PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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Whose Toolbox Have You Helped To Enrich Today?

While at a PD session on building inclusive environments, the participants received a Parkland School Division Educational Tool Box.  When first receiving it, several of us opened it up expecting to see something inside that we could take back to our schools and share with our colleagues, but surprisingly the box was empty.  My colleagues and I quickly came to realize that the box was symbolic and that the tools that belonged inside were the skills, knowledge and expertise each of us had acquired over the years.

As Learning Coach this year, I have been able to add to my toolbox various times as a result of new knowledge gained from collaborating with colleagues, observing in classrooms, having planning and reflective conversations with co-workers, collaborating with members from Learning Services, and attending PD opportunities offered by the division.

Of these experiences, one that has really stuck out for me was being part of the collaborative planning sessions with our school based team and learning services at both my schools.  At the end of each meeting, we were all asked to give one word that would describe how we felt about the meeting.  Some of the words that were shared were “hopeful”, “thankful”, and “collaborative.”  Each person sitting around the table had come to the meeting with a variety of tools from their tool box.  I remember thinking how great it was that so many people with various backgrounds and various areas and levels of expertise had come together to share ideas and strategies to help with the programming needs of one student.  From the perspective of a teacher, I wished that I had had the opportunity to sit in on one of these meetings years ago.  The sharing of tools from everyone’s tool box was invaluable.

It seems that many educators work alone and don’t take the opportunity to share the tools from their toolbox.  What I have learned is one tool can get the job done, but collaborating and sharing our tools is instrumental in providing the best learning environment and learning opportunities for each and every student.  As educators, we all come with our own areas of expertise and knowledge; by sharing these tools we can become better educators.

As a Learning Coach, I am thankful for all the opportunities I have had to add to my own toolbox.  It has also been extremely gratifying to help others add to their toolboxes.  As Learning Coaches, we are lucky to be in the position where we can assist others by promoting and facilitating collaboration within our schools.  Those of us that have done this can attest to how powerful this is in providing the best education for ALL students.

Whose toolbox have you helped to enrich today?



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!

At Hope, Not At-Risk: Helping Children with Trauma Experiences in School (Part 1)

In the first tier of our response to Intervention model, we acknowledge the importance of understanding the background of each child to the best of our ability. As educators, we recognise that the life of a child outside or before entering school has an indisputable impact on a child’s readiness to learn and participate in school activities. While classrooms are often prepared to address factors such as cultural, linguistic, or familial diversity, new understandings about the importance of addressing childhood trauma at school are beginning to have a positive impact on our ability to meet kids “where they’re at.” In my work with teachers of behaviourally challenging kids this year, one aspect I have been focusing on is the connection between trauma and learning. Recent studies have deepened and developed our understanding of the role that childhood experiences of trauma can have in schools and learning, giving us more tools than ever to help children.

Childhood trauma can include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, but it can also include events such as the loss of a home to fire, divorce, serious illness, witnessing an accident, neglect and many other events. Trauma is very subjective, and whether a child experiences a negative event as “trauma” is based in part on how many protective factors a child has in their life. For instance, the death of a pet may not be traumatic for a child with strong family relationships, a secure home situation, and positive school experiences, while a child without these protective factors may find the same event traumatic. Recent studies show that 63% of children under the age of eighteen experience at least one incidence of trauma, meaning these experiences are incredibly common in our classrooms. As the number of different types of negative experience increase for an individual, so does their level of risk for tragic life outcomes such as suicide, drug use, intimate partner violence, illness, and many others.*

Beyond simply affecting the emotional well-being of a child, trauma experiences have a deep impact on the way that children learn – which, in turn, means we need to adjust our practices to meet the needs of children who are healing from trauma. One of the interesting facts about trauma is that it changes the brain. Not just the “software” of the brain, such as neural pathways, but the “hardware” as well. The shape and size of a child’s brain may be changed by traumatic experiences in childhood, which can have an impact on the way in which a child processes information and emotions at school. Because the frontal lobe of the brain develops last (and isn’t fully developed until well into adulthood), trauma typically has the greatest impact on this area of the brain. Memory, impulse control, and language are some areas of the brain which may be affected by trauma; and similarly these are skill domains that are heavily relied on in traditional classrooms. Supporting the philosophy that “kids do well if they can,” neuroscience has revealed that children with significant out-of-school challenges need our understanding to help remove barriers to their learning.

Trauma-Sensitive or Trauma-Informed classrooms are school settings where trauma is understood, recognised, and responded to in ways that empower survivors. These supports are often Universally Designed, in order to avoid isolating individuals who have experienced trauma, and also to ensure that all children benefit from these safe and caring spaces! The strategies used in trauma-informed practice emphasize executive skill development, brain-based learning, emotional intelligence, and non-adversarial discipline to help children grow in their academic learning and their behaviour self-regulation. The goal of trauma-sensitive classrooms is not to replace therapy, but rather to put in place simple supports that help children cope with the demands of the school day in order to do their best learning.

In my next post, I will share some trauma-informed practices for inclusive classrooms. Do you have experience with trauma-informed practice? Please share if you do!

-Katia Reid

*Visit here to read the ACE Study or assess your own ACE score.

Success Doesn’t Always Look the Same

I have noticed yet another trend this year:  Many conversations I have been having with teachers and educational assistants center around the idea that “success looks different”.  I reiterated this at our October and November PD days.  It’s the idea that we can (and should) celebrate successes based on the individual and it not only helps with daily planning and programming, but also seems to alleviate a lot of anxiety for teachers and students.  One student playing for an entire recess with a friend, or not leaving the room for the whole morning, or gaining two reading levels in a year, can be just as worthy of celebration as a perfect score on a PAT or a winning performance at a championship basketball game.

I know this statement has impacted staff because I am constantly getting “pop-ins” to tell me, “I just have to tell you our success…” and I love it!  I just had an EA stop to tell me a grade four student is now in the room 97% of the day and he knows how to ask for help – SUCCESS!  Earlier today a teacher told me one of her grade three students has improved four reading levels since September (he began the year at a beginning grade one level) – SUCCESS!

Sometimes success comes from adapting the expectations and sometimes it comes from adapting the supports.  But either way, we are creating an environment in which students can build confidence and become excited about their learning – SUCCESS!

Twyla Badry

Shifting Gears, Ruts, and Getting Unstuck

Yes, it is winter in Alberta and daily we receive students and staff into the school with some tale of the challenges of winter driving: shifting gears to rock a vehicle back and forth  to get out of the snow ruts or snow banks.  This leads me to continue with some thinking  about shifting something else … my perspective.

With the many communication partners I have in my life: teachers, educational assistants, administrators, siblings, stubborn children (no idea where they get that from ), and ageing senior parents, I need to frequently let go of my own views and my perceived ‘obvious’ solutions to ‘their problems’, and open myself up to the possibility of another perspective or equally valid solution and/or  point of view.  That pause and reflection (with mouth firmly closed), helps get me unstuck. It gives me the flow of movement to shift my thinking up or down, to be a functional vehicle of change, for the people around me.

I know that it is not always easy for me or some of the partners in my interactions to not get stuck in a ‘rut’ or rigid path of perspectives (again the stubborn genetics issue); but I am always thrilled when one or both of us are able to see where the other person is coming from – even for a brief period of time – acknowledge the differences, look for the commonalities and move forward not spinning our tires – making the ruts deeper and harder to move out of. 

As a learning coach, I need to remember the cognitive coaching training …listen intently , probe and ask good questions , allow time to process and reflect, not always being the problem solver (with my own pre-conceived shovel and sandbag in tow) to push and/or pull the other person out of their present situation …. rut or not.

Winter may be upon us, the roads may get icy or snowy … but heck, I hear it will be +4 degrees by the weekend!  Maybe I can put my shovel and sand bag away for a day and just let winter be winter… ruts and all.

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

Subtle differences…Big shift

It’s happening! I’m noticing more and more teachers seeing Inclusion as a positive for the students in their classrooms. The conversations I am having with teachers this year are less about “this student” and more about “the students in my class”. I know this seems like a bit of semantics, but to me it shows that the teachers in Parkland are seeing every student as special (…and that they understand my role better…). I’m seeing “true” inclusion, not just in the physical sense (all students are in the same room), but in the sense that students are learning from each other and that teachers are taking the time to identify and build on the strengths of each child to create a classroom of successful learners. I am hearing an unbelievable amount of collaboration between teachers and feel fortunate to facilitate this collaboration between my two schools.
Of course, it’s still a process and not everyone is in the same place on this journey, but I’m definitely seeing the trend and it makes me so hopeful.

Twyla Badry

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

Hit the Ground Running

Well, it’s like we never left the building.  Most staff have definitely warmed up to the idea of having conversations and reflecting on teaching strategies , student needs , working with strengths … both teachers and students,  and empowering and building on any lagging skills … again both in themselves as teachers and in the students they are working with.

More and more I find that teachers have realized that , yes , the Education system had been developed to “teach academics ” – the reading , ‘riting and ‘rithmetics , but … we as educators, parents, community members or business people, need to develop and enhance the ‘soft skills’ , the emotional/social/work ethic part of the students – and teachers – as well.  Those skills that will make or break their engagement or motivation or passion for learning.  It is difficult to move forward with any learning or any change in our lives if those ‘soft skills’ are under-developed or under-utilized.  What is the student bringing to the classroom ? What are we bringing to the classroom  from our past experiences , our assumptions , our predictions , our biases ?  Build the relationships , get the discussions and reflections going and let the learning begin !!

A wise, grey haired principal shared this PD reflection with me the other day.

“They (the students) are doing work. Just not your work. They are doing what is motivating and engaging for them and are doing what gives them a purpose.”

It will be our jobs as Learning Coaches and as teachers to make our presentation of information, our questioning and invitation for exploring their learning experience to be engaging and/or motivating and/or serving a purpose for them.  We need to be sure that our ‘teaching’ is not just our perception of a ‘motivating, engaging  or purposeful lesson”

In our Learning Coach  PLC group on ‘Engaging Students’ , I look forward to investigating, reflecting and sharing our insights and findings with all of you.

As you enter the second month of the school year , pull up your pants, tighten your laces , zip up your jacket and be as thoroughly as excited as I am,  to ‘Hit the Ground Running’ at Parkland School Division.

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