PSD70 Learning Coach Program

A Parkland School Division Blog Site

Celebrating the Efforts

As the year winds down, people are exhausted yet excited. Students are busy completing assessments, enjoying year end field trips, looking forward to vacation plans over the summer.   Staff are gathering and marking assessments , preparing final report cards and looking forward to vacation plans as well.  It’s time to celebrate our efforts.

Teachers are reflecting on how learning takes place in their classrooms more and more.  As we have conversations informally in the halls, talking about the next year, people are excited about trying a new strategy, introducing a new activity or reviewing a new resource.  The best part about this process is that people are sharing their ideas.  Casual conversations as colleagues or formal conversations with a learning coach, people are communicating about best practices as they see things today.

As I reflect on my own learning this year, I am reminded that every adult and student that enter our schools are doing the best they can with what they have today.  That looks different for each and every one of us.  With a culture that focuses on fixing environments, recognizing strengths, encouraging independence and having high expectations for all, its natural to remember that all kids are special. Staff and students are moving forward in PSD 70.

When To Jump

I’ve been thinking about the bandwagon again.  New Year’s Resolutions and all.  It seems like every January, I find myself in the same position, thinking about where I am, what’s going to get me to where I want to go, and the support that I am going to need.  There are two major things about resolutions that don’t sit well with me.  People telling me I have to do something, and knowing that if I don’t plan it out well, it’s doomed before it starts.  And now it’s March….

All together it seems overwhelming, and making a change means more pressure and work.  Finding support with others that are looking for the same results is helpful and provides motivation.  But at the end of the day, I have to be the one to decide when and how I will do this.  I’ll admit, I am a bit stubborn, if someone tells me I HAVE to do something, I most likely will dig in my heels and do the opposite, even if I know it is only digging me deeper into a stagnant pit!

When I do buy in and make a decision to make a change, the challenging part is in the doing, getting started, collecting data on the results, recognizing successes and continuing when things get hectic.  It needs a plan and a support network.  I’m looking to others and Google for information about which plan is best.  Collaborating at this point, and reflecting on what is happening today, keeps moving me forward.

Now I am guessing that it’s apparent that this isn’t the first time I’ve been down this road, personally or professionally.   Whether we are talking about a healthy lifestyle or an engaging classroom, the process is unique to each and every one of us.  And, here I am again, wondering about what will work for me, today, this time around.  And that is important!  Because I’m moving forward.

Motivated Engagement?

In talking with colleagues about student engagement and what that really looks like in a classroom, I’ve found the response to be varied in enthusiasm.  Good teachers are excited about teaching and learning and are looking for strategies and structures that allow students to be involved in their learning.  Kagen’s collaborative structures support this, as does the inclusion of technology and some good old fashioned talking and doing.

I am curious about how often teachers ask their students about what motivates them.  Being a teacher/coach, I am reflecting daily on how to motivate and keep my students engaged, always having intellectual engagement in mind.

It has been said that all students are motivated by marks. The more I mark, the more they will do.  We stress about exams and rewrites. What is best for them? The students.

Do they really care about the marks? Would they if their parents, their teachers and peers didn’t?  Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t acknowledge excellence or the fact that we have benchmarks in learning. It is important.  But should we acknowledge the marks before the learning?

A student came to go over an exam today is SDL – our Student Directed Learning time. I had told the class that I would add 25% of their correction mark to their original score if they took advantage of this opportunity.  She looked at me and said “I don’t really care about the mark Ms. Fisk. I want to make sure that I understand.”  She went on to talk about how the mark is more important next year with applying for University, but right now she wants a solid understanding of the skills needed to move into Math 30-1. This pretty amazing young lady isn’t my top student, she is busy with sports, volunteering and even makes time for her friends.  Somehow her view seems more balanced and makes so much sense!

In looking at ways to intellectually engage our students, maybe we need to ask them? Give them a voice, which also means giving them responsibility. Someone did an amazing job with this young lady, regardless of the normal expectations.

She motivates me to continue to look for what works for students.  I really love working with such great kids!



Why Learning Coaches?

Why Learning Coaches?


As we “learn forward” in Parkland School Division and Memorial Composite High School specifically, we continue to question and understand the characteristics of an effective learning coach-teacher relationship.  Perhaps two key questions of the role are:

1)      What are some of the ways learning coaches can provide support to teachers to strengthen inclusive practices?

2)      What do we want teachers to say about the impact the learning coach has had on their instruction?

For both questions, we want to structure our work with teachers within the framework of goals for Parkland School Division which will include working to improve student achievement by providing local support to teachers.  Collaboration is the Key to unlocking the potential within the schools and removing the barriers of isolation and competition that prevent effective teaching from becoming the norm for all teachers.

As we move towards a more inclusive environment in Alberta schools, PSD has backed up their promise to ensure that all students are getting what they need in order to do the best they can with the implementation of our Commitments to Inclusion.  As Learning Coaches, every conversation, presentation or professional development opportunity is connected back to these Commitments. They are what frame our direction as we work alongside classroom teachers and their students to help figure out what works best for all students in all classes. Ultimately, this is why.

Improving the learning environment(s) is the responsibility of all in a school.  It is important that students have a voice and that teachers have a support for implementing new teaching strategies. The implementation of SDL – Student Directed Learning time, at MCHS is an onsite dimension (Joyce & Showers, 1980) for both staff and students to reflect on, practice, enrich or re-mediate curriculum as required.  Voluntarily accessing learning support focuses the teaching and the learning on the student.

Recognizing that students should be accountable and responsible in part for their own learning, learning coaches are working with teachers to ensure that there is open communication in our classrooms.    Keeping in mind Green’s “Kids will do well if they can.”  It is one of our jobs to make sure that students feel invested in making sure that happens.  As Learning Coaches, we offer a presentation titled, “Who is driving your Future?”, where students and staff look at the skills already present, identify learning styles and preferences, and discuss assessment.  Students identify the barriers to their learning and are encouraged to use a variety of tools, including their teacher to address how they can overcome those barriers.  It is important that students know that they have a voice in their education, and yet will still be responsible for demonstrating what and how they have achieved the competencies as outlined.

An inclusive environment in education is about providing opportunities for students to be successful regardless of their personal challenges.  This means doing what is right for the individual student, keeping the big picture of student achievement in mind.  Many of the students in our schools are coming to us with challenges of their own, so what makes one challenge more important than the challenge of another?  To limit the support for their needs to those with medical, physical or cognitive concerns negates our belief in doing what is right for all students.  Learning coaches are available to provide support for teachers as they move forward to include all students in their classes, knowing that success looks different for everyone.

Continuing on the journey, we are moving from a deficit model of thinking – always looking for what is wrong or what can be fixed – to a strength based model – acknowledging what students and staff are doing right as we move forward together.  Teachers and students know where they can improve respectively.  It may not be at the top of the list of their things to do, but we know that we can and should be a better version of ourselves tomorrow.  Recognizing what people are doing well is important in fostering a culture where both staff and students are willing to take a chance on making a change.  We all have areas of strength and areas that can use some attention.  As Learning Coaches, we are working to assist in implementing strategies and ideas as we bring forward this strength based model.

High expectations for all students, empowers students and teachers to improve achievement.  Implementing a model that prepares students for success by developing critical thinking and problem solving skills is essential for deep learning.  By combining, onsite coaching in classrooms to teachers with differentiated capacity and need, we are creating a school culture with rigorous expectations for behavior and achievement for all as well as strong adult-student relationships.  This gives all students, whether they need radical acceleration or primary support, a clear purpose and vision to work towards excellence.

A lot of what is going on in Education today, although presented as new and innovative, is really just old ideas that have been questioned and tweaked and remodelled to ensure that we are doing what is best for our students, today.  That is the foundation for the learning coach program, to encourage teachers and students to question what works, and what doesn’t.  To develop an environment where all parties are invested in moving forward with best practices to encourage increased student achievement and success.  Again, this is why.


Analee & Marsie


Thankful for the Process


As we round out the first year of a three year Learning Coach implementation for Parkland School Division, I am thankful for the opportunities I’ve had as a result of this program.

I am thankful for our learning coach cohort and the support they provide as necessary.  As a group we passionately believe in the potential of our program and how it can benefit our students, our staffs, and our school communities. Although our individual assignments and the experiences we bring may vary by location, our successes and challenges are similar. Thank you for sharing such a vast range of experiences and knowledge.

I am thankful for my learning coach partner, Analee, as she brings to me a sense of balance.  She doesn’t laugh or roll her eyes at me when I run in with a crazy idea or story.  She listens.  Analee has helped me to realize that we don’t need to always agree, that together we are stronger, that our passion to do what is best for kids needs to be at the forefront as we move forward.  Thank you for being present.

I am thankful for being a part of a dynamic school environment.  We’re not all on the same page when it comes to Inspiring Education, but we are all there because of a belief in educating our students.  As I think about the growth on my staff, I am reminded of an experience as a Leadership teacher. Travelling to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for a National Student Leadership Conference, our Whitecourt movers and shakers were a bit overwhelmed by all the excitement as we entered the conference site.  The energy was contagious, but a bit foreign.  As we settled in, our SC President at the time, noticed a large group of people doing the Pony Dance.  She was mortified that high school students were dancing around in a circle singing “Here we go, around that pony, round and round that big fat pony!”  And they had actions that couldn’t be appropriate!  As advisors, we stood back, and watched as she stood with her arms crossed, refusing to participate.  Slowly, we noticed she had inched forward, dropping her hands to her sides.  She checked over her shoulders to see who was watching.  She began to find the rhythm of the music, then mimicked the movements.  And then she busted into the group, arms flailing, hips moving, screaming the words.  And having a blast!  We stood back and smiled.

This experience reminds me often of how as we experience change, we can all be resistant.  We are all professionals. We all believe we are already doing what is best for kids.  We are the experts in our rooms.  As coaches, we need to recognize the people who are reluctant as much as we need those that are eager.  They keep us on our toes, looking for relevance and support.  They remind us that this is a process, and that we should question the process as we work towards identifying what is best for our students and our schools.  Thank you for keeping me on my toes.

I am thankful for my own personal growth as we move into year 2 and the effects this has had on my own classroom.  Having the opportunity to practice what I am discovering, I am finding that my students are able to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways using real life skills and strategies.  I am hopeful that they are engaged most of the time, that we are working smarter, not harder, that we are achieving at a level that is unique to all.  Thank you for all of your efforts.

But perhaps most of all, thank you to you all for letting me share my passion.

Random Thoughts on Moving Forward

Have you watched little people play with a sprinkler yet this year?  It always makes me smile to watch the sheer joy on their faces as they race through the water on a warm summer afternoon.  It’s funny how it doesn’t take long before someone finds the control dial, and changes up the spray pattern.  The giggling continues as they discover new ways to beat the spray.  Then a creative thinker will pull the hose and sprinkler over underneath the trampoline.  Creating a few more hours of uninhibited fun!

Our Women’s Rugby team had a similar experience with learning to slide and dive for a ball recently.  All we needed was a little bit of mud and rain, and they figured it out!  I stayed clean and dry And they absolutely had a blast.

As adults, we sit by and watch, enjoying their laughter.  They don’t really need us, but we are there in case they do for advice or assistance.   We wonder if they’ve seen it before or if it was maybe on TV?  But none the less, given the tools, and the time, they figured it all out on their own.  They are ‘sooo’ smart!

Realizing that as the parent, caregiver, teacher or coach, we do not need to control every second of the situation.  We just need to be there.

Working with Inspiring Education in mind, being there to support, supervise, and facilitate learning for our students as we encourage Engaged Thinkers, Ethical Citizens and Entrepreneurial Spirit, we will be a part of strengthening their experiences, and ultimately their future as lifelong learners.

Using Sheila’s 3 C’s, are you going to make a choice to take a chance to really see a change?

Assessment and Reporting

Percents, achievement indicators, letter grades and feedback!  The chaos that is occurring around how student achievement is being assessed, shared and reported to parents and students is rather interesting.  As I continue to look at my own classroom teaching, I am drawn to the idea of removing marks from my practice.  Knowing that students are meeting the outcomes of the curriculum and assigning specific marks are two very different things affected by a variety of influencing factors.

At the high school level, many departments are working towards common assessments – quizzes and exams. This practice supports having all students in one level measured the same way.  I agree that it is important to know that all students are demonstrating their learning with the same expectations.  The tools being used are sometimes in contrast to the belief system of a teacher. I am not convinced that multiple choice tests are the best method of assessing a students understanding of a topic.  It is one tool, but I am more interested in seeing how they can apply what they have learned in an authentic situation. That isn’t always practical either, but I feel should be an option.  I am more interested in improving how I provide feedback in a timely and useful way.

My experience with the k-9 reporting system is limited to incoming grade 9 students and what I have heard from friends with children in your schools.  Some like it, some don’t.   As a math teacher, I was challenged myself at first,  in identifying what stream would be best for a student.  In the past it was a decision made on previous assessments. What I am learning is that once the system is understood, it makes sense.  We have learned over many years that high numbers mean smart.  Parents likely can’t tell you what a smart student is supposed to know based on curriculum outcomes, and I’d expect they can’t tell you what a less than smart student is supposed to know either.  And that isn’t their job, it’s ours.  Is there a way to share feedback that will be received as well as percents are?  Do we need to better explain the indicators and the reporting system?

As I watched the news this week, parents in Battle River expressed their concern about a 65% having the same achievement descriptor a 85%.  This took the conversation to include that students at the higher level were losing the motivation to work hard when they received the same ‘mark’.   This reminded me of conversations about how are we preparing students for university with rewrites and removing zeros from assignments.  Although it has been a few years since I was a student in a university classroom, I remember being graded on a number system that did the very same thing.  There were no decimals, you earned a whole number, a 3 was a 3, which included a percentage range.  Although I didn’t always appreciate the system, I understood it.  It did not cause me to lower my expectations for myself, I still attempted to do the best I could.

As this conversation continues, I truly believe that the feedback I provide to my students is valuable to their learning. Will it increase their percentage marks?  I hope so. But more importantly I hope that it will increase their ability to look at their own learning and how they can work to improve.

Project Based Assessment or Project Based Learning

I love getting into classrooms to see the learning that occurs in our building.  Conversations with students about how they learn are becoming much more genuine as student and staff see us (Analee and I) in more and more of their classes.  They want to show us what they are learning and what they know!

Last week I spent some time in a Science 30 class, Math 20-1 and 20-3, Biology 20, English 30-2 and Cosmetology.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about and looking into student projects.  For the most part, my experiences with student projects have been as cumulative assignments where students can demonstrate what they have learned.

Teachers are using authentic learning activities and projects to not only assess what has been learned, but to introduce and reinforce concepts and learning as it is taking place.

In a Math class, students were asked to use whatever resources possible to research and pre-learn the new topic of Quadratics. This involved critical thinking in that students needed to assess the validity of their sources and as well as the relevance to the topic.

In Science 30, they were elbows deep in a pig heart dissection, following the path of blood flow, identifying aortas, arteries, valves etc.  I was impressed with the language and terminology being used.  In a collaborative lab, students were comfortable in sharing their insights, and knowledge as well as asking for help.

In English 30-2, students prepared activities to present to their peers while working through a book study, sharing their interpretations and support.  A variety of mediums were used, some more traditional with others having a more technology based approach. Students were put in charge of their own learning, guided by their teacher.

The Cosmetology class is of course a little different.  CTS courses require a hands-on approach to teaching and learning everyday.  Students observe demonstrations and practice on mannequins before moving on to live clients.

As we move forward in our exploration of learning I am excited about authentic project based learning and assessment. It only makes sense that they go hand in hand.

I am curious as to how others are using collaborative projects as learning tools at all levels? What’s happening in your schools?


Catch Yourself Collaborating

I found myself laughing out loud today with a friend who is a colleague or a colleague who is a friend, I’m not sure what way that should go.  I am participating in an online course from Athabasca University  on Collaboration and Mentoring.  It seemed like a good fit with all the learning we have been doing in our LC Cohort.

I had almost forgotten what it was like to be a student.  Expectations, deadlines and marks. It’s been a long time since I’ve worried about how I would do on a assessment.

In this activity we were given a poem, “Middle Ground” by Lassonde (2009), about the role communication plays in effective collaboration.

Middle Ground
If I value you and you value me,
We meet in the middle
And try to agree.

We don’t turn our backs
And ignore who we are.
We don’t close our minds
And glare from afar.

We listen, consider,
Adjust and align. (Lassonde, 2009, p. 75)

Then asked to create a poem that reflects something important that we have learned about collaboration. Any format was allowed.

Remembering that I am a math teacher that over analyzes things, I struggled with what to say, and how to say it.  In conversation with my Science teaching friend, I found out that she loves poetry!  She took the time to put together an example for me.

Teaching and Planning, Planning and Teaching

It’s a practice we’ve made our own.

We come to this place,

it’s also our home.

The students we teach,

 are a part of our day.

Listening and nodding,

 to the things that we say.

I agree it looks easy.

I open my books,

 I start teaching my lesson,

 refocus you with a look.

I can keep your attention,

keep you engaged.

I can tell if you get it,

or if you’re lost or in a daze.

Damn right it looks easy,

I planned it that way.

Planning and planning,

this is my day.

Wake up in the morning,

read over my lesson,

think about it some more,

while I continue dressing.

On my car ride to school,

arranging my day,

all in my head,

this is my way.

And finally the bell,

the day has come comes to an end.

But my day is not over,

It has simply began.

Planning and planning.

Grading and Grading.

Planning some more.

Sometimes I feel that I’m fading.

This has to be easier.

Many have done this before!

Why do I feel like I’m drowning?

Why is my life a bore?

Then finally it clicks.

This epiphany.

All the teachers before us,

have set a path out for me.

“Here is my stuff.”

“Use it”, they say.

But me, I was stubborn.

Had to do it my way.

And what has it done?

Working alone?

It’s made my place of work,

also my home.

Planning and marking,

planning some more.

It’s my own fault,

That my life is a bore.

4 years is what it took,

For me to learn this hard lesson.

Collaboration is key,

or else teaching can be depressing.

What she had to say resonated with me as I had been looking at collaboration as a larger thing. That which included several people, disciplines and even schools.  And it can, but refocusing, it’s good to remember that it starts with one student or one teacher.

Or two colleagues.

Or two friends.

Realizing that we can benefit from shared experiences and collaborative wisdom.  This isn’t an easy job, it only makes sense to work together to do what we do best.

I didn’t realize until well after I received her email with her poem, that we had in fact been collaborating on my assignment.  I needed help, she was a resource I wouldn’t have expected, and I am working towards a product that I can be proud of.  Huh, who’d have thought!

Thanks Kiesha!  Kiesha Rendell is an amazing Science Teacher at MCHS.  I now know she’s a wonderful poet too!

What would your  poem be if you had to do this assignment?

Breaking Trail

I’m not sure when I realized that we as a Learning Coach Cohort were actually breaking trail in regards to change in our environments.  I think I had thought that we were a tool in a plan that already existed.  And I suppose we are in one sense.  I have however come to realize that we have a huge responsibility to our students and staff in that we are cultivating an environment where it isn’t just about making change, but about demonstrating it.

Collaborating with all stakeholders is vital to growth in our schools. It starts with a leadership role, facilitating change.  I am hopeful that it will grow into a reality where collaboration is second nature.

I am currently participating in a course where Collaboration and Mentorship is the focus.  A few points that have really struck home with me are:

1. Bad collaboration can be worse than no collaboration. Are we participating in collaboration with our colleagues or imposing our own opinions and interpretations upon them? The other extreme? Are we simply stroking egos rather than leading a fully reflective process?

2. Diversity can be very valuable in collaboration. Where we come from, our experiences provide our perspective. Recognizing that although We have the same goal, our methods and motivation may be different. Our understanding of the goal may be different.

3. Mentoring is a type of meaningful reciprocal collaboration (usually involves 2 people). We can all learn from each other.

4. You can learn to be better at collaborating.

Another strong theme has been that trust is crucial.  The following clip made me smile, and clarified for me what my role is today.  I am sure that will change, but for today I am going to dance.

Leadership and Dancing Guy

Marsie Fisk

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