This is the third time I have begun my blog post. It took me awhile to decide on a topic. Finally, in a flash it came to me. I want to share the “YES” that is becoming more common in my daily work. I have been in many classrooms in both schools, actually probably most classrooms. In the last little while, I have revisited some classrooms for check-in and follow-up make observations of both students and the teachers’ practices. Through these observations, I have had the most remarkable insight and consequently, heart-warming conferences following the observation period. During our debrief, I have been able to point out to the teacher that the work they have put into implementing strategies we have previously collaborated on are, in my humble opinion, successful and require only a few small tweaks. It is clear to me that over the last few months, these teachers have made changes to their practices rather than trying to change the students. Their dedication to improving their craft to meet the students “where they are at” has resulted in improved student engagement and learning. It is so satisfying to go through a list of successful strategies rather than a list of “suggested” strategies. It is so heart-warming to affirm for the teacher the awesomeness of their work. Many teachers are taken aback as they are in the moment and too close to see how far the students have moved. I tell them it is like being an athlete who never accepts a personal best as the best they can be. Always striving for more is what athletes, musicians, artists, and yes, teachers do; it is in our nature. Once they see their way past the haze of the moment and look at the big picture, these teachers recognize their success at nurturing the best learning environment for their students and that sometimes, our best is letting our search for perfection go and accepting that what may be perceived as a small change is often BIG for the success of their students.
TJ Skalski recently offered Mental Health First Aid for Parkland School Division. The in-service was an interactive and intense two days focusing on mental health issues and how to support people struggling with disorders. Substance, Mood, Anxiety, Eating and Psychotic disorders affect many Canadians. In Canada, one person in three will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. Hopefully with increased awareness and education we can provide the support and resources to support mental health concerns. ALGEE references the 5 basic actions of Mental Health First Aid:
1. Assess the risk of suicide and/or harm
2. Listen non-judgmentally
3. Give reassurance and information
4. Encourage the young person to get appropriate professional help
5. Encourage other supports
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)
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
- 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.
So excited to share with all of you another amazing speaker that I was fortunate enough to see this year. I have followed Paula Kluth for quite awhile and have used and recommended her resources and strategies over and over. It was the practicality of her ideas that got me hooked, but seeing her at the Special Education Conference last month gave me a whole new admiration of her and a whole new inspiration going back to my schools.
She spoke of inclusion in a way that makes so much sense to me and I think will make sense to the teachers at my schools. She said, “Inclusion is not about the space, it’s about the spirit” and she broke this “spirit” into 3 helpful Habits of Mind (which happen to fit into Parkland’s Commitment to Inclusion quite nicely…).
See Inclusion as a Process, not a Place – (find a way or make a way!)
Teach Up – (presume competence and expect more)
Seek Benefits for All – (all students learn about themselves and their learning)
She spoke extensively on “changing the learning state” through strategies such as brain breaks and focused on “building on strengths” to inspire learning. I won’t go through her hundreds of specific suggestions, because many are on her two sites, but I will highlight a couple because they are just too good!
Brain Breaks Jar – Each stick has a different “brain break” idea, colour-coded according to length of time they each take.
Question Jar – Stop 2-3 times during a lesson and have a child pull from the question jar and ask the question. This enhances focus and engagement, while allowing greater opportunities for communication in a “safe” way for students.
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.
Last spring I was asked to join the committee organizing our first-ever EdCamp in PSD, and I’m so glad I did! I have never before been to an EdCamp, but as I learn more and more about it, I love the idea. It aligns perfectly with my role of learning coach and with the vision of Inspiring Education, by embracing the values of Choice, Opportunity and Excellence.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with EdCamps (like I was until very recently), they’re often referred to as “un-conferences”. September 27 will not be your run-of-the-mill conference with scheduled speakers at specific times – in fact, none of us will know what the day has in-store until about 9:30 in the morning!
So this is how it works:
– You register (FOR FREE) on the EdCamp PSD70 website https://sites.google.com/a/psdblogs.ca/edcamppsd70/
– You come to Spruce Grove Comp on September 27 at 8:30am.
– You enjoy coffee and networking with colleagues.
– You provide input about possible topics for the day (those you would like to share about and/or learn about).
– You hear a keynote speaker (this is the only scheduled speaker) while we furiously plan the day.
– You choose 4 sessions that are relevant to you, your classroom and your school.
– You might just win one of several door prizes (fingers crossed).
– You leave at 3:30, inspired by the collaboration and learning of the day.
So please pass on the message to your staff and consider joining us on the 27th!
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!
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.
Yikes! It’s been busy lately, but I finally got around to writing the second part of my post on Trauma-Informed classrooms, as promised. I had planned for this to be a two-post series, but before I move on to classroom strategies for supporting children with trauma experiences, I realised that there are a few important concepts which inform which strategies we choose to use in our classrooms.
The fundamental understanding to have about children and trauma is that when a child has experienced trauma it can have a long-term impact on that child’s brain. Memory, impulse control, emotional processing, language and many other cognitive functions can be impaired, and these kids need our help to learn new skills. We need to know what trauma “looks like” when it’s in our classrooms, so that we can take steps to help our students who are struggling.
Hypervigilence: “Hypervigilence is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. Other symptoms include: abnormally increased arousal, a high responsiveness to stimuli, and a constant scanning of the environment for threats.” In the classroom this can look like excessive eye contact, a tense body posture, putting distance between themselves and other students, aggressive or provocative statements and actions. It is very important to be aware that hypervigilent students will often start a conflict themselves, rather than wait to see what reaction they will get from others around them. Waiting is often too stressful and frightening when they believe that a conflict is inevitable, so they take control of the situation. It is important to maintain consistency in our interactions with these children in order to reduce their stress that results from “guessing” about outcomes.
Freeze and Dissociation: “When a threat is utterly overwhelming and too much for the fight / flight system to cope with, the brain goes into a ‘Freeze’ state; a numbing or collapse response. This sort of trauma is experienced as a general shutdown, lack of vitality, emotional separation and detachment.” In the classroom, this can look like a “who cares?” attitude or total withdrawal, such as refraining from speech, staring blankly, pulling a hood up, or putting their head down on a desk. The “threat” that causes a freeze and dissociation response is frequently not perceived by those around the child, but remains real and frightening regardless. At times, students may actually re-live sensory elements of their trauma during dissociation. It is important that we stay personally calm, and limit elements which may contribute to sensory overload, such as loud noises or frenetic activity.
Amygdala Hijack: “The amygdala …regulates the fight or flight response that is key to the survival mechanism for many animals, including humans and other primates. At the moment a threat is perceived, the amygdala can override the neocortex, the center of higher thinking, and initiate a violent response. In the wild or in the presence of actual physical threats, this can be a life-saving function. In ordinary day-to-day living, however, this amygdala hijack can inspire impulsive responses the person will later regret.” Studies show that it can take up to thirty minutes before the brain is able to process information normally again, after the amygdala has taken over from the neocortex – if the student is not re-triggered to remain stressed. In the classroom, this can look like tantrums or destructive behaviour as a result of strong emotional responses, such as punching walls, throwing objects, lying down and crying etc. Students may feel regretful or embarrassed later, when they are regulated once more. It is important that we explicitly coach students in ways to calm down, as opposed to simply “letting” them calm down, which can worsen the situation – coaching deep breathing, using stress tools, or having the child label their emotions may help. Shame increases affect dysregulation, so it is additionally essential to protect the dignity of these children and to refrain from comments which may be perceived as demeaning, such as “you’re too old for this” or “you know better.” A quick summary of how Amygdala Hijack occurs can be found on youtube here.
Cortisol: “Cortisol is a stress hormone… Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels also increase risk for depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy. This week, two separate studies were published in Science linking elevated cortisol levels as a potential trigger for mental illness and decreased resilience—especially in adolescence.” When the body is in a stressed state, as part of the General Adaptation Syndrome, the body produces cortisol. If a baby is left to cry, cortisol levels elevate in that baby until he or she is comforted by the mother. Worrying about safety or if there will be enough money for food raises cortisol, as does witnessing traumatic events. Over time, the body of a child who has regularly elevated cortisol levels may begin to overproduce cortisol and remain in a stressed state for prolonged periods of time. In the classroom, this can look like hypervigilence, exhaustion, pain, depression, and even chronic illness. It is important that we provide guided opportunities to release stress and lower cortisol levels during the course of the school day. Children with elevated cortisol may experience time that other students use to “unwind,” such as recess, free play, and active gym games, as stressful because of the unpredictability and high level of sensory input. Deliberate and calm exercise breaks (yoga, balancing, etc.), guided meditations, listening to music, and other trauma-sensitive breaks should be built into the school routine at regular intervals.
Please feel free to leave a question in the comments if you have anything particular you would like me to mention in my next post about strategies! I am excited to write my final post in this series and share some ideas for building Trauma-Informed classrooms.
Quotes taken from…
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.