PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Loved!

Glitter Graphics
[ – *Glitter Graphics*]

What a great day! Today I was lucky enough to see the students at THREE different schools on their first day back. It was a breath of fresh air. It was magical. It was heart warming.

At my own children’s school, I witnessed them, as well as former students, come rushing in the doors with red cheeks, barely able to contain their excitement! When I went to leave, they barely even looked at me (sniff) as they were so busy catching up with their friends and organizing their new supplies. I left knowing that they would have a fantastic day with lots of stories to tell me over dinner.

At the next school, I again watched the students getting off the busses, thrilled to see friends and teachers that they hadn’t talked to all summer. The hallways were full of laughter, hugs and welcomes from staff and students alike. Then there was the assembly; as teachers were introduced the students clapped and cheered wildly for each and every staff member. What a welcome!

Finally, this afternoon, I witnessed another invigorating assembly that again celebrated each teacher, whether new or well known, with such enthusiasm and happiness that it gave me goosebumps. Every child I saw in the hallway greeted me with a grin and when asked how their day was going, replied positively, “Great!” , “Really good!”, “Fantastic!”. Their day was half over and they were still so excited and happy!

It refreshed my feeling of how amazing it feels to  be a teacher. No matter how rough life is, we know that there are all of these little people just waiting to see us and give us a huge hug and gigantic smile. They don’t care how we look or what we did all summer or whether we’re ready for them. They don’t care if we didn’t get those last few posters up or forgot to photocopy a form. All they care about is the fact that we’re there. They love us for us- no conditions, no expectations. We are so lucky.

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.

New beginnings

One of the unique aspects of working in a high school is that every 5 months, we hit the “reset” button with new classes and students with new opportunities and challenges.

This semester, my 4th as a learning coach at SGCHS has started off with a bang.  From classroom visits, one on one consultations, co-teaching, and leading several classes through learning activities there has been no shortage of new opportunities.  Our staff is welcoming and always appreciative of any assistance or guidance I can provide, and are committed to doing what is best for our students at SGCHS.  I am fortunate to work with such a wonderful group of people as we tackle the challenges and celebrate the early successes of our reset and a new semester.

Tis’ The Season To Be Coaching

So great to have students and staff feel comfortable to share their questions and reflective journeys. Increasingly working with their needs for improved capacity, and goals they are setting for themselves. Many are still uncertain what a “Learning Coach ” is and does, but the trust, relationship, and sharing are growing. YEAH!

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!



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.

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


Student Engagement

This year through the PSD Learning Coach program, I have the opportunity to be involved in a Professional Learning Community that will spend time looking at the topic of student engagement.  This is one of the 3 priorities outlined by Parkland School Divison.

The PLC is an invaluable tool to have focussed time to look at our teaching practices and how we can continue to engage students in their learning.  Everyone has a busy schedule, and to have dedicated time put aside for this is necessary for it to get the intentional work done that is so important.  From a professional development perspectivee, the opportunity to leverage the collective knowledge, experience, and passion of the group will provide the greatest benefit.

I am excited to get started on this work today, knowing that I will be able to bring back and work with teachers in my school to implement ideas and strategies that will have a direct impact on student success and learning!

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