PSD70 Learning Coach Program

A Parkland School Division Blog Site

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.

Fierce Conversations


“Healthy relationships require appreciation and confrontation.”  Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott  pg 163

The work we did last year in the Fierce Conversations training with Leah Andrews has had lasting impact in my work as a Learning Coach.  Given my “golden retriever” personality, my tendency is to compromise being completely honest if I feel it will damage the relationship.  Therefore one of the challenges I’ve had to face as a LC is learning to navigate through those (sometimes) difficult conversations;  recognizing that exploring the real issues requires honesty- genuine listening and genuine feedback- communicated in a manner that doesn’t compromise the relationship and is an impetus for change.

In reflecting on my year so far, I realize that I have had significantly more “fierce conversations” than in previous years.  Coincidence?  I think not.  I recognize that I had become an expert at avoiding difficult conversations so this has been a definite area of growth for me.  Have they all gone perfectly?  Absolutely not.  But I do believe my emotional and conversational muscles are growing stronger with each of these conversations.  More importantly though, are some positive changes that have happened in classrooms following those conversations.

Effective Coaching Cultivates Growth

Over the past few weeks I have reflected on the work we did as Learning Coaches on Oct. 9 where we looked at the criteria for “effective coaching” as well as the criteria for a “powerful visual”.  The task seemed daunting at the outset, which is no doubt how many students feel when presented with a new assignment or project.  However, Diane modeled the scaffolding process and by the end of the day each group was able to demonstrate what effective coaching looks like in a visual that was then presented to the whole group.  This is the visual that our group was able to “Produce”.  Thanks Dalouie Dilling, James Coghill and Kelly MacLeod for the rich conversations that contributed to our final product.


Undivided Attention


This September was by far the busiest I have had as a Learning Coach because this is the first year that I have been able to start the year focusing solely on my role as a Learning Coach.  Due to tragic circumstances two years ago, I worked at the high school in Learning Services part time while staring  the coaching role here at Woodhaven, and then last year, due to exciting circumstances (covering a maternity leave) I wore both of the hats of IEL and Learning Coach.  Needless to say, the IEL role will always trump the role of Learning Coach, especially in a school with a significant number of special needs students. I really enjoy working closely with Ashley, our IEL, but I am so thankful that the roles are not combined in our division and that I have finally been able to start a school year off without competing priorities.

In particular, it has been wonderful to be able to work with a number of new teachers in our building as I have had time to spend significant time in some of their classrooms.    Dalouie, who is now a reserve coach,  and I have worked together in some capacity over the past several years, but being able to collaborate with her in this role is inspiring and energizing.  As much as I miss working daily with James, it’s also been great to have him as part of the coaching cohort as we’ve communicated frequently over these past weeks.   Dalouie, James, a grade 5 teacher and I all participated in the Webinar together  yesterday and had some very rich conversations after it was over.

There were times in the first year or two in this role, that I felt isolated and or overwhelmed by expectations (mostly self imposed) but due to the amazing expertise, experience and willingness to support from this Learning Coach cohort there is no absolutely no need to ever feel isolated.  It’s encouraging to hear from new coaches that they are experiencing this already.

Mystery Skype =Deductive Reasoning

A few weeks ago, I met with our grade 5 PLC as they were looking to find a creative way to wrap up the Canadian Regions unit in Social Studies.  I had recently observed a “Mystery Skype” with one of our grade 7 classes and a class in Southern California, so suggested it to these teachers.  All four of them jumped at the idea.  A Mystery Skype is where two classes meet via Skype but neither class knows where the other class is located.  The goal is to determine the location of the other class.

By narrowing down the scope of the mystery to another region in Canada- I set out to find other classes across the country willing to participate.  After sending out numerous emails, and arranging times that worked – given schedules and time zone differences, I was able to set up a separate Mystery Skype for each of the classes. (Thanks in no small part to Dalouie in our library who orchestrated the technology piece.) The students had to prepare questions that could only be answered with “yes” or “no”.  I encouraged them to  base their questions on the geographical knowledge they had gained over the year about the various regions in Canada.  For example, “Is forestry a main industry in your region?”   It was so interesting to watch the students use their deductive reasoning skills by processing the “Yes” or “No” answer to their questions.     Something I hadn’t anticipated prior to the first session, was that our students needed to know their own geography in order to answer the questions being asked of them.  All of the students participated in the activity as they took turns asking and answering questions and had to listen intently to the answers in order to solve the mystery.

All in all, it was an engaging, rich experience for students and provided an opportunity to connect with students and teachers elsewhere in this vast country.   All four classes were able to solve the “mystery” and figure out where the other class was from, and visa verse.  This is definitely an activity that I would recommend and would invest the time to do it again next year.


When I reflect on this past year, one of the highlights for me has been overseeing the Precision Reading Program.  This started as a result of a conversation with some grade 6 teachers back in the fall.  These teachers were very concerned about the reading level of several students, particularly two students who were reading several years below grade level, so differentiating instruction was becoming increasingly challenging.

I had heard about Precision Reading as a method of improving reading fluency and decided to investigate.  Diane Lander came to the school and trained most of our grade 5 and 6 teachers.  Part way through the training I realized that although teachers were willing to work one on one with students, our need for this work surpassed our teacher availability. Fortunately, I was able to find 4 outstanding parent volunteers who were willing to commit to coming in daily to read with students.  By November we were in full swing and by January were up to 19 students who participated in the program.

The results exceeded all expectation.  Although the degree of progress varied greatly between students, all made significant progress in reading fluency.  What was amazing to observe though, was the relationships that developed between the students and volunteers, and the friendships that grew between some of the participating students.

Prior to our wrap up celebration last week, I had students make thank you cards for the volunteer that read with them.  Genuine appreciation came through loud and clear as students articulated what this program meant to them.  Comments such as, “I actually like reading now!”  “I have so much more confidence now.”  “I can keep up with reading in class and understand it so much better.”  Needless to say, the teachers have really appreciated the support this has provided and gave me an “in” to classes as well as insight into what was up and coming in the curriculum.

The overwhelming feedback from students, parents and teachers is to continue this program next year.  Although my role in this program is likely to change over the next year, I’m very excited to be a part of it.  I really appreciate Diane Lander’s support in helping us to get it off the ground.

Intuition and Intention

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Nic McPhee

Recently I have been reflecting about those things that I do intuitively and those that I have to be very intentional about.  Througout this past year as a Learning Coach, I have often been surprised while observing a class when a teacher does or doesn’t do something that I  assumed was obvious, or for me something I do intuitively.   However, I have also recognized that there are things I have to be very intentional about that for others comes very naturally or intuitively.  For example, coming up with creative ideas and thinking of imaginative ways to engage students comes naturally and easily as it is something I do intuitively.  On the other hand, when it comes to working out the details of how to implement those creative ideas I have to be very intentional in my planning.  Obviously these are characteristics of how individuals are wired and are neither good/bad or right/wrong.  By stepping back and recognizing the inherit differences that factor into how a teacher approaches planning lessons, creating classroom cultures,  building relationships etc., helps me in the coaching role as I realize the need to appreciate those characteristics and differentiate in my approach accordingly.

Two Steps Back

I’ve often described my journey as a Learning Coach as “taking two steps forward and one step back”.   In other words, every time I experience a couple of coaching “successes” a set back or challenge seems to follow.  Obviously, this parallels most valuable life experiences. Lately however, I have come to realize that coaching successes are not about me at all.  Even though I intuitively knew that prior to assuming this role, I have experienced this repeatedly over the past months.   In fact, the times that I feel as though I have the most to “offer” a teacher that I am working with are the times that I typically see the least impact. Dispelling the notion that I can solve the problems a teacher is facing almost always leads down a path of success for both the teacher and me.

It is guiding a teacher through the process of identifying where he or she wants to go and helping them to explore some of the possible ways to get there that allows for long term impact.  After a planning session I usually follow up with the teacher to ask how the lesson went.  Initially, if the response was very positive I would (secretly) hope the teacher would give me (at least) some of the credit for their success.   I now recognize that when a teacher credits their own hard work and personal capabilities for their success, it is actually an indication of a successful coaching experience.  My taking two steps back, allows the teacher to step forward.

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