So, over a month has passed since the official beginning of the 2014 school year, and as per usual I have procrastinated about my blog. Not because I have nothing to share, but actually the exact opposite. The last month has been rich with conversations. In the first week I decided that before I left the school in the evening, I would make a list of 5 or 6 people I would have a five – ten minute conversation with the next day. At the top of the list was the name of the person I believed would least want to have a conversation with me, not because of who I am, (I hope) but because of my role as LC in the school. I also tried to make sure that these people were in different teaching areas and parts of the building. I am sure as you read this, many of you acknowledge that this is a strategy you have used with completing difficult tasks; put the most challenging at the top and get it done. Well, I am happy to report that this relationship building strategy has merit. I have listened, learned about my colleagues, and have had coaching and learning conversations. I have even been invited to come and help in classrooms that were not open to me before. It may not be spring, but it really is never too late to plant seeds of learning, caring and respect.
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!
There are days when I get to the end of the day and say to myself, “That was a busy day!” But, sometimes I wonder if I made a difference. At a recent Learning Coach meeting, we had the opportunity to reflect on and share about our coaching experiences. It became clear that each school day was filled with moments that made a difference to teachers and students. We don’t always realize the value of each of these moments until later.
You know you have made a difference when:
-Upon doing a sample lesson for a teacher she turns to you and says, “I should have had you come in at the beginning of the year.” She subsequently signed up for a P.D. session to learn more about the lesson format you modelled and you know that she will try these new lessons in her class.
-An administrator requests that you collaborate with staff as a result of hearing about technology being used in a classroom and a new strategy tried by another Leaning Coach. You smile to yourself because you recall the day you demonstrated this technology in the classroom and the afternoon you worked collaboratively with coaches to develop this strategy.
-You go into classrooms and see materials and rubrics being used that were developed in other classrooms. These materials were developed when you worked elbow to elbow with colleagues and now many people will benefit from the experience.
-A teacher shows you work that a student with special needs completed and she is so proud of him. He has already surpassed his IPP goals and there are several months of school left. You pat each other on the back because both of you have spent many hours collaborating for inclusion.
-You are back working in a classroom that you have not been in for a while and notice that a number of students are using assistive technology. You had originally worked with the teacher to remove barriers to print for one student and now other students are having greater success using the technology as well. Universal Design for Learning is beginning to thrive in the classroom.
-You are just leaving a classroom after modelling a lesson and a student smiles at you and quietly asks, “When can you come back?”
I’ve noticed the ripple effect happening in the schools that I work in and in other schools as well. One little action can cause multiple waves to ripple through the school and the division to bring about small, subtle changes that have a direct and positive effect on student learning and staff job satisfaction. I challenge you to reflect on the changes that are happening because of one small coaching moment.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
I recently re- read, “Not Waving, But Drowning”, by Tony Borash. He is a lead instructional coach for Albemarie County Public Schools which has approximately 1,200 teachers. He writes about the drowning metaphor, and the “Talk-Reach-Throw-Row-Go-Tow”, Boating Services framework as a concrete way to help teachers who compare their emotional and physical state to sinking under water. His techniques on how to strategically help a call from a teacher, prioritizes options from the lowest risk to the highest. Also, the words are direct and process organized. I find his process particularly helpful, as often, my first response to teachers is to “rescue” by “pulling them safely” to my shore. ( Which may not be a comfortable shore for them and therefore; often not what teachers need. What follows here is a summary of the strategy by Mr. Borash.
In times of panic, teachers need to be reminded that they can swim. Coaching with reminders and encouragement without jumping in to act may be the best first response. Ask questions!
For many teachers, talk is not enough, they need a hand. It is important to keep your hand extended and hope that people grab on. (Reminder to self- this may take some months or years!) The key is that when a teacher grabs on, you need to be ready to pull. Be direct.
Mr. Borash suggests that some teachers are so far from shore they need something else to keep afloat. What can I throw them? Anything that helps them: lesson plans, content/support websites, ready to use learning resources, etc.
Sometimes educators can’t or won’t respond to any of the above strategies. They may see their situation as too difficult, so that they give up, and/or are confrontational. To help these situations a coach needs a boat to “row” out and help reach the teacher where they are at. This vessel of intervention can by many things.
Go and Tow:
If all else fails, Mr. Borash suggests you need to go in and be the hero. Jump in and bring something with you that will tie you and the teacher together – some focal point that will help you to tow him or her alongside you. In other words, let them know that survival as a team is better than waving, and drowning alone!