PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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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.

Engaging Games

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When teaching Language Arts a number of years ago, one of the choices I often gave students was to create a board game as a means to visually demonstrate their understanding of characters and events in a novel.  I remember the rich learning and enjoyment experienced not only by the student who created the game, but by the students who participated in playing with the game once it was completed.  Although I observed and assessed these projects, I was never involved in the process of building a game- until this year.  I have had the pleasure of working with teachers and groups of students, creating board games based on regions of Alberta (grade 4) and now regions of Canada (grade 5).

Starting with setting criteria for powerful questions, students then proceed to create questions based on grade level appropriate information. Each student chooses a specific aspect of the region they will focus on.  Initially students try to seek my approval for the questions they create, but once they realize that I will always  refer them to the criteria to determine whether a question “makes the cut” or not, they will invariably self assess based on the criteria and feedback from their peers.  Working as a group, students then determine what type of game format they want to use. They brainstorm possible ways to make it visually appealing, and ensure the game is challenging yet achievable for those playing. It’s amazing to watch students dig into the information so that they can find creative ways to provide participants with potential learning opportunities while playing.

The first game created was a Chutes and Ladders style game that was based on the Rocky Mountain Region.   The group that created the game was tasked with the responsibility of establishing the rules for the game and explaining those to the rest of the students.   They renamed the game “Waterfalls, Chairlifts and Trails” and used shiny paper, stickers, and other embellishments to make it visually appealing and align with the characteristics of the region.  Needless to say, the rest of the students thoroughly enjoyed playing the game and provided effective feedback to the students who created it. I’m now working with two other groups of very excited students who are in the process of creating games based on different regions.

If you are interested in finding out more about this project idea, don’t hesitate to ask.

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

Fierce Conversations


“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!

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.




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!

We Want You! (#EdCampPSD70)


CaptureLast 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

– 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!

You Are Loved!

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[ – *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.

It’s All About the Relationships

I’ve been thinking about June and the expectations I had for it.  I honestly felt that even though I had become increasingly busy in my role since Christmas, this would gradually wane as June began and continue through the end of the year.  I was wrong.  I actually felt busier than I ever had!  Granted, this was partly due to Muir Lake’s Innovation Week, but for the most part, my time was spent in classrooms doing everything from modeling reading comprehension strategies to working with teachers on how to effectively transition their classes for next year.  I was really quite (pleasantly) surprised and then it hit me when I was at a retirement party for one of our PSD teachers.  This teacher started her speech by saying, “It’s all about the relationships.”  It’s definitely not the first time I heard her say this, but it came at the right time that night.  I realized that it’s not just the dedication and openness of the teachers at my schools that has contributed to my full schedule even as the school year winds down (although that’s definitely part of it), it truly is the relationships.  In September, I was new to one of my schools and although I’ve always been welcomed and utilized, time has definitely contributed to the trust and positive relationships with the staff.  Makes me wonder what next September will bring!


Mystery Skype =Deductive Reasoning

A few weeks ago, I met with our grade 5 PLC as they were looking to find a creative way to wrap up the Canadian Regions unit in Social Studies.  I had recently observed a “Mystery Skype” with one of our grade 7 classes and a class in Southern California, so suggested it to these teachers.  All four of them jumped at the idea.  A Mystery Skype is where two classes meet via Skype but neither class knows where the other class is located.  The goal is to determine the location of the other class.

By narrowing down the scope of the mystery to another region in Canada- I set out to find other classes across the country willing to participate.  After sending out numerous emails, and arranging times that worked – given schedules and time zone differences, I was able to set up a separate Mystery Skype for each of the classes. (Thanks in no small part to Dalouie in our library who orchestrated the technology piece.) The students had to prepare questions that could only be answered with “yes” or “no”.  I encouraged them to  base their questions on the geographical knowledge they had gained over the year about the various regions in Canada.  For example, “Is forestry a main industry in your region?”   It was so interesting to watch the students use their deductive reasoning skills by processing the “Yes” or “No” answer to their questions.     Something I hadn’t anticipated prior to the first session, was that our students needed to know their own geography in order to answer the questions being asked of them.  All of the students participated in the activity as they took turns asking and answering questions and had to listen intently to the answers in order to solve the mystery.

All in all, it was an engaging, rich experience for students and provided an opportunity to connect with students and teachers elsewhere in this vast country.   All four classes were able to solve the “mystery” and figure out where the other class was from, and visa verse.  This is definitely an activity that I would recommend and would invest the time to do it again next year.

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