PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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High Expectations From Future Employers = A New Focus On Cross Curricular Competencies

Most recently my teen-aged daughter got her first part time job.   Although this is an entry level position (her very first step into the world of work), I was amazed at how complicated the whole process was.  Two things stood out to me as she navigated her way through the application and interview process.  Firstly, I was surprised at the depth of knowledge, skills and attitudes that she was expected to possess in order to be considered for her position.  Secondly, I was amazed at the process itself, which was highly digital and time consuming.  She literally had to answer hundreds of behavioural questions that would reflect her ability to problem solve, make quick decisions, work collaboratively, be flexible, learn in a fast  paced environment, manage her time and so on.  This was a far cry from the application and interview process that I went through in my youth when I applied for my first job many years ago.

As with many of my children’s experiences, I tend to view them through my “teacher’s eyes” and this new development in my daughter’s life was no different.   Looking over her shoulder as she navigated her way through the digital process of completing her applications, uploading her resume and working through the behavioral questionnaires, many questions came to mind:

  • What skills and attitudes are missing in my daughter’s development? 
  • Are the areas where my daughter needs to improve her development of work knowledge, attitude and skill reflective of those in other youth? 
  • How do we as a school system effectively prepare our students for their future employment? 
  • How can I use my daughter’s experiences to help me as a Learning Coach to support teachers in moving their practice forward, so that they are supporting students to effectively prepare for their future? 

My daughter is what I would consider a 21st Century Learner and her most recent experience into the world of work is confirmation for me that there is most definitely a shift happening in what employers are expecting, even from their most junior employees.  This is also reflective of the transformation that is happening in Education today.  With the most recent changes brought about by the Ministerial Order, we are moving away from a content focused curriculum, to focus being placed on using the content to teach the Cross Curricular Competencies.    The 10 Cross Curricular Competencies focus on supporting Alberta’s students in becoming engaged thinkers, ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit.  They are an “interrelated set of attitudes, skills and knowledge that students will be able to draw upon and apply to a particular context for successful learning and living.”  The Competencies include:

  • Know how to learn
  • Think critically
  • Identify and solve complex problems
  • Manage information
  • Innovate
  • Create opportunities
  • Apply multiple literacies
  • Demonstrate good communication skills
  • Demonstrate global and cultural understanding
  • Identify and apply career and life skills

When I think back to the behavioral questionnaires that my daughter had to answer in order to even be considered for an interview, it is obvious to me that she had to draw upon her own development of the attitudes, knowledge and skills that closely relate to the competencies in the Ministerial Order.  These employers wanted to know:

  • If she did know how to learn
  • If she was able to manage information in a fast paced, sometimes stressful environment
  • If she could work as part of a team and communicate effectively, not only in a digital format, but in person as well, and so on.

When I view the Cross Curricular Competencies in light of my daughter’s work experiences and her future career expectations, I honestly believe that we are on the right track as we shift towards a competency focused approach to teaching and learning.  In light of this, I have many more questions that I ask myself as a Learning Coach:

  • How do I support this shift? 
  • How do I support teachers in not only deepening their understanding of the Cross Curricular Competencies, but in shifting their focus from teaching content, to using the content to teach the competencies? 
  • How do I support teachers in designing authentic and engaging competency focused experiences in order to ensure optimal learning? 

Right now I feel like I have many more questions than answers and many of these questions are complex and will keep me busy for a while; but I am excited to work through this process collaboratively with my not only my Learning Coach Cohort, but my teaching colleagues as well.  I am also glad to have my daughter’s experiences as a lens to look through when working through this process.

Summer…Rest, Rejuvenate and Take Some Time to do …Nothing.

It’s June.  The sun shines warmly this week as schools across Parkland School Division push through the final exciting last days before summer holidays officially begin.  Provincial Achievement tests, fun days, field trips and farewells are all on the agenda.  Students and teachers alike are looking forward to long lazy summer days.  For me, summer is a wonderful time of year.  I love the promise of rest and rejuvenation that summer represents.  It brings with it relaxed, casual days and time to reconnect with family and friends.  A time to do…nothing, if that is what pleases you.  By nothing, I mean just hanging out with no agenda, no goals, nothing planned, just being in that moment.  It’s funny how often, with our very busy lives, we feel so guilty just doing…nothing.  Interestingly enough, I read recently that neuroscientists actually have said that some of the greatest thinking happens when we are in fact doing nothing.   “By intentionally disconnecting from deliberate, goal-focused, conscious thinking, we give our brains a chance to “clear the cache”) — and instead, engage in a process called ‘integration’. This has something to do with letting the brain access disparate information stored in our memory in a natural way. The unfolding of new connections without effort often leading to insights and creativity that far surpasses that which may come from deliberate problem solving.”(Eileen Chadnick 2014).  It is no secret that teaching is a busy profession and as a learning coach, I often support teachers when they are feeling overwhelmed because of the sheer business of their day to day lives.  The idea of taking some time to “clear the cache or de-clutter” our brains has some definite merit, especially when the school year is coming to a close and we have a little time to devote to this idea.  In conversations that I am having with staff this week, as we talk about summer plans, I am encouraging everyone that I talk to take a little time just to do nothing and see what result may come from such an endeavor.  I am actually looking forward to touching base with everyone in September to see how “doing nothing” went.  As for myself, I definitely plan on trying this out and am hoping that I will become more creative and perhaps even more enlightened!  Have a wonderful summer and take a little time to just do…nothing!

Change is Messy Work

In the book, The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar, she defines the “trans” in “transformation” as meaning “across, on the other side of, beyond – where we are going is unknown and yet to be defined”.   Our role as learning coaches is to support change, and more often than not the result of this change is not always clear to us.  When we take steps to change, we are walking into the unknown and this can be very uncomfortable, not only for the teacher we are working with, but for us as coaches as well.  In my many coaching conversations with teachers, I have found that there is an overwhelming want to make changes in order to provide a caring, learning rich, fair, yet equitable environment that supports the many individual needs that they are faced with; but the million dollar question is how?  Well, as Mrs. Kelly Wilkins, our own Deputy Superintendent often says, “this is messy work”.   I smile as I think about Kelly saying this because it is so true!  I honestly believe that this is a great way to describe our work as coaches….messy.  The wonderful thing about messy is that it can be freeing, exciting and fun, especially if we are willing to let go of our preconceptions about how we think things should look or be, and be willing to dream….risk….yes, fail and try again.  I have personally found that the messiest work is when I am digging in and doing some really deep coaching, and the funny thing is, the messiest work has been the most rewarding work.  It is in the midst of the messiest work that I have been challenged, stretched and empowered.  It is in the midst of this messy work that I have seen the most growth in myself and my collaborative teaching partner at the time.  Through these messy coaching experiences I have learned the following:

  • Messy work takes trust.  A solid foundation of trust makes the messiest work less scary because we are not alone.
  • Messy work takes time.  In order to make meaningful changes there has to be a clear understanding of exactly where we are and where we want to go.  This takes time to observe, reflect, dream, plan, try, reflect, tweak, and try again.
  • Messy work takes mindful observation.  If you do not have a clear picture of “now”, it is difficult to work towards “tomorrow”.
  • Messy work takes asking difficult questions of ourselves and others.  We cannot have a clear understanding about ourselves as teachers and about our work if we do not ask difficult questions.  Difficult questions guide us to see situations from other perspectives and challenge us to try something new.
  • Messy work takes stamina.  Try and try again – taking the risk to try something new is a huge step in creating change.  When the first step is a big nose dive, picking ourselves up and trying something else is another huge step in the right direction.
  • Messy work takes practice.  Let’s face it, when we try something new, it at times may look ugly at first.  Practice makes perfection.
  • Messy work takes celebration.  Making significant changes can be a long process and at times frustrating.  Celebrating each step in the right direction motivates everyone to keep going.

Arnold Bennett is quoted as saying “Any change, even a change for the better is always accomplished by drawbacks and discomforts.”  In coaching situations where I am feeling uncomfortable because I myself cannot clearly see the end result, I try to be mindful that it is the process that is most powerful, and this allows me to take the focus off of the end result and just enjoy rolling up my sleeves, digging my hands in deeper and getting good and messy.

Happy New Year

As we move into 2014, it is a great time to reflect on the past year, as well as look forward to the year to come.  Many of us have come up with a New Year’s resolution or two, and I am no different.  As I reconnect with staff after the Christmas break, I am again reminded of the exciting and challenging times we are facing in Education today.  This makes me think of the important work that we need to continue to do in creating inclusive environments for students in Parkland School Division.  It also brings to mind my own role as a Learning Coach within the Division, reflecting on how the past year and a half has gone and what personal goals I need to set for myself for the remainder of this school year.  Keeping all of this in mind, I have started 2014 by looking again at the PSD Commitment to Inclusion Statements and started my own personal reflection process.

PSD’s Commitment to Inclusion:
Move from:

  • the idea of fixing students to the idea of improving environments
  • dependence on staff (teachers and EA’s) to a focus on independence
  • “Special Ed” to ALL students being special
  • a deficit model of thinking to a strength based model of thinking
  • having high expectations for some to having high expectations for ALL

A big part of my reflection process has started by not just looking at the commitment statements, but honestly reflecting on each one of them by asking myself two things:

  1.  In my role as a learning coach, how have I used the Commitment Statements to guide my behaviors and decisions in supporting a cultural shift in the schools that I work with?
  2. What barriers might I personally have that could be slowing down my ability to support change?

Reflecting on the relationships that I have built with staff and the projects, supports and collaboration opportunities I have initiated in my role as a learning coach, has been a validating experience.  Often we don’t realize how much we have done unless we take a moment to reflect on it.  What is great about reflecting is that it also provides the opportunity to build onto what has already been put in place and set goals for the months to come, as well as ask deeper questions.  As I have reflected on how things have been going, more and more questions and ideas have come about and this has also inspired me to start discussions with staff, which has made this whole process a richer experience…. as we all know….collaboration is always key to growth!

Looking at the my second question has been a little more challenging as I really have needed to critically examine my barriers; and, I have to admit that I have actually come face to face with one or two that I myself have created because of my own discomfort/comfort level, perceptions and beliefs.  Owning this, at first was difficult for me, as like others, pride myself on doing my best work.  The interesting and motivating  thing  is that once I took the opportunity to look critically at these barriers, the process of setting new goals for myself and coming up with strategies to remove these barriers has been a powerful experience.  Like with my reflection on how I have supported change, my reflection on barriers also has brought about other, deeper questions.  I don’t necessarily have all of the answers to these questions yet, but working through this process will I believe, be big part of my growth.

As the first weeks back to school move along and I continue to work through my reflection process, I feel I have a deeper sense of where I have been and where I need to go next in my role as a learning coach.  Using the PSD Commitment to Inclusion Statements have been a key part of this process and asking key questions has taken my self-reflection to a deeper level.  I am excited to start the New Year with some well thought out “resolutions”, both personal and professional.  Wising everyone all the very best in 2014!

Kagan’s in the House…..

It is hard to believe that October is already here and the year is in “full swing”.  Reflecting back, it has been a great start to my second year as a Learning Coach.  For me, the school year started in late August when I (along with some of my colleagues) attended the Kagan Cooperative Learning Institute.  Like many of my colleagues in our profession, I am a firm believer that professional development opportunities are a great way to not only further develop our pedagogy and practice, but they can also inspire us.  For me, the Kagan Cooperative Learning Institute did just that.

As I think back to my first day at the Institute, I smile at how confident I felt in my own teaching experiences utilizing what I thought was cooperative learning with my students.  It did not take me long to realize, however, that what I had actually been doing was a kind of “glorified group work”.  That realization gave me new appreciation for the research, philosophy, methods and structures that Dr. Kagan spent years perfecting.  In fact, the Kagan institute was just the thing I needed to reignite my excitement for the new school year.  I could not wait to work with my  staff and their students on integrating the Kagan philosophy and structures into their teaching.

Introducing my staff to Kagan came soon after I attended institute,  on one of our beginning of the year staff planning days.  The Assistant Principal and I had planned on facilitating a P.D. session introducing our staff to Executive Function Skills.  Although Executive Function is a fascinating topic, and definitely something that I knew our teachers would appreciate learning about, it can be a little dry at times; so, we needed to be mindful as to how we delivered this important information to staff.  This, of course was my golden opportunity to introduce my staff to Kagan.  Using the Kagan structures to teach Executive Function was actually very simple, and the response from our adult learners was fascinating and exciting to watch.  What I remember most was the focused noise level coming from the cooperative groups as they worked through the Kagan structures.  The energy in the room contagious.  Seeing staff actively participating in their learning…sharing their thoughts and ideas, with everyone having an equal opportunity to share was fantastic.  The positive feedback from staff after our P.D. session confirmed my belief in how effective these structures really are in providing opportunities for optimal student engagement.

Now that a month has gone by, I have had several opportunities to go into classrooms and work with teachers and their students using the Kagan structures to teach concepts in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies.  I see the same thing over and over again in each classroom – active, engaged learning with equal participation by all.  As the year progresses, I cannot wait to continue my work with teachers on planning, implementing and reflecting on the Kagan structures and philosophy.

Christine Paterson

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