PSD70 Learning Coach Program

A Parkland School Division Blog Site

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!!

The Four Horsemen…Not so Scary!!


We have all heard about growth mindset and the power and importance of having growth mindset to move forward.  At the same time, through various discussions fixed mindsets are what create some of a coaches toughest encounters.  Recently, I shared with the cohort about the MOOC course I had registered for  and I have to tell you it really has provided some really grounding information and clarity of the coaching role and how to work through fixed mindsets.  I would actually encourage anyone and everyone to look at taking this course not just to develop their skill set in coaching but also for reflective purposes.  As I worked through it I set some goals for myself and identified some target areas in my practice.

The course identifies four ways that teachers with fixed mindsets react to feedback: “You’re right, I suck”, “Your’re wrong, I rule”, “Blame it on the Rain”, and “Optimist without a cause”.  These are actually referred to as the 4 Horsemen of Fixed Mindset.  I find that this has really helped me when going into a conversation where I know there is a fixed mindset as I now can label it (in my mind) and begin to understand where that person is coming from, what they are maybe feeling insecure about and structuring my support, wording and plan accordingly.  We, as coaches, do need to work with these fixed mindsets, identify our own fixed mindsets and then move forward.

I am one of those people who never watch scary movies, do not like conflict..and talk of the 4 horsemen would make me squirm usually.  But now I have a new perspective.  The 4 Horsemen are attitudes/mindsets that we do encounter in our work and in ourselves.  I can deal with that!  Now that I have a deeper understanding I have open my mind up even more to those fixed mindsets…with understanding and vision.

And this Halloween, …I will be looking at the 4 horsemen at the door a bit differently!  LOL


Read and Reflect – love it when an article gets you going!!

Hold On
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: brillianthues via Compfight

There are very few articles that I feel should be shared out on a large scale:  “Making Differences Ordinary in Inclusive Classrooms” is one that I would love to know that colleagues throughout education have read and discussed.   It is essential on this road to inclusion that we build pedagogy and vision together.  We need to really assess our practices as teams and consider alternatives with open minds and embrace change in practice.  It may mean asking the tough questions of ourselves.

Many of us have said in past posts and I will restate in conversation and in this post that we are at an incredibly exciting time in education.  We are seeing differences as ordinary and qualities to supported and recognized.  With UDL/RTI/DI we are recognizing that not only are supports and modifications good for some students but need to be accessed by students who feel they would benefit from it as well:  what is available to one is available to all.   Moving from creating boundaries and skill grouping to allowing students to have input and set goals and being mindful of social isolation and creating stress in a student’s schedule.

We, all of us here in Parkland, are committed to our students.  You can see as you watch the year begin.  So what can we do to continue on our journey?  Collaborate!

McLeskey and Waldron state: “There seems to be little doubt that neither general or special education teachers alone have the knowledge and skills to achieve this goal but, rather, that meaningful change will require that these educators collaborate “to reinvent schools to be more accommodating to all dimensions of human diversity”(Ferguson 1995, p 285)

I hope you have had the time to read through this article and I look forward to our further discussion on Thursday!  See you all then.



Looking Back, Looking Forward,

Here we are at the end of our second year of implementing the Learning Coach Program in Parkland School Division School.  What a journey we have embarked on!  Like all journeys not everything has been easy and I am so thankful for the team that I have had the honor to work with as we set out on this adventure.

Looking Back

The Cohort – the Learning Coach Cohort is a team of diverse individuals with a variety of talents and strengths.  A group who was eager to take on one of the greatest profession opportunities: sharing knowledge, sharing passion and working collaboratively.  So in looking back, I look at the cohort and I hope that the amazing colleagues I was surrounded by know how much I respect them, appreciate that I learned from each of them, and am grateful for the time I had to work with them.

Schools- My work today is so different than the work from 18 months ago.  The role of the Learning Coach, although still evolving, is becoming more clearly understood and is feeling more comfortable than even 6 months ago.  I am honored to have teachers invite me into their classrooms, their planning, and their thinking and being part of this journey.  I feel my own professional growth every time I have the opportunity to work in a collaborative capacity and feedback tells me those I work with feel it too.

Personal Growth – I have said it a few times in the last couple of months “I am not the same person I was when  I signed up for this”.  Have I grown thicker skin? Absolutely!  But not in a bad way, I am a pretty “blue” person personality and I have always been one to sugar coat everything, not tackle the toughest things first.  I am thankful for Fierce Conversation training, my experiences and my friends in the cohort for taking me to new places…although sometimes that means learning how to regulate new skills!  LOL

Looking Forward

I would not be honest if I did not admit that I look forward with some sadness as we watch a number of our cohort make changes in their assignment, retire and take time for study.  I will miss each of the coaches who are making a changes.  But as I would support my own children when changes are coming I too need to know that new members of the cohort will bring new passions, skills and perspectives.  I will look forward to what they bring.

I look forward to continuing with school communities and building on the work that we have started.

Enjoy your summer everyone! Laura – Enjoy each and every day in retirement!  Amy all the best in your studies!  Katia, Shannon, Dave – Our students are blessed with amazing teachers such as yourselves!


Two Heads Are Better Than One!

Everyone keeps saying how computers make the world smaller…I knew what they were saying and in small ways I had joined in their journey, but today I feel like I made a leap.  After sending out an inquiry, Katia replied with some interest in joining me on my mission to create a monthly coaching memo for staff.  Quickly I was thinking about ways for us to connect and work together, brainstorm, create lists of ideas and develop a document to share out.  That is when Google Documents came to us!

Hello Katia!   Hello Patricia!…we connected to begin our work, to collaborate, to support each other in a professional capacity.

I have to confess that I am a recent convert to the idea of professional collaboration. As a perfectionist by nature, my initial experiences with collaboration were characterized by the frustrations of “group work” in my own school career, and the results were consistently disappointing. My first positive encounters with collaboration occurred when I went to theatre school the summer I was fourteen. I approached the idea of working in groups with the same dread – but my teachers approached things differently than I had ever experienced! After teaching us about the purpose of collaboration, they introduced us to the types of roles (both problematic and helpful) that we might play in our groups, and offered us numerous opportunities to produce “imperfect” work… with the focus always on our process, rather than on our product. But truthfully, it was the product that sold me on collaboration. I saw results that I knew I could never have produced if I had simply created the project without the input of others, and my perfectionist tendencies were so impressed that I learned to trust others  to contribute. Over ten years later I still appreciate the lessons I learned that summer, so when Patricia approached me to collaborate, I was excited to jump on board!

Google documents has allowed us to begin to build and share ideas and collaborate despite our different schedules and locations.  We inspire each other to take our practice further to look for new ways to encourage colleagues and support professional learning and growth.

Two heads really are better than one…just look at this post!!

“Thanks Katia!”…”Thanks Patricia!”

The Importance of Tagging, Categorizing and Being Ready

Last Thursday, I opened my mail to find an email explaining that a teacher from a distant school district was trying to contact me.  I was a bit confused as I tried to figure out who this person could be and why they would contact me…as it turns out I have blogging to thank for another new connection in this great world of education.

When I contacted the educator, she quickly explained that she had typed in her areas of needed information and she came up with two names in Alberta to contact.  The connection was made from the tags that I had tagged my post with as they were an exact match to the words she was searching.  She reviewed the post, followed the links and then decided I was the person to call.  Although I am not certain that the evaluation she made is correct I have made a wonderful connection and shared what I learned at what was my favourite session at Teacher’s Cenvention last year.  This year I hope the same group of teachers will be there to present and even more that my new connection will be attending.

So as you post (and I know that you might think you are just posting for us) know that your post might just come up in some distant land and provide the  links or answers to someone’s search.  Be ready to make this connection!  Be ready to share your experiences, learning and knowledge!

It was truly rewarding and has alerted me to the importance and need to put our ideas and experiences out into the education community.  Truly building an education community that has no jurisdiction.


The iPad Accessibility Features ~ It Really Is For Everyone!

It is exciting to see ipads popping up in our classrooms and effectively being used as tools to support learning.  I have to admit though that I was stumped when I observed a student with visual impairments using the ipad (with some challenges).  When I look at the ipad I interpret is as a visual tool, and auditory tool when in applicable apps but to be used effectively with a student with visual impairments I really struggled to make the connection…until last week when I attended a webinar through Kurzweil Education.  I learned so much about the accessibility features that allows the ipad to be used by everyone.  I just had  to share!

DISCLAIMER:  I am by no means an expert on the ipad and this is just a bit of learning I thought I would share!

If you go into your settings then to general  you will find on the right hand list an accessibility label.  In this section you will find that the ipad offers some adaptations in 4 areas:  VISION, HEARING, LEARNING, and PHYSICAL & MOTOR.

I have been playing with the VISION section and was thrilled to see how quickly and easy the ipad became effective for someone with visual difficulties.  I have really focused on voiceover a function that has the ipad speak the items on the screen.  It was even nice for myself as I went onto websites and the ipad would read the content out loud to me.  There is also a feature that allows the icons and print to become much larger.  It does mean relearning a few basic motions as you have to use 3 fingers to swipe verses 1…but even that can be modified to an individuals needs and abilities.

I hope you have a few minutes to have a look at the accessibility options on the ipads and I suggest searching for a tutorial for some deeper explanations than what I have provided.  I know that I am already looking at the ipad options and matching the features to students and classrooms where teachers are looking for further support.

I would love to hear about your experiences as you explore these options and if you have examples of how the accessibility options have been used effectively please share them out!  Share the knowledge!

Here is to continued learning,


Invited to the Table


It is hard to believe that only a year ago we, as Learning Coaches, were just finishing our first month and a bit of introducing our role as Learning Coaches to staff throughout PSD 70.  I am truly impressed and amazed with how far we have come in so little time!

This past week I found myself invited to participate in a Parent Teacher Interview.  In discussion with the teacher regarding the goal/purpose of my joining in on particular interview I was provided a warming answer.  This teacher expressed gratitude for a changing pedagogy in their practice, new strategies that did not benefit one student but were helping many students, they were feeling supported in their  professional growth and practice.  They wanted me there to introduce the “partner in their work”.   I felt honored by the trust and respect to be asked to be included in a Parent-Teacher Interview as I remember how much I loved these opportunities to share with parents what I wanted to share and celebrate as their teacher.

In this meeting I truly felt that a partnership has formed and when the teacher would look over to me and say “…as we were planning for ….we came up with…you can really see the benefit for (their child’s name)…”.

So, as I think back a year ago when I supported a few colleagues in preparing for difficult PTI’s and had planning conversations behind the scenes I would never have guessed that 12 months later I would be sitting in an interview as a partner in teaching…but what a great seat to be in!  How honored I felt to be invited to the “table” as a partner in practice.

Smiles on your day,

Patricia Wierstra

Oh The Places We Will Go!


The first official week of school is now behind us and I have to say I leave it behind with a feeling of sadness.  It is much like seeing a child moving on from infancy to childhood.  I love the fresh new start of a new year, the excitement on everyone’s faces that are testimony to the hopes they have for a great year, the anticipation of growth and learning, new friends and so much more.  In my head I always hear “Oh the places we will go!” as I see  these bright smiles and eyes coming through the doors.

So, as I start this year it is no surprise that I too am excited and filled with anticipation. I attended the Kagan Cooperative Learning session and came back excited to share about the structures and student engagement.  I anticipate the PLC work we learning coaches are about to embark on and look forward to our learning and growth.  So, as I see the first new days pass by,  I know that this year will be great; full of excitement and celebrations.

So here we go!  Get ready – Get set- let’s start this show!

Let’s support each other in keeping the excitement and daily anticipation of great things to come!!

Riding the Winds

As I look into the waters of reflection and I think back on my first year in the coaching role I smile with contentment.  Was the year easy?  No.  Was it hard? No.  It was satisfying, it pushed me to new limits, I have grown professionally and personally in ways that I could not predict would happen.  My greatest reward from the year is that my growth and celebrations from the year are not my own – they have been shared.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Adam Franco

Today we were asked to finish the statement: “A learning coach is like a windsurfer because…..?” .  As I looked at the photo I recalled what it felt like to windsurf and could feel and see so many analogies.  First Balance – as a coach we must balance and keep in mind many facets.  The division’s vision, our school’s mission, a teacher’s goals, what is best for students, our strengths and areas of growth.   Without keeping everything in mind and keeping the balance you could end up taking a swim.   Second, the sail – strength is needed to keep the sail held high against the resisting winds so that movement forward is achieved.  To let go when there is resistance would mean floating without purpose.   We need to work with the wind for movement.  Focus and planning is the last similarity, you must look ahead and have purpose and vision for where you want to finish.  Without a plan and without vision the balance and the sail could not be purposeful.

I am thankful for those who filled my sails. For those that set me off balance and made me take another look at situations.    I have celebrated every child and colleague who has met me here at the end of the sail.  Get ready for the next one – I can’t wait to see you out there navigating the waters!

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