once weekly.

In order to achieve the Plan and Objectives, we have an Action Plan to follow:

  • One on one training with every teacher and principal to support in starting and maintaining a blog.

  • time to practice and become comfortable with blogging

  • Comment on teacher’s blogs so that they know what they are doing.

  • Share what is happening in Wabamun School with others.

    • through 184 days of learning

    • tweets

    • blogs

  • Learning Coach is trained to also support the work of teachers when learning to blog and establish authentic learning around the use of blogs.

  • Continued work with George Couros, Division Principal of Innovative Learning and Teaching.

 

We will carry on into the following year :

2015-2016 Goals and Objectives

  • All students have their own digital portfolio from grade 3-9.

  • All students K-9 are able to use Google Apps

  • All teachers maintain and blog at least once a week to communicate with families and improve student learning.

  • Continued work with George Couros, Division Principal of Innovative Learning and Teaching.

 

Our ultimate goal is to have all staff and students using technology effectively and innovatively.

As we were winding up our day’s discussion, Rae-Anne commented that we were breaking down the classroom walls through technology use!  What an inspiring day!

Lesson Study: Teaching Students How to Self-Reflect and Develop Criteria!

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Recently, I had the opportunity to co-develop and teach a Lesson Study with two other teachers.  We targeted two different Grade 8 LA classes with a lesson based on:  “What makes a good quality how-to video”.  The teachers and I established goals for the students:  to identify the elements of a good how-to video and then formulate the criteria for creating one. We brainstormed ideas, found a variety of “How-To” videos, and created a lesson which I taught allowing the classroom teachers a chance to observe their students.

 Without being told that the how-to video they were about to watch was a poor quality product, the students were asked to use their critical thinking and determine the criteria for what was good and what was bad about the video.   A T-chart was written up on the board allowing the students a chance to share their ideas and have a discussion explaining their thought processes.  Then the class watched a second how-to video that was a very good one.  They once again developed criteria sharing their opinions on the quality of the video.  With guidance, the students began to develop the criteria for a rubric.  From a teaching perspective, the lesson seemed to go fairly well, but the students were not as engaged as we had hoped.

At break, the classroom teacher and I debriefed on how the lesson had gone.  We recognized that part of the lesson needed to be changed in order for the students to remain more engaged and to get a clear understanding of how they were identifying, developing and eventually using criteria for a good quality “How-to” video.  We tweaked the lesson.

The next day the same class did a cooperative learning activity called Placemat where they took the criteria that they had identified for the rubric, watched another how-to video and individually recorded their comments on their portion of the placemat.  They discussed their ideas with their group members, came to a consensus and then graded the video.  Each group presented their criteria and reflected upon why they felt that way.  Having me teach the lesson allowed the classroom teacher to observe her class and identify when her barometer student (a term coined by the Two Sisters from Daily 5) began to lose interest.  She was able to see that the lesson was not as engaging as was necessary and recognized that we would have to shorten and change certain aspects in order for more on task time for her students.  We reflected upon the lesson and, once again, tweaked parts of it to make it better for the students who I would be teaching later that afternoon.  I checked in with the teacher of the afternoon class to show her where we had made changes and asked for her input with relation to her class.  She agreed that the changes would suit her students.

That afternoon I went into the second Grade 8 class and followed the revised lesson.  The afternoon class had a barometer student who appeared to be kept more engaged because of the changes.  The students were given the same opportunities for self-reflection and development of criteria for a good quality “How-To” video as well as group reflections and discussions. At the end of the day, the teacher and I were able to sit down and have a discussion on the successes of the lesson and any possible changes that would have to take place for future instruction.

The Lesson Study was a great opportunity to collaborate with other teachers, interact with students, and to self-reflect.

I look forward to seeing what the students will produce as they begin their own how-to videos based on the criteria that they developed with their teachers and their peers!

Soon the Garden will be Blooming

Learning In Action for All

Learning In Action

Just in my first year in the Learning Coach Role, I often reflect on my effectiveness and my ability to assist others to change their practice. Earlier this week, I was affirmed that I may be doing just that! As mentioned in my previous post, I am working with a grade three teacher with a student blogging project. I have modeled using the placemat strategy as a means to ensure all students are engaged, have a voice, and are able to assess their own learning, specifically to develop criteria and requirements for Powerful Blog Entries (yes Diane, we discussed the difference). Rather than speak about the actual lessons again, I would like to speak to the wonderful “aha” moment both the teacher and I had. After being away from the school for a week, I did a check in. She related a story about how she “just” about used the placemat strategy for another lesson, separate from our project. However, she was reluctant to “do it wrong” so she went back to a familiar, but less effective strategy. I was both excited and a little saddened by this. Excited, because she was looking for ways to incorporate the strategy into her practice and saddened, because I wondered if I hadn’t given her sufficient information, support, or something (?) so that she felt confident enough to go forth on her own. We spoke further about using this as a universal strategy and that she didn’t need my “permission” to expand on its use or worry about doing it “wrong”. This is a learning process for everyone! Imagine my delight when, later that day, I walked into a room in which she had been teaching to see this display (see picture above) on the board. Just like the Grinch, my heart grew bigger and my smile grew wider! She had taken initiative and used the strategy with a whole new group of kids to brainstorm for a writing assignment. Later that day, we had our second team teaching experience and I noticed her increased confidence and comfort level in using this teaching tool. She was effusive in her enthusiasm and its effectiveness to promote “thoughtful” thinking (is there such a beast?) in the classroom. We have plans to work on more Cooperative Learning Strategies in the New Year. I feel one small seed has been planted; I am looking forward to the garden blooming.

Notice .. Find Meaning …. Learn

 

 

NOTICE ….. FIND MEANING ….. LEARN

I don’t know if it is the full moon, continual changing of the weather patterns in Alberta or the onset of upheaval in the classrooms due to Christmas Concert rehearsals.   Tensions are rising, anxiety is in the air, and I am even more in need of the quiet mornings and evenings in my living room with a candle and a beverage of my choosing.  Mindfulness is the buzz right now and I am eager to use it daily…..  In the MIND Up Curriculum I came across a set of statements to think about or journal about, that can be so useful for adults and students alike… no matter what your occupation, age or economic status.  http://www.safeacceptingschools.ca/index.php/safeschools/resources/the-mind-up-curriculum-grades-6-8

What I noticed …..  Identify/think about/become aware of our perceptions and assumptions, our feelings;  how are our senses responding to our environment and how does all of this impact our reactions to our environment.

What it means ….. How did I feel? Then … How did I react? What did I say or do in response to what I noticed… and why?

What I learned …. About myself ; my perceptions ; my assumptions ; my sensory self ; my quickness to react ; my tolerance to my environment and the people that are in it ??

If we can’t/ don’t/ or won’t learn from our experiences and relationships and interactions …. then how are we going to move forward in life?

 

In my Learning Coach/IEL role, I am always encouraging teachers to be the detectives in our classrooms, in our hallways, in the playground areas. We look for the patterns, the strengths and areas of growth for our students. We are having formal/informal dialogues and reflecting conversations regarding what the students are telling us/showing us about their strengths and about what they need – through their behaviors or lack of certain behaviors. (What I noticed …) 

How are we adjusting the environment and activities to meet all those needs? In SBST discussions we continue to gather information about the teachers’ and students’ current realities. We study the data, observations, work samples, cum files …and formulate a plan of intervention to move the child forward and a plan of action to tweak the teaching practices to move the teacher forward.     (What it means ….)

Hopefully, before the end of the year we can all see growth and learning in the students, growth and learning in the classroom and school community, growth and learning in all the staff   (What I learned…)

because …. GUESS what ???

There are going to be more full moons, and schedule interruptions and variable weather conditions in our fine province.  Change is forever happening and we just need to continue to be mindful about what we are choosing to NOTICE about ourselves and our teaching; what it MEANS for us and our students and fellow staff members; and what we will choose to LEARN from it all.

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