PSD70 Learning Coach Program

A Parkland School Division Blog Site

Magic!?

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I hate how Iphone’s only hold their charge for around 5 hours and obviously less if they are used. In frustration I walked out to my car to get my charger card and saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. My body had a little shiver as I dislike the vermin that are mice. I saw the movement again and focused on a small sandwich bag moving away from me. I took a step away from my car to get a closer look and couldn’t believe my eyes. There before me was a little green man with a sandwich bag flung over one shoulder with a strange green object inside and on his other a wrapped up tiny piece of paper. Some would say that the next sound they heard was a shriek, but I think it was more of a deep yell that came from inside me. The little man dropped his bag and piece of paper and disappeared up a pipe that was nearby. I slowly made my way to the discarded objects and picked them up. Inside the bag was a tiny green rock and when I touched it a gold coin was revealed as the rock broke in two. I unrolled the small piece of paper and saw a tiny map with 16 x’s marked on it. I immediately went to the photocopier and enlarged the map and saw markings that resembled the school grounds and locations where I hoped to find buried treasure.

Now I am obviously a confident person and not afraid of small creatures but I thought it might be valuable to enlist some helpers on my quest. I ran upstairs to Mrs. Lee’s k-2 class and asked if they could help me. They are small, I could probably out run them if anything bad went down and they seemed to have a keen interest in small green men since it was St. Patrick’s day. I told them what I had seen and sure enough they were in for the adventure.

We split into two groups and made our way outside with maps in hand. We went to the first location and there was another bag with the green rock inside. After the map was found to be legitimate the race was on. We travelled all over the school yard in search of treasure, using our maps as a guide and teamwork as a tool. In the end we all found a piece of treasure.

When we made it back to class and Mrs. Lee said that she had some magical water that we could wash the rocks in. It smelt a little funny, almost like vinegar. We put our rocks in and it bubbled and frothed like a magic green potion. The rocks disappeared and sure enough each rock had a gold coin inside. We were pretty excited as a class and a little sad that the adventure was over. Who knows what magic we will encounter in our learning tomorrow?

YES….

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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.

Is it Worth the Risk?

 

Photo Credit: joserrai via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: joserrai via Compfight cc

I’m not a real risk-taker.  That’s not to say I don’t try new things or that I don’t push myself out of my comfort zone.  I do.  But I generally don’t seek out risks.  Since becoming a learning coach, though, that’s exactly what I have tried to encourage teachers (and students) to do.  I realize that sounds hugely hypocritical, but in the process it turns out I have actually started to take a few more risks myself.  It hasn’t always been comfortable and it definitely hasn’t always been successful, but usually I am happy for the risks that I have taken.  Occasionally, though, it ends with, “That was a bit of a disaster.  Why did I do that?”  Not too long ago I had one of those days, but by some crazy coincidence, I received this post “How to Deal With Criticism When You Take Consistent Risks” by A.J. Juliani the very next day in my Inbox.  I can’t say the title really grabbed me (and again, I certainly wouldn’t say my life is full of “consistent risks”), but I read it and I’m glad I did.  Juliani not only acknowledges that with anything new comes criticism, he encourages looking closer for the feedback that might actually help make you better, and he supports the use of that criticism as a motivator for newer and better things.  One more thing: he feels that sharing your “criticism stories” might help others.  It turns out he was right.  I’m not done being uncomfortable just yet.

Breaking Down Walls Through Technology Use in the Classroom

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I am so fortunate to be working with such a wonderful group of teachers and administrator who want to continually learn ways to challenge our students’ learning.

Through the support of school administration a review of needs assessment was done by striking a committee that included, the principal, Richard Kniel, LC Valerie Schamehorn two teachers Rae-Anne Wevers and Jill Worthington.  The four of us were provided with the time to brainstorm and collaborate on ways to increase authentic technology use in the classrooms in order to increase student learning even more.  Jill, Rae-Anne, Richard and I spent a full day discussing ways in which we could ensure that all staff feel competent with using Google docs, effective blog posts, Twitter and other pieces of technology and digital resources within our classrooms to support student learning in an innovative manner.  We spent the day looking at and creating blog posts, tweeting out information, researching and discussing our own background knowledge as well as identifying what we still need to learn and what we will need to share with our colleagues.  We identified ways that we could utilize the Learning Coach and Technology Lead Teachers to build capacity within our school.

 

We looked at how we would tie our goals to the 5 Competencies of the Framework for Supporting Learning with Technology from Alberta Education.

1: Student-Centered Learning

2: Research and Innovation

3: Professional Learning

4: Leadership

5: Access, Infrastructure and Digital Learning Environments

 

We focused in on:

  1. are all well prepared to use technology and digital resources innovatively and effectively for learning, teaching, leadership and administration

  2. use technology and research to design personalized, authentic and student centered learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs and interests of all students

  3. engage in professional growth opportunities that are broadened and diversified through technology, social media and communities of practice

 

Wabamun School has developed a Plan and objectives to work toward this year:

  • All teachers and principal are comfortable using Google Apps (Docs and Forms)

  • All students grades 2-9 are comfortable using Google Apps (Docs and Forms)

  • All teachers have a classroom blog that post at least once weekly.

In order to achieve the Plan and Objectives, we have an Action Plan to follow:

  • One on one training with every teacher and principal to support in starting and maintaining a blog.

  • time to practice and become comfortable with blogging

  • Comment on teacher’s blogs so that they know what they are doing.

  • Share what is happening in Wabamun School with others.

    • through 184 days of learning

    • tweets

    • blogs

  • Learning Coach is trained to also support the work of teachers when learning to blog and establish authentic learning around the use of blogs.

  • Continued work with George Couros, Division Principal of Innovative Learning and Teaching.

 

We will carry on into the following year :

2015-2016 Goals and Objectives

  • All students have their own digital portfolio from grade 3-9.

  • All students K-9 are able to use Google Apps

  • All teachers maintain and blog at least once a week to communicate with families and improve student learning.

  • Continued work with George Couros, Division Principal of Innovative Learning and Teaching.

 

Our ultimate goal is to have all staff and students using technology effectively and innovatively.

As we were winding up our day’s discussion, Rae-Anne commented that we were breaking down the classroom walls through technology use!  What an inspiring day!

Beginning With the End in Mind

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Assessment for, of, and as Learning

A number of years ago I had the opportunity of being a lead teacher involved with an AISI project revolving around Formative and Summative Assessment.  Now that I am a Learning Coach, I have the opportunity to go into classrooms to observe and reflect on the ways which teachers assess their students (both formatively and summatively) and then have discussions with teachers related to how these assessments help to move the student learning forward.  Because of this, I decided to re-read a book, Leading the Way to Making Classroom Assessment Work, by Anne Davies and look at it through the lens of a Learning Coach.  I came across a section which had some good questions for Learning Coaches to ask of their teachers in order to support them.  Davies also suggests a Coach can support classroom teachers by asking them to reflect on what they already know and what they would like to learn more about, and by finding ways to share those key ideas.  She recommends using Making Classroom Assessment Work as a springboard for engaging adult learners in conversation about classroom assessment. Some of the questions she has posed are:

  • What are all the possible ways for students to show what they know?

  • How do you learn best? How do your students learn?

  • What helps you remember? What helps your students remember?

  • What kind of feedback helps your learning? What kind of feedback works for your students?

Davies cites many pieces of research which state that students learn best when they are more involved in their learning and assessments.  Student self-assessments help teachers design instruction to better meet the needs of learners (Anthony, Johnson, Mickelson & Preece 1991; et al.)    Learning Coaches need to know how to support teachers in increasing their craft knowledge regarding assessment (Davies).

Much of this is reinforced in UDL.  Universal Design for Learning is good teaching!  Every teacher wants their students to learn and grow.  Universal Design for Learning guides teachers in their planning which, in turn, helps their students to learn better.

UDL is a process which is broken down into three guidelines which provide multiple means of:  Representation; Action and Expression; and Engagement.

The 3 principles are:

  1. to support recognition learning -to provide multiple means of representation -offer flexible ways to present what we teach.

  1. to support strategic learning – provide multiple means of action and expression – flexible options for how we learn and express what we know

  2. to support affective learning – provide multiple means of engagement – flexible options for generating and sustaining motivation, the why of learning.

Teachers need to get to know their students well so that they can develop activities and lessons that allow their students to express their understanding in ways that use the learning style that works best for them.  As a Learning Coach, I have had the opportunity to teach lessons for teachers while they observe their students’ learning styles so that they can then develop lessons which will more effectively support student learning in their classroom.

Of course there are activities that center on a specific learning style, however, that does not mean that all teaching of objectives should be presented in the same manner.  Research states that approximately 65% to 70% of our population are visual learners,  25 to 30% are auditory learners while 5% are kinesthetic learners.  Classes are made up of all three types of learners and these students need to have concepts presented in several ways in order for them to understand the objectives being taught.  It takes 7 to 10 times of learning a new concept for it to be retained, so presenting the concept several different ways helps to support that retention.  The teacher who reflects upon their own learning style and how they had been taught while they were in school will recognize the importance of presenting information in several different ways.

Sometimes teachers have to adapt programming and may have to teach outcomes from previous years in order for their student to develop skills and acquire knowledge which may have been missed.  This is part of UDL … being flexible in the student’s development by making sure that the teacher is starting the student at their point of learning.

Flexibility is important in teaching because our students are individuals who come to us will many different needs that we as teachers need to meet – there is no average student. Pre-assessment is crucial to help  teachers to identify the needs of their students and then plan accordingly.   Having students recognize their style of learning is also valuable. If the teacher only allows one way of doing things, it is stifling student learning.    If students know they are going to have success, they are more likely to be engaged.  “UDL reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports and challenges, along with maintaining high expectations for all.”  Yes, it does mean that  teachers should be planning more thoughtfully, but planning and refining of a final project can often be done with the students when developing criteria for an assignment.  Asking your students what kind of project would best express their learning also develops their critical thinking skills — “How can you show me your understanding of this topic?”  Allowing students to submit summative responses that use technology, creativity, linear thought, or speaking, shows our students that we understand their needs.This is not always easy to do.  Being flexible in your teaching is important!

Making Thinking Visible

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Over the past few weeks, I have been working with our learning communities on using a variety of thinking strategies during the implementation of inquiry projects.  As mentioned in an earlier post, Ron Ritchart’s work on “Making Thinking Visible” focuses on the following

  • Deeper understanding of content
  • Greater motivation for learning
  • Development of learners’ thinking and learning abilities.
  • Development of learners’ attitudes toward thinking and learning and their alertness to opportunities for thinking and learning (the “dispositional” side of thinking).
  • A shift in classroom culture toward a community of enthusiastically engaged thinkers and learners.

One thinking routine that was very well liked by our students and teachers is Chalk Talk.  In Chalk Talk, the students are asked to think about ideas presented to them, make connections to others’ responses and then question the ideas and responses of their peers. It is very easy to implement and is an excellent way to stimulate some great “silent discussion” in the classroom!

Key Thinking Processes from Chalk Talk

  • Makes room for all learners to have a voice
  • Makes learning visible by focusing on reactions, connections, and questions
  • Encourage reflective thinking.

This specific Thinking Strategy was implemented by our LC5, LC6 and LC7.  It was exciting to see is our grade 7 students who had already worked through the process became experts and went to our LC6 classrooms to coach the students through the process and provide feedback.

Student Reflections on the process of Chalk Talk

“I enjoyed the Chalk Talk experience.  Everyone cooperating and sharing ideas.  Even people who don’t usually answer questions participated.  This learning experience gave me an idea about what was to come, as well as making it interesting.”

“This was good to do because people who don’t speak out in class got to answer here.  Everyone has a chance to answer. Also, you can bump off of peers’ ideas.  You can answer questions put out by others and agree with them.  This makes our thinking visible in class.  This also helps with collaboration.  We work together to create good ideas but we are doing this silently as well, we don’t say anything! We should do this again!”

“I liked the Chalk Talk because it gave the people who don’t usually speak up in class a voice.  It pushed learning because we could feed off of each other’s ideas and ask questions.  We could look at what everyone thought, and answer questions or add to everyone’s’ thoughts”

I would highly recommend taking a look at Ron Ritchart’s work on Thinking Routines.

Claudia Scanga

Mental Health First Aid

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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)

www.cmha.ca

Fierce Conversations

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“Healthy relationships require appreciation and confrontation.”  Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott  pg 163

The work we did last year in the Fierce Conversations training with Leah Andrews has had lasting impact in my work as a Learning Coach.  Given my “golden retriever” personality, my tendency is to compromise being completely honest if I feel it will damage the relationship.  Therefore one of the challenges I’ve had to face as a LC is learning to navigate through those (sometimes) difficult conversations;  recognizing that exploring the real issues requires honesty- genuine listening and genuine feedback- communicated in a manner that doesn’t compromise the relationship and is an impetus for change.

In reflecting on my year so far, I realize that I have had significantly more “fierce conversations” than in previous years.  Coincidence?  I think not.  I recognize that I had become an expert at avoiding difficult conversations so this has been a definite area of growth for me.  Have they all gone perfectly?  Absolutely not.  But I do believe my emotional and conversational muscles are growing stronger with each of these conversations.  More importantly though, are some positive changes that have happened in classrooms following those conversations.

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.

Using Cooperative Learning in the Classroom – When We All Get to Share Our Ideas, We Learn More!

 

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I love to learn and keep telling my students that we will always be learning throughout our lives!

Over the past couple of months I have been taking PD based on Cooperative Learning (Kagan Structures).  Cooperative Learning is not an entirely new concept, it was also done several years ago, but Kagan refined a way to teach the structures more explicitly and purposefully.  He recognized that the more students speak and share their ideas, the more that they learn.  The structures allow for equal participation during the lesson.  These strategies are not tied to any specific content, but may be used across all curriculum areas.  Cooperative Learning also helps to develop the students’ social skills.

I recently had the pleasure of team teaching some collaborative learning lessons in two Junior High classes.  The Math teacher and I modeled and then scaffolded Rally Coaching first in a Grade 6/7 Math class and then later in a Grade 8/9 Math class.  Word Problems based on the outcomes that the students were learning had been developed for each group.  Students had to coach their partners towards exhibiting a way of solving their word problem.  It was very important for the “coaches” to give the right amount of encouragement and to lead their partners towards the correct solution without telling them the answer.  The classroom teacher and I walked around doing a formative evaluation by listening in and modeling various words for the coaches.  The students had the chance to explain their own thought processes as well as to hear their partner’s thought process during this cognitive activity.  Word Problems are often very difficult for some students; this cooperative learning structure allowed more successes to many students who may not have had success on their own.  After the lesson, when the classes were asked to reflect back on the process, all but one student expressed enjoying the chance to share their ideas and ways of solving their problems.  As teachers reflecting back on the lesson, we recognize the need for movement and discussion which the Rally Coaching structure allowed.   We also spoke with the student who did not enjoy the activity and have some ideas of a way which we can accommodate that student’s needs as well.

 

                   

                 http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/                                  http://claudiacaino.weebly.com/

Four Corners, and a Placemat activity were tried out in a Grade 4/5 class.  I modeled a Four Corners cooperative learning lesson which started as a team building activity for fun, but also ended up incorporating Social, LA, Science, and Math – which the students were able to verbalize at the end of the lesson.  The students all participated eagerly and shared their thinking with their classmates.  The movement was valuable for those students who need regular body breaks.  Later in the day, I team taught the Placemat Structure during a Health lesson with the classroom teacher.  Once again, the students were able to share their thoughts with each other while the classroom teacher and I walked around doing some formative assessment.  Those students who may not have been able to come up with ideas on their own were able to peek at their neighbours’ ideas and develop their own or rephrase what their neighbour had written.  When the group was doing a Round Robin of their ideas during sharing time, each student was given equal time to share their thoughts letting the students know that everyone’s ideas were important.  The process also allowed for the students to use consensus to come up with their top four ideas.  Everyone in the group was given the chance to explain why they felt one concept was more important than another.  Listening to the students’ thoughts was valuable for recognizing their level of understanding.

Being allowed to self-reflect is so important for our students.  It often allows them to recognize their own areas of strengths and needs.  Sharing those thoughts with a peer helps students to hear their thought processes.  Kagan Structures supports that learning!

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