PSD70 Learning Coach Program

A Parkland School Division Blog Site

Summer…Rest, Rejuvenate and Take Some Time to do …Nothing.

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!

Thank you

Thank you.  After two years in the learning coach program I leave you with these 2 simple words.

To the team at Learning Services; thank you for your vision and passion for creating a program that benefits students in such a meaningful way. Your support, expertise, and perseverance have certainly allowed this program the success it has experienced to this point.

Thank you.  To the administration at SGCHS.  Without your ongoing encouragement, brainstorming, creativity, and drive, this experience would not have been nearly as rewarding.  I am very fortunate to work at such a great school.

Thank you.  To my fellow learning coaches.  Your contagious energy, vision to do what is right for children, and commitment to continual learning has inspired me over the past two years.  I wish you nothing but continued growth and success as you move forward.

I miss teaching, and the day to day connection with students that you can only get if you have your own class.  I will miss the people and the experiences from these past two years, but am looking forward to what comes next.  Thank you for the opportunities, the learning, and bringing enjoyment to the day to day work that we have done.

Celebrating the Efforts

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.

Looking Back, Looking Forward,

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.

Looking Back

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

Looking Forward

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!


Meeting the Needs of All Learners

An area of interest that I have explored this year is differentiated instruction as several teachers have shown a desire to develop programming that meets the various learning needs of the students in their classrooms.

One of Parkland School Division’s initiatives is to build learning environments where “exploration, creativity and imagination make learning exciting and where all learners aspire to reach their dreams.”  Within this system, each student is provided with the best education possible.  According to PSD, “The success of inclusive education programming relies on the engagement, collaboration and involvement of students, parents, staff and community”

The following attributes are the foundation for inclusion within Parkland School Division:

– All students are linked to the Program of Studies;

– Success is described for all students in that it may look different for different students;

– Students have the supports and services they need to access and be successful within their educational programs;

– Students are safe and healthy;

– Students feel that they are welcomed and that they contribute. (p. 8)

Differentiated Instruction can be extended systematically within Parkland School Division to support inclusion.  According to an article I recently read by Adams and Pierce (2004), “Differentiated instruction involves structuring a lesson at multiple levels so that each student has an opportunity to work at a moderately challenging, developmentally appropriate level.”  Within this model, students’ interests, learning preferences, learner profiles, readiness levels, and much more are taken into account.  This aligns with PSD’s vision of inclusion as DI supports programming for students to best fit their learning needs.

Differentiating lessons allows students to work towards the same objectives or goals in different ways.  One method I have explored that supports DI is tiered lessons.  Tiered lessons allow teachers to “address a particular standard, key concept and generalization, [by providing] several pathways for students to arrive at an understanding of these components.” Furthermore, “The use of tiered graphic organizers allow teachers to assess growth, as they observe students during instruction and as students progress from one level to the next.”  This reflects the division’s attributes as ALL students would be “linked” to the Program of Studies in different ways, and the proper supports would be provided for each student to be successful.

I have seen DI being implemented in many classrooms this year and have seen first-hand the benefits of this teaching method.  I look forward to seeing where DI takes us next!


At Hope, Not At Risk: Helping Children with Trauma Experiences at School (Part 3)

Here’s the final post in the series! In closing, I thought I would share eleven quick tips for supporting children who have had experiences of trauma. In my coaching work, these eleven tips are the strategies I most commonly recommend to teachers as they work to move towards an inclusive space for children with trauma.

When I was writing this, I realised that I have been using the terms trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed interchangeably since I began discussing this topic. However, as I was typing this post, I realised that there is probably a difference between the two terms which are so commonly used to refer to the same practices. Being trauma-sensitive, to me, is being aware that children may have experienced trauma and are deserving of a compassionate, understanding approach to their learning or behavioural barriers. Being trauma-informed indicates your knowledge of strategies which can help children to move beyond their barriers in order to achieve success at school. I think it is necessary to be both trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed to be successful in our work as teachers.

Here are some strategies to increase our skills as trauma-informed educators. Many of these can be universally designed to benefit the whole class!

  1. Always give 1 metre of space when talking to a student who is angry or upset. It’s safer for the teacher, and you are less likely to trigger a child to remember previous traumatic situations, such as physical or sexual abuse, violence they witnessed, etc. If it seems natural to comfort the student, you can always ask “would you like a hug?” first.
  2. Greet students with the same phrase every morning. For example, “Good morning, ____! It’s great to have you at school today.” It’s important that you use exactly the same words, not just the same sentiment. Children who have experienced trauma will often experience anxiety about how you connect with them on a daily basis. If you say “Good to see you!” one morning, and “Hi!” the next, they might wonder how your relationship has changed and become stressed.
  3. Help students to develop emotional literacy and an awareness of the range of emotions using strategies such as Feeling Thermometers. Often, children who have experienced trauma are desensitised to lower-intensity feelings (for example, being annoyed vs. being furious) and are not able to recognise these in time to be proactive and prevent explosive escalation. The Zones of Regulation is an enormously helpful resource which pairs well with Feeling Thermometers.
  4. Explicitly discuss safety and how to recognise if a situation is safe. This is a useful discussion for all students to participate in, and could help students identify the ways that teachers keep kids safe at school, what “unsafe” looks like, and what to do when they are feeling unsafe.
  5. Create separate spaces that children can move into, but still share what is going on in the rest of the class. Corners with rugs, rocking chairs, or beanbags allow students to take time apart from the group when they need physical and emotional space.
  6. Consider providing the choice for a student to move to a different classroom, with a familiar teacher on days when a substitute will be replacing the regular classroom teacher. Often this type of change is a trigger for significant anxiety, and a substitute may not be aware of or prepared to use the strategies in place for support. If the student wishes to remain in class with their peers, provide this as an option if the student experiences difficulty during the day.
  7. Provide praise in a neutral tone of voice. A raised voice may cause a student to become anxious and fail to understand the message as positive, which can trigger challenging behaviours.
  8. Provide fun and playful experiences which are NOT offered as a reward. Children who struggle with trauma experiences need to participate in low-stress, engaging activities regularly. These activities serve to lower their arousal levels, help build social connections with peers, and develop a narrative of inclusion for the student. If their challenging behaviour prevents them from being considered for these opportunities (eg. if you go all week without hitting, you can come to the class party on Friday), they will miss valuable learning.
  9. Use Social Behaviour Mapping tools to help children draw connections between their thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and the thoughts, feelings, and reactions of those around them. Provide these opportunities to reflect regularly within a private and non-threatening context.
  10. Understand that students with trauma experiences may struggle to encode and access memories. Use strategies to support memory, such as visual aids, multisensory experiences, retellings, review, and reminders such as sticky notes. Schedules which include visuals are helpful at all grade levels to support routines.
  11. Follow the following formula for structuring classroom activities: 10 minutes excitement/high interest, 10 minutes calming, 30 minutes concentration. For young children, shorten the time periods (eg. 5, 5, and 15) but follow the same pattern.

Please let me know if you find these suggestions helpful or share your own strategies in the comments!


Loving the language ….

I came across this pamphlet on DI on the Yukon Education’s website. I love Carol Ann Tomlinson’s language  “ A respectful task honors both commonalities and differences of students but not by treating them alike”.   – more language that pops out at me : multiple and flexible means ….. 

I find that so many teachers are on board with their role and commitment to kids and learning. PSD continues to expand and develop in their commitment and opportunities for learning and growth for all students and the dedicated staff who work with them each and every day.

Here are some other resources that can help us to continue to move forward in  our own personal and professional journeys …to get ourselves and our students to a place where we all can be as effective and successful as possible  – moving from” Yikes ! “ to  “ I will keep trying !” to “ WOW , You won’t believe what my kids/What I  did today !!”   – a good basis for collaborative problem solving teams  …..    a good basis for setting out a learning plan for our more complicated students to move their  learning onward and forward !!!

This was also taken from Yukon Education :

Guiding Principles

  • Learning is a unique interaction between the student and the instructional environment.
  • Passionately seeking authentic information about each child’s unique skills and needs will result in academic/behavioral improvement.
  • All students can learn. When they are not learning, we must find out why.
  • We must focus on understanding & resolving the causes of problems – “why” learning is not occurring.

Loving the words …. unique interaction ……….passionately seeking ………….understanding ….   sounds like PSD to me …….  🙂

Two Heads Are Better Than One!

Everyone keeps saying how computers make the world smaller…I knew what they were saying and in small ways I had joined in their journey, but today I feel like I made a leap.  After sending out an inquiry, Katia replied with some interest in joining me on my mission to create a monthly coaching memo for staff.  Quickly I was thinking about ways for us to connect and work together, brainstorm, create lists of ideas and develop a document to share out.  That is when Google Documents came to us!

Hello Katia!   Hello Patricia!…we connected to begin our work, to collaborate, to support each other in a professional capacity.

I have to confess that I am a recent convert to the idea of professional collaboration. As a perfectionist by nature, my initial experiences with collaboration were characterized by the frustrations of “group work” in my own school career, and the results were consistently disappointing. My first positive encounters with collaboration occurred when I went to theatre school the summer I was fourteen. I approached the idea of working in groups with the same dread – but my teachers approached things differently than I had ever experienced! After teaching us about the purpose of collaboration, they introduced us to the types of roles (both problematic and helpful) that we might play in our groups, and offered us numerous opportunities to produce “imperfect” work… with the focus always on our process, rather than on our product. But truthfully, it was the product that sold me on collaboration. I saw results that I knew I could never have produced if I had simply created the project without the input of others, and my perfectionist tendencies were so impressed that I learned to trust others  to contribute. Over ten years later I still appreciate the lessons I learned that summer, so when Patricia approached me to collaborate, I was excited to jump on board!

Google documents has allowed us to begin to build and share ideas and collaborate despite our different schedules and locations.  We inspire each other to take our practice further to look for new ways to encourage colleagues and support professional learning and growth.

Two heads really are better than one…just look at this post!!

“Thanks Katia!”…”Thanks Patricia!”

Building a Culture that nurtures productive Conflict

Just finished reading this great article by Anthony Armstrong (titled as above)  which embraces an environment that nurtures productive conflict (Williams, K. & Hierck T.. Authentic alignment in a PLC: Moving from compliance to commitment).  It shares the three critical ingredients to creating a safe environment for this growth: shared purpose, norms to to quide the work towards a purpose, and protocols for when those norms are violated. Perhaps a model to use/look at as we continue to push the evelope of the “staus-quo”.

Quote of the day for me:  “If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along – whether it be business, family relations, or life itself”. – Bernard Meltzer


Happy New Year

As we move into 2014, it is a great time to reflect on the past year, as well as look forward to the year to come.  Many of us have come up with a New Year’s resolution or two, and I am no different.  As I reconnect with staff after the Christmas break, I am again reminded of the exciting and challenging times we are facing in Education today.  This makes me think of the important work that we need to continue to do in creating inclusive environments for students in Parkland School Division.  It also brings to mind my own role as a Learning Coach within the Division, reflecting on how the past year and a half has gone and what personal goals I need to set for myself for the remainder of this school year.  Keeping all of this in mind, I have started 2014 by looking again at the PSD Commitment to Inclusion Statements and started my own personal reflection process.

PSD’s Commitment to Inclusion:
Move from:

  • the idea of fixing students to the idea of improving environments
  • dependence on staff (teachers and EA’s) to a focus on independence
  • “Special Ed” to ALL students being special
  • a deficit model of thinking to a strength based model of thinking
  • having high expectations for some to having high expectations for ALL

A big part of my reflection process has started by not just looking at the commitment statements, but honestly reflecting on each one of them by asking myself two things:

  1.  In my role as a learning coach, how have I used the Commitment Statements to guide my behaviors and decisions in supporting a cultural shift in the schools that I work with?
  2. What barriers might I personally have that could be slowing down my ability to support change?

Reflecting on the relationships that I have built with staff and the projects, supports and collaboration opportunities I have initiated in my role as a learning coach, has been a validating experience.  Often we don’t realize how much we have done unless we take a moment to reflect on it.  What is great about reflecting is that it also provides the opportunity to build onto what has already been put in place and set goals for the months to come, as well as ask deeper questions.  As I have reflected on how things have been going, more and more questions and ideas have come about and this has also inspired me to start discussions with staff, which has made this whole process a richer experience…. as we all know….collaboration is always key to growth!

Looking at the my second question has been a little more challenging as I really have needed to critically examine my barriers; and, I have to admit that I have actually come face to face with one or two that I myself have created because of my own discomfort/comfort level, perceptions and beliefs.  Owning this, at first was difficult for me, as like others, pride myself on doing my best work.  The interesting and motivating  thing  is that once I took the opportunity to look critically at these barriers, the process of setting new goals for myself and coming up with strategies to remove these barriers has been a powerful experience.  Like with my reflection on how I have supported change, my reflection on barriers also has brought about other, deeper questions.  I don’t necessarily have all of the answers to these questions yet, but working through this process will I believe, be big part of my growth.

As the first weeks back to school move along and I continue to work through my reflection process, I feel I have a deeper sense of where I have been and where I need to go next in my role as a learning coach.  Using the PSD Commitment to Inclusion Statements have been a key part of this process and asking key questions has taken my self-reflection to a deeper level.  I am excited to start the New Year with some well thought out “resolutions”, both personal and professional.  Wising everyone all the very best in 2014!

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