PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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We Are Only As Good As……

It is Halloween and I am in Keephills School today (GREAT school to be in for Halloween).  The kids are changing into costumes right now and it gives me the opportunity to read the lastest Blogs and reflect on the second month of school.

I have been and out of many classrooms and collaborated with many teachers this month.  What has really become apparent to me is that teachers are starting to realize that the strength of their teaching practice is only as good as their least engaged, least motivated and least successful student.  More and more, teachers are taking a hard look at the LEARNING in their classrooms and asking themselves what could/should they be doing to make sure all of the students in their class have a chance to engage in learning a meaningful way.

Marsie is right; students being engaged in what is happening in their classrooms is a KEY component to everything that we want for them.  I am working with a school right now that is really looking at engagement, what does it look like (three teachers and I sat together and came up with a “checklist” of student and teacher behaviours we would expect to see in a class where the students are engaged.) We are watching these kids in their classrooms as they learn, collecting the data on engagement, and realizing through this data that we want a much bigger % of students engaged all the time, and that we can do more to make this happen. We have asked ourselves what can be done to improve engagement, and come up with strategies like  using the Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures, and having the students co-develop criteria and self -assess, ability grouping in multi-aged classrooms—-I like the idea of getting the students involved in these changes; being honest with them about we are trying to do and asking for their feedback as we try new things.  What a great idea, Marsie!

Time for the costume parade!

Amy Wolodko

Amazing Work!

Here we are at week 3 in the school year.  For each of these three weeks, I have been able to spend one week each in the three schools that I work with.  This actually has been a priviledge for me, to see some amazing work in action and be able to work with teachers that are really focused on using ideas that have been proven to help kids become more successful learners.  The three things that have been the most exciting these three weeks are: the Daily 5, creating Learning Profiles to inform teaching, and using the Gini-Newman concept of “Cascading Curriculum” to engage students by giving them a real purpose for learning.

Most of you know that the Daily 5 is a literacy structure that is fantastic for both providing DIFFERENTIATION and CONSISTENCY in the classroom.  It engages students and teaches them independence in reading and writing. One of the teachers I am working with is introducing this structure into her class of grade 2/3 combined.  Each week she introduces a new literacy “task” that the students practice until they can both achieve the task being learned and transition  between tasks successfully.  I have been observing the Daily 5 in action and later the teacher and I are able to discuss what students were doing, how to tweak things for success, who might need a little more structure to be successfull etc.. I know that she has mentioned that the extra set of eyes while she is going through this process, as well as the follow up conversations have been really helpful.  I hope more teachers look at this program as it is fantastic!

I am also working with a number of teachers to build learning profiles on their students.  These teachers would like to try some DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION with their students and are using the learning profiles as a starting point.  Differentiation works best when you know your students.  Once the profiles are built, the next steps will be to “tweak” (I use that word a lot, I know!) many of the lessons they currently use to better match the learner profiles in the room.  I’ll keep you posted on how we do that in a future post!

Ever since I attented the Garfield Gini-Newman session at Division Office last year, I have been hoping to find a teacher that wanted to try the “Cascading Curriculum” idea of putting a a “transcendent” question out to the students BEFORE a unit of study.  This question will connect the ‘big idea” from the curriculum to the students lives and the world they live in.  I helps give meaning to the learning for the students.  At the same time, the students are presented with a “challenge”  that they will complete that produces evidence of their learning in the unit and reflect one of the six critical thinking prompts.  Through-out the unit the students are presented with Mini-Challenges that reflect the broad understandings the students need to know to be able to complete the challenge.  Currently I am working with a grade 9 science teacher who is using this method in his electricity unit.  The students were given the challenge that by the end of the unit they are going to have to invent an electrical device that somehow makes human’s life a little easier.  The teacher is currently working on the mini-challenges so that the grade 9s have the background knowledge they need to meet the challenge.  As he finishes each mini challenge, he has the students go back and readdress their ideas for the invention, based on  their new learnings.  He has found the students more engaged because they are more clear about the purpose for the learning.

Parkland teachers Rock!!

Amy Wolodko

Sometimes It Is the Little Things.

The Parkland School Division’s Learning Services Team offers great PD that supports the initiatives of the Division to have all students be engaged, thinking critically and included in learning activities in the classroom.

When I was a classroom teacher, I would often attend these PD sessions and get great ideas that I would bring back into my own classroom. Each of us has probably sent, and received an email that said,” Went to this awesome session with some great ideas for….., here is the link, check it out!” Which most colleagues won’t do because they have their own stuff on the go.

One advantage of being a learning coach is you can send out this email instead, “Attended a great session with ideas for……It is great for doing these types of things…..I would really like to see some of these strategies in action, can we try them in your students together?” Send out this email and you will be happy with the response you get from teachers.

Isn’t this what the “Elbow to Elbow” idea is all about?  We know we don’t want our work with teachers to feel like an “add on” for them.  Sometimes the small, effective, quick strategies that we can do with teachers make a big difference in the engagment and learning of students and are appreciated by teachers because it did not take a lot of their time to learn, they get to see the effect on their students immediately and best of all, it will leave them wanting more.

A recent example?  Right now, Diane and Leah are offering an excellent afterschool PD on Cooperative Learning using some of the Kagan Learning Structures.  Every two weeks we learn about and practice 2 or 3 of these structures.  Some of the people in the group are teachers who are very excited to go back into their own classes and use some of these strategies with all ages of students and a few of us are learning coaches that are hoping to get some of the teachers we work with to try the strategies with their students.

After our last session, I sent out an email to my three schools describing what we worked on and asking if anyone would be willing to let me come in and together we could try some of the strategies.  I had positive responses from several teachers and have been able to try the structures in 5 different classrooms and have a few more lined up.  The teachers and students have loved the work and all of the teachers have reported continuing the work in other ways since.

The lesson, many teachers are looking for good, easy effective strategies that they can use today.  If you have ideas, send out specific request to teachers and ask if you can work with them to try them.

First Staff Update-Very Helpful!

Hello All,

Last week I did my first official “Learning Coach Update” with my three schools.  These updates took place at the three different staff meetings during our District PD and consisted of me making a “hand-out” where I discussed the different kinds of things I had been working on with teachers in the three different schools and further suggestions/clarifications of ideas for further/new work with teachers.  I also took the days that I have left at each school, divided them by the number of teachers on staff that I work with, and came up with a “general” amount of time that I had for each teacher (anywhere from 3.5 to 8.4 Days per teacher).  I found it was really valuable for them to see this number as I was getting quite a bit of feedback from some teachers who I work with a fair bit that they worried they were “dominating” my time. They were not at all; just really weren’t thinking about how much time I really do have in which we could be doing amazing, even somewhat long-term work!

For these staff meetings, I also asked one teacher from each school to talk about their experience with how the Learning Coach Program had been valuable for them in their teaching practice.  A couple of my Principals were also very supportive, reminded the staff of the purpose of this program, that it was not about evaluation, and that schedules were going to be set up in the office for teachers to “sign up” for my time and really encouraged teachers to use that time.

The results have been very positive.  Teachers who gave me feedback later mentioned that the hand out and discussion gave them some great ideas for what we could work on together.  I have been busy this week!

Amy Wolodko


Just ONE student at a time….

I know a lot of us are still learning who is where, and doing what, so let me start with my particulars.  This year, I am a full time Learning Coach travelling between three different schools; Duffield, Wabamun, and Keephills.

It has been quite a month!  I have felt so privileged to be in and out of the classrooms of some dedicated colleagues who are doing amazing things to cultivate life long learners.

It has also been very interesting (and challenging) to discover that some  teachers really aren’t sure what to do with me.  They have not “taken up” coaching because they aren’t sure what it is or what coaching can do. They know it is a form of professional development, they have been told it is a job-embedded way to improve and refine their practice, they know they can determine their own goals and direct their own path…but many are still not seeking out this opportunity. I have had conversations with teachers where I say something like, “Where are you already effective and how can I help you explore areas you’d like to develop?”, and have had teachers surprised that I am coming to them. These teachers are clearly in a mindset of seeing coaching as a deficit model; that is, a coach is there “to fix” something that is wrong so if I am talking to them I must think they are doing something wrong. I am working hard to overcome this perception.

If you are experiencing these kinds of challenges with some of the teachers you work with, perhaps ask those colleagues to focus on just one student.  Ask them to think about just ONE student that they know, deep down, is not being successful in their class.  Try a Planning Conversation with that teacher about that ONE student and what he/she feels might be a barrier to that child’s success.  Don’t let that teacher fall into the old habit of discussing things that are out of the schools control, things that the school can’t affect or make better for that child. Have the teacher focus on the areas that they control and what kinds of changes can be made to help that student . What changes can they make to their classroom practices that will support that ONE child’s academic, social and emotional growth. Encourage them not to wait for the next teacher to do it; it takes all of us!

I know many of us have unique and varied ways of getting our “coaching” message out there.  I am interested to hear how others are overcoming (or struggling with) those difficult challenges!


Twitter @awolodko

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