PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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How Are You? How Are Things In Your World?



That Is A Great Moment! I feel this is how I could look in many conversations – happy, engaged, alert, committed and cemented in that moment.


How are you?  or…How are things in your world?

These have become my most exciting two questions in day!  Not when I am asked, although if you know me well I am a talker and would be happy to chat; but I love to ask these questions, in a casual and sincere passing in the hall or meeting at the coffee pot.   I find the world falls away and that person and I can go quickly into a conversation that is professional and collaborative.  Two years ago, when I asked those questions I would get a response that was personal or vague – not inviting (by most not all).  But now I find that I love how two professionals can so quickly be focused and seeking solutions together. Sometimes I walk away from quick incidental conversations in a zombie state, trying to remember blocks that are now booked and all the supports running through my head as I leave that amazing state where we were in our own world of professional collaboration.

Recently,   I was passing a colleague in the hall; this person was going one way and I the other.  I really was intending a quick “Hello – How are you” when I noted the response was ‘come with me’.  Their class was creating some stress and anxiety for them.  I knew the class fairly well from and was thrilled to be going in.  The work we did was elbow to elbow and resulted in discussions around collaborative structures, multiple intelligence theory and some management ideas.  I was thrilled a few days later to get a note indicating this person had put to practice some of the things we chatted about.  They shared that they were somewhat adjusting to the new approach but noticed higher engagement in their students and therefore felt it would be  worth further discussion and learning.

I really believe we are teaching in exciting times (despite politics and budgets).  We know so much more about learning and the art of teaching – I do not want to wish away anytime but I can not wait to see our classrooms in 10 years from now!!  Please do not let this take anything away from all the great teaching before this time!!  I come from a long line of educators and all I believe they were superb in their time…. I just want to recognize the research and advances we are making.  Students truly are our focus…and for me that makes teaching is my passion….OK that is maybe my next post:  Neuroscience:  Feeding the Passion of Teaching!!

Problems that Lead to Growth

Problems that leads to growth

You learn more from your mistakes than from your successes. This is definitely a saying that I am finding to be true. Last week I taught a physical education lesson to a grade ¾ class that didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. The students came in and followed their normal routine and then I wanted to teach them two games that I recently learned at teacher’s convention. I started out by making sure I had all attention on me, explained the game, asked for any questions and cold called on a few students to check for understanding. We began to play the game and it went well for all but one boy that the teacher noticed was disengaged in the activity. I did not notice as I was avoiding and throwing dodge balls as the rest of the class enjoying the game.

I stopped the game and called the students back in to explain the next game. The game had a lot of strategy and rules to follow and had a number of students asking for clarification. I thought that it would just be best if we started the game and then work out the issues as we played. As we started the first round one of the boys who didn’t understand the rules went out of the game as he failed to tag someone. He did not understand why and was overwhelmed with the instruction and ambiguousness of the game. There was an outburst at that time and the boy was removed so he could calm down and discusses the situation by the teacher and the EA. I continued to play the game explaining the rules as we played and getting into the strategy as we progressed. In the end the students had a lot of fun and I thought it was a successful lesson minus the one outburst. That all changed when the teacher approached me and started asking questions.

As a teacher of 20 plus years and a learning coach I found myself a little defensive as the teacher started asking why I didn’t give greater clarification at the beginning of the game so to avoid the outburst that occurred. I tried to explain that sometimes it is best to learn by doing but that didn’t feel right. I went back and reflected on my practice and came up with this:

Things I would have done differently.

  1. Needed a visual to put rules on and to explain games
  2. Check for understanding…bad one to miss
  3. Those that don’t understand can sit and watch the game and then bring them in to restart.
  4. Have established start and go signals…you have those but I needed to either use yours or tell them new ones.
  5. Had some closure but could have used more, gone over games and why we do them.
  6. Dynamite is warm up game and plunger is cooperation and teamwork…I should let kids know why they are doing activities or what I am looking for in PE. For ex. if I see people getting hit and not going out. (good time for a class conversation) Having said that I only saw one person get hit and not go out. I only saw one because it affected me. Your kids are generally pretty and didn’t complain when the ref made a call which does happen often if the culture isn’t established
  7. As for the little guy…maybe he needs to know what is happening in advance, could review at end of class what is happening the next class. Could check for understanding as a group and then pull him aside so he understands? Give him visuals? Give him a time out area he can go to or access EA when he is feeling overwhelmed or confused? Definitely for him three new games and not knowing what was going on was too much.

After further discussion with the teacher we agreed that some of the preventative measures could be put in place to support this student and all of the class. Through my mistakes we were able to make positive changes to improve practice. My mistakes helped me think about improving my practice and provided the teacher with ways to help her students. Success through failure.


Picture taken from:

Lesson Study: Teaching Students How to Self-Reflect and Develop Criteria!


Recently, I had the opportunity to co-develop and teach a Lesson Study with two other teachers.  We targeted two different Grade 8 LA classes with a lesson based on:  “What makes a good quality how-to video”.  The teachers and I established goals for the students:  to identify the elements of a good how-to video and then formulate the criteria for creating one. We brainstormed ideas, found a variety of “How-To” videos, and created a lesson which I taught allowing the classroom teachers a chance to observe their students.

 Without being told that the how-to video they were about to watch was a poor quality product, the students were asked to use their critical thinking and determine the criteria for what was good and what was bad about the video.   A T-chart was written up on the board allowing the students a chance to share their ideas and have a discussion explaining their thought processes.  Then the class watched a second how-to video that was a very good one.  They once again developed criteria sharing their opinions on the quality of the video.  With guidance, the students began to develop the criteria for a rubric.  From a teaching perspective, the lesson seemed to go fairly well, but the students were not as engaged as we had hoped.

At break, the classroom teacher and I debriefed on how the lesson had gone.  We recognized that part of the lesson needed to be changed in order for the students to remain more engaged and to get a clear understanding of how they were identifying, developing and eventually using criteria for a good quality “How-to” video.  We tweaked the lesson.

The next day the same class did a cooperative learning activity called Placemat where they took the criteria that they had identified for the rubric, watched another how-to video and individually recorded their comments on their portion of the placemat.  They discussed their ideas with their group members, came to a consensus and then graded the video.  Each group presented their criteria and reflected upon why they felt that way.  Having me teach the lesson allowed the classroom teacher to observe her class and identify when her barometer student (a term coined by the Two Sisters from Daily 5) began to lose interest.  She was able to see that the lesson was not as engaging as was necessary and recognized that we would have to shorten and change certain aspects in order for more on task time for her students.  We reflected upon the lesson and, once again, tweaked parts of it to make it better for the students who I would be teaching later that afternoon.  I checked in with the teacher of the afternoon class to show her where we had made changes and asked for her input with relation to her class.  She agreed that the changes would suit her students.

That afternoon I went into the second Grade 8 class and followed the revised lesson.  The afternoon class had a barometer student who appeared to be kept more engaged because of the changes.  The students were given the same opportunities for self-reflection and development of criteria for a good quality “How-To” video as well as group reflections and discussions. At the end of the day, the teacher and I were able to sit down and have a discussion on the successes of the lesson and any possible changes that would have to take place for future instruction.

The Lesson Study was a great opportunity to collaborate with other teachers, interact with students, and to self-reflect.

I look forward to seeing what the students will produce as they begin their own how-to videos based on the criteria that they developed with their teachers and their peers!

Soon the Garden will be Blooming

Learning In Action for All

Learning In Action

Just in my first year in the Learning Coach Role, I often reflect on my effectiveness and my ability to assist others to change their practice. Earlier this week, I was affirmed that I may be doing just that! As mentioned in my previous post, I am working with a grade three teacher with a student blogging project. I have modeled using the placemat strategy as a means to ensure all students are engaged, have a voice, and are able to assess their own learning, specifically to develop criteria and requirements for Powerful Blog Entries (yes Diane, we discussed the difference). Rather than speak about the actual lessons again, I would like to speak to the wonderful “aha” moment both the teacher and I had. After being away from the school for a week, I did a check in. She related a story about how she “just” about used the placemat strategy for another lesson, separate from our project. However, she was reluctant to “do it wrong” so she went back to a familiar, but less effective strategy. I was both excited and a little saddened by this. Excited, because she was looking for ways to incorporate the strategy into her practice and saddened, because I wondered if I hadn’t given her sufficient information, support, or something (?) so that she felt confident enough to go forth on her own. We spoke further about using this as a universal strategy and that she didn’t need my “permission” to expand on its use or worry about doing it “wrong”. This is a learning process for everyone! Imagine my delight when, later that day, I walked into a room in which she had been teaching to see this display (see picture above) on the board. Just like the Grinch, my heart grew bigger and my smile grew wider! She had taken initiative and used the strategy with a whole new group of kids to brainstorm for a writing assignment. Later that day, we had our second team teaching experience and I noticed her increased confidence and comfort level in using this teaching tool. She was effusive in her enthusiasm and its effectiveness to promote “thoughtful” thinking (is there such a beast?) in the classroom. We have plans to work on more Cooperative Learning Strategies in the New Year. I feel one small seed has been planted; I am looking forward to the garden blooming.

Notice .. Find Meaning …. Learn




I don’t know if it is the full moon, continual changing of the weather patterns in Alberta or the onset of upheaval in the classrooms due to Christmas Concert rehearsals.   Tensions are rising, anxiety is in the air, and I am even more in need of the quiet mornings and evenings in my living room with a candle and a beverage of my choosing.  Mindfulness is the buzz right now and I am eager to use it daily…..  In the MIND Up Curriculum I came across a set of statements to think about or journal about, that can be so useful for adults and students alike… no matter what your occupation, age or economic status.

What I noticed …..  Identify/think about/become aware of our perceptions and assumptions, our feelings;  how are our senses responding to our environment and how does all of this impact our reactions to our environment.

What it means ….. How did I feel? Then … How did I react? What did I say or do in response to what I noticed… and why?

What I learned …. About myself ; my perceptions ; my assumptions ; my sensory self ; my quickness to react ; my tolerance to my environment and the people that are in it ??

If we can’t/ don’t/ or won’t learn from our experiences and relationships and interactions …. then how are we going to move forward in life?


In my Learning Coach/IEL role, I am always encouraging teachers to be the detectives in our classrooms, in our hallways, in the playground areas. We look for the patterns, the strengths and areas of growth for our students. We are having formal/informal dialogues and reflecting conversations regarding what the students are telling us/showing us about their strengths and about what they need – through their behaviors or lack of certain behaviors. (What I noticed …) 

How are we adjusting the environment and activities to meet all those needs? In SBST discussions we continue to gather information about the teachers’ and students’ current realities. We study the data, observations, work samples, cum files …and formulate a plan of intervention to move the child forward and a plan of action to tweak the teaching practices to move the teacher forward.     (What it means ….)

Hopefully, before the end of the year we can all see growth and learning in the students, growth and learning in the classroom and school community, growth and learning in all the staff   (What I learned…)

because …. GUESS what ???

There are going to be more full moons, and schedule interruptions and variable weather conditions in our fine province.  Change is forever happening and we just need to continue to be mindful about what we are choosing to NOTICE about ourselves and our teaching; what it MEANS for us and our students and fellow staff members; and what we will choose to LEARN from it all.

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.

Cooperative Learning


I have recently taken some professional development through learning services at PSD 70 that will be invaluable to the schools I work with. It is called Kagan cooperative learning. The structure allows for maximum engagement with students by allowing them to do the talking and thus the learning. It also focuses on team work, social interaction and establishing a classroom culture of collaboration and sharing. I look forward to modelling the process so teachers can implement the strategies in their classes.

Making Thinking Visible

Photo Credit: wadem via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: wadem via Compfight cc

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the AAC Fall Conference (thanks Leah!).  I left with a full head, to say the least.  Even the title of the conference “Assessment to Inspire Learning” gave me so much to think about.  I couldn’t possibly go through it all here on the blog (although I’d love to talk later with anyone who is interested), but I would like to highlight the keynote speaker, Ron Ritchart.

Mr. Ritchart spoke on the importance of making thinking visible and offered several examples of “thinking routines” to use across grades and across the curriculum.  Using thinking routines regularly in classrooms will promote engagement, deeper understanding, and development of thinking skills, and hopefully eliminate the stress-inducing, time-wasting question, “What does the teacher want me to do?”.

To see several of these “thinking routines”, check out Mr. Ritchart’s website  They are thoroughly described and ready-to-go for classroom teachers.  My favourite has to be the “CSI” routine.  It stands for Colour, Symbol, Image and has students explore and share their own understandings by designating (and justifying) a colour, symbol and image that “best represents or captures the essence” of an idea.  Not only does a routine such as this make thinking extremely visible for the teacher, it makes it visible to the students and promotes a great deal of reflection and critical thinking.

If we truly are using assessment to INSPIRE learning, routines such as these are invaluable.  I can’t wait to share them with staff.

Coaching Heavy or Light?

teeter totter
Photo Credit: «Jessica♥Marie » via Compfight

After reading, Are you Coaching Heavy or  Light? (J. Killion, 2008), I had to pause and think of how I was going to approach this year. Being that this is my first year as Learning Coach, and in a set of new schools, I think it is valuable to “Coach Light”. I don’t know how I can do my job without strong relationships being established. I would like to have a trust built with my teachers that allows them to open and share the areas they want to improve student learning.

Having said all this, Coaching Heavy is where I want to get at. To look at a teachers practice and see how that affects student learning is going to lead to growth. Challenging teachers to be reflective of their practice and working with them to enhance student learning will create growth for years. The teachers will need to take a leap of faith to be introspective and I will be doing the same. It is scary to both jump into the deep end and at the same time can be very rewarding. Through success and failure we can both grow and be better educators for our students in the long run.

Reflections and Questions:

On Saturday, June 28th,  Memorial administration and staff, along with family, friends and extended educational and community members,   graduated the Class of 2014. With this  farewell we all helped this group of students end their chapter  of basic,  formal education that began, for most of  them , twelve or thirteen  years ago. As I watched  these  beautifully gowned and handsomely-dressed young women and men, I reflected on and asked  myself several questions. Have we really provided quality learning opportunities for all? Embedded in that question is the next, which is, have we achieved excellence in learning outcomes, and third, will this group of young people reflect in 5 or 10 years and recognize their schooling as having being highly responsive and responsible? Of course, we hope that for all three questions we have  provided some strategies that these learners will be able to use, and also some  reliable outcomes that will support them in their real-world endeavours – whatever they may be. I also know that we, as educators, will continue to work on all three questions.

For these young people to be committed to life-long learning, means that we need to continue to be learners! We as educators need to demonstrate high standards, citizenship and healthy lifestyles. We need to continue to challenge assessment practices and improve them through our own professional learning. We need to show improved results through effective working relationships with parents and other stakeholders. We need to demonstrate leadership, creativity, and the joy in learning and continuous improvement. And we need to continue to work on  realizing this in an environment of mutual trust and caring. I know that I, and my teacher and learning coach colleagues work everyday to promote this  knowledge and awareness.  It’s a heck of a lot of work!  But what a rewarding journey!

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