PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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The Four Horsemen…Not so Scary!!

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We have all heard about growth mindset and the power and importance of having growth mindset to move forward.  At the same time, through various discussions fixed mindsets are what create some of a coaches toughest encounters.  Recently, I shared with the cohort about the MOOC course I had registered for  and I have to tell you it really has provided some really grounding information and clarity of the coaching role and how to work through fixed mindsets.  I would actually encourage anyone and everyone to look at taking this course not just to develop their skill set in coaching but also for reflective purposes.  As I worked through it I set some goals for myself and identified some target areas in my practice.

The course identifies four ways that teachers with fixed mindsets react to feedback: “You’re right, I suck”, “Your’re wrong, I rule”, “Blame it on the Rain”, and “Optimist without a cause”.  These are actually referred to as the 4 Horsemen of Fixed Mindset.  I find that this has really helped me when going into a conversation where I know there is a fixed mindset as I now can label it (in my mind) and begin to understand where that person is coming from, what they are maybe feeling insecure about and structuring my support, wording and plan accordingly.  We, as coaches, do need to work with these fixed mindsets, identify our own fixed mindsets and then move forward.

I am one of those people who never watch scary movies, do not like conflict..and talk of the 4 horsemen would make me squirm usually.  But now I have a new perspective.  The 4 Horsemen are attitudes/mindsets that we do encounter in our work and in ourselves.  I can deal with that!  Now that I have a deeper understanding I have open my mind up even more to those fixed mindsets…with understanding and vision.

And this Halloween, …I will be looking at the 4 horsemen at the door a bit differently!  LOL

 

Relationships- A Priority in Time

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Photo Credit: jenny downing via Compfight

So, over a month has passed since the official beginning of the 2014 school year, and as per usual I have procrastinated about my blog. Not because I have nothing to share, but actually the exact opposite. The last month has been rich with conversations. In the first week I decided that before I left the school in the evening, I would make a list of 5 or 6 people I would have a five – ten minute conversation with the next day.   At the top of the list was the name of the person I believed would least want to have a conversation with me, not because of who I am, (I hope)  but because of my role as LC in the school. I also tried to  make sure that these people were in different teaching areas and parts of the building.  I am sure as you read this, many of you acknowledge that this is a strategy you have used with completing difficult tasks; put the most challenging at the top and get it done. Well,  I am happy to report that this relationship building strategy has merit. I have listened, learned about my colleagues, and have  had coaching and learning conversations. I have even been invited to come and help in  classrooms that were not open to me before. It may not be spring, but it really is never too late to plant seeds of learning, caring and respect.

Learning Coach Team

cute penguin couple - explored
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Adam Foster via Compfight

Why penguins? I’m not sure either. Yesterday I was introduced to the Learning Coaches for Parkland School Division. As one of the newest members I had contacted a few of them last year to get a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of Learning Coaches in the division. I was immediately overwhelmed with the knowledge and understanding they were bringing to their assignments, and then I began to worry. With the prospect of providing services to grade k-9 in 3 different schools I wondered how I could do it all. Yesterday gave me my answer.

After yesterday and meeting all the coaches I thought, I don’t have to know it all. I don’t need to know it all because I have access to a group that really does, or at least knows where to look. Each coach has diverse and unique needs in each of their schools and brings that expertise to the group. From my first interaction to yesterday I must say that I am amazed at the depth of knowledge this team has. Between Learning Services and the Learning Coaches I know I can get the information I need to assist the staff at the schools I serve. I am looking forward to continued collaboration with the group as I navigate my journey as Learning Coach.

Read and Reflect – love it when an article gets you going!!

Hold On
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: brillianthues via Compfight

There are very few articles that I feel should be shared out on a large scale:  “Making Differences Ordinary in Inclusive Classrooms” is one that I would love to know that colleagues throughout education have read and discussed.   It is essential on this road to inclusion that we build pedagogy and vision together.  We need to really assess our practices as teams and consider alternatives with open minds and embrace change in practice.  It may mean asking the tough questions of ourselves.

Many of us have said in past posts and I will restate in conversation and in this post that we are at an incredibly exciting time in education.  We are seeing differences as ordinary and qualities to supported and recognized.  With UDL/RTI/DI we are recognizing that not only are supports and modifications good for some students but need to be accessed by students who feel they would benefit from it as well:  what is available to one is available to all.   Moving from creating boundaries and skill grouping to allowing students to have input and set goals and being mindful of social isolation and creating stress in a student’s schedule.

We, all of us here in Parkland, are committed to our students.  You can see as you watch the year begin.  So what can we do to continue on our journey?  Collaborate!

McLeskey and Waldron state: “There seems to be little doubt that neither general or special education teachers alone have the knowledge and skills to achieve this goal but, rather, that meaningful change will require that these educators collaborate “to reinvent schools to be more accommodating to all dimensions of human diversity”(Ferguson 1995, p 285)

I hope you have had the time to read through this article and I look forward to our further discussion on Thursday!  See you all then.

Patricia

 

Make a Difference

There are days when I get to the end of the day and say to myself, “That was a busy day!”  But, sometimes I wonder if I made a difference.  At a recent Learning Coach meeting, we had the opportunity to reflect on and share about our coaching experiences.  It became clear that each school day was filled with moments that made a difference to teachers and students.  We don’t always realize the value of each of these moments until later.

You know you have made a difference when:

-Upon doing a sample lesson for a teacher she turns to you and says, “I should have had you come in at the beginning of the year.” She subsequently signed up for a P.D. session to learn more about the lesson format you modelled  and you know that she will try these new lessons in her class.

-An administrator requests that you collaborate with staff as a result of hearing about technology being used in a classroom and a new strategy tried by another Leaning Coach. You smile to yourself because you recall the day you demonstrated this technology in the classroom and the afternoon you worked collaboratively with coaches to develop this strategy.

-You go into classrooms and see materials and rubrics being used that were developed in other classrooms.  These materials were developed when you worked elbow to elbow with colleagues and now many people will benefit from the experience.

-A teacher shows you work that a student with special needs completed and she is so proud of him.  He has already surpassed his IPP goals and there are several months of school left.  You pat each other on the back because both of you have spent many hours collaborating for inclusion.

-You are back working in a classroom that you have not been in for a while and notice that a number of students are using assistive technology. You had originally worked with the teacher to remove barriers to print for one student and now other students are having greater success using the technology as well.  Universal Design for Learning is beginning to thrive in the classroom.

-You are just leaving a classroom after modelling a lesson and a student smiles at you and quietly asks, “When can you come back?”

I’ve noticed the ripple effect happening in the schools that I work in and in other schools as well.  One little action can cause multiple waves to ripple through the school and the division to bring about small, subtle changes that have a direct and positive effect on student learning and staff job satisfaction.  I challenge you to reflect on the changes that are happening because of one small coaching moment.

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!

Change is Messy Work

In the book, The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar, she defines the “trans” in “transformation” as meaning “across, on the other side of, beyond – where we are going is unknown and yet to be defined”.   Our role as learning coaches is to support change, and more often than not the result of this change is not always clear to us.  When we take steps to change, we are walking into the unknown and this can be very uncomfortable, not only for the teacher we are working with, but for us as coaches as well.  In my many coaching conversations with teachers, I have found that there is an overwhelming want to make changes in order to provide a caring, learning rich, fair, yet equitable environment that supports the many individual needs that they are faced with; but the million dollar question is how?  Well, as Mrs. Kelly Wilkins, our own Deputy Superintendent often says, “this is messy work”.   I smile as I think about Kelly saying this because it is so true!  I honestly believe that this is a great way to describe our work as coaches….messy.  The wonderful thing about messy is that it can be freeing, exciting and fun, especially if we are willing to let go of our preconceptions about how we think things should look or be, and be willing to dream….risk….yes, fail and try again.  I have personally found that the messiest work is when I am digging in and doing some really deep coaching, and the funny thing is, the messiest work has been the most rewarding work.  It is in the midst of the messiest work that I have been challenged, stretched and empowered.  It is in the midst of this messy work that I have seen the most growth in myself and my collaborative teaching partner at the time.  Through these messy coaching experiences I have learned the following:

  • Messy work takes trust.  A solid foundation of trust makes the messiest work less scary because we are not alone.
  • Messy work takes time.  In order to make meaningful changes there has to be a clear understanding of exactly where we are and where we want to go.  This takes time to observe, reflect, dream, plan, try, reflect, tweak, and try again.
  • Messy work takes mindful observation.  If you do not have a clear picture of “now”, it is difficult to work towards “tomorrow”.
  • Messy work takes asking difficult questions of ourselves and others.  We cannot have a clear understanding about ourselves as teachers and about our work if we do not ask difficult questions.  Difficult questions guide us to see situations from other perspectives and challenge us to try something new.
  • Messy work takes stamina.  Try and try again – taking the risk to try something new is a huge step in creating change.  When the first step is a big nose dive, picking ourselves up and trying something else is another huge step in the right direction.
  • Messy work takes practice.  Let’s face it, when we try something new, it at times may look ugly at first.  Practice makes perfection.
  • Messy work takes celebration.  Making significant changes can be a long process and at times frustrating.  Celebrating each step in the right direction motivates everyone to keep going.

Arnold Bennett is quoted as saying “Any change, even a change for the better is always accomplished by drawbacks and discomforts.”  In coaching situations where I am feeling uncomfortable because I myself cannot clearly see the end result, I try to be mindful that it is the process that is most powerful, and this allows me to take the focus off of the end result and just enjoy rolling up my sleeves, digging my hands in deeper and getting good and messy.

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!

Let Them Lead!

I graduated with my degree in education a few years ago – 19 in fact. I know for certain that not one of my classes taught differentiation, not one class presented the struggles and challenges of balancing the diverse needs that today’s classrooms present – and I have a Special Education focus. I am not sure what the classes offer today. I have had a few discussions with professors from the UofA and with student teachers, only to be let down with how little the content has changed. So as I reflect on this, I applaud Parkland School Division for providing teachers with support through Learning Coaches.
So as we work in the coach capacity,  along side of teachers in their classrooms, How deep are we differentiating? is what I would love to ask.

I am fortunate as I get to work in some diverse programs – Stony Creek, Connections for Learning (CFL), Brightbank (BOSCO), Forest Green (EYALT) Stony Plain Central (MYALT) and I really get to think about diversifying programs and differentiated instruction way outside of my former comfort zone. Today I watched a video that was shared to me and it has me thinking even more deeply.
Please watch Suli Break as he has some thoughts that could help us in our focus and our discussions as we move forward in education.  What do we need to be providing students so that they are not standing frustrated, unheard and without passion in their learning?

Kids Do Well If They Can: Links between Universal Design for Learning and the Collaborative Problem Solving Approach

The central question of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) surrounds the idea of barriers to learning: Is the child “disabled”? Or, could we more accurately say that many of our school environments are disabling to children? As Kathy Howery reminded us in our Webinar last week, many of us wear glasses or contacts. While most of those who do tend not to consider ourselves “disabled”, without this adaptive technology some of us would find ourselves very disabled indeed – unable to drive, watch movies, write legibly, and complete a myriad of other tasks related to our daily life. Many of us would also find ourselves unable to learn effectively in the traditional method of presentations or lectures, where a visual impairment would mean we were unable to see a power-point or a whiteboard.

In fact, I found myself in this situation not long ago. Sitting in a large lecture theatre for a presentation that I was attending voluntarily, I reached into my purse for my glasses and realized I had forgotten them at home. The lecture was two hours long and although my hearing is fine, being within a visual fog that made it impossible to see the lecturer was frustrating. After a while, I gave up trying to listen, and I took out my cell phone instead.

Was I unmotivated? No, I had chosen the lecture myself and was looking forward to it, although it may have seemed this way to others. Was I lazy? Not particularly, I simply felt overwhelmed, frustrated and headachy, but possibly people sitting around me may have thought so. Was I rude? If the lecturer had seen me texting, this is exactly the conclusion he may have reached…but I don’t consider myself generally rude. Was I disabled? Absolutely. And by being disabled, my behavior suffered.

Certainly in this case, my rude behavior could be traced to one of the ways that I was physically prevented from participating fully (I should add that in this case it was my fault, and I’ll try to remember that next time I’m irritated that a student doesn’t have a pencil with them…) but are there more subtle ways for children to be disabled?

The question that came to mind for me this week, was the following: Can an environment be emotionally or behaviourally disabling? And, if so, how can we address these barriers to success, given that emotional needs are so subjective, changeable, and private?

Over the past couple of years in my classroom practice, I have been working with the Collaborative Problem Solving Approach (CPS), pioneered by Dr. Ross Greene. As Dr. Greene describes it, “challenging behaviour in kids is best understood as the result of lagging skills […] and the best way to reduce challenging episodes is by collaboratively solving the problems setting them in motion in the first place, rather than by […] intensive use of reward and punishment procedures” (livesinthebalnce.org). The basic idea of CPS is that, behind every challenging behaviour, there is a missing skill. When the environment demands the use of a particular skill in order to cope, and the child struggles to meet that demand, we see the challenging behaviours that are familiar to all of us who teach or parent; whining, crying, hitting, refusing, swearing, and all the rest. And, Dr. Greene emphasizes, we don’t just see these behaviours in kids who carry the descriptor of “disabled”.

This strikes me as such an important personal insight as it connects to UDL. We understand, through UDL, that environments can disable learning and the significance of identifying and eliminating barriers to access. Further, we understand that children whose learning is obstructed by the environment, can sometimes behave in challenging ways. CPS takes this one step more, encouraging teachers to recognize that even children with no physical or cognitive barriers to learning, may struggle with emotional barriers. These may be difficult to identify at times, but identifying and collaboratively addressing these barriers is as essential to our work as it is to ensure that children can work within their preferred learning style, or have access to assistive technologies. This doesn’t mean that the demands of the environment are wrong – “no hitting” is a fair and realistic rule, for instance – simply that some children don’t have the skills to abide by these expectations and that preparing them to do so is a teaching task, not a task of punishment.

If we believe (and I do), that children who fail to be engaged in school work and learning are in some way disabled by their environments, then I feel we must believe the same of behaviour. Rather than labeling children with unkind and unhelpful descriptors such as “unmotivated” or “defiant”, we need to see challenging behaviours as expressions of an inability to meet the demands of the environment. As Dr. Greene notes, it should the right of every child to have their personal emotional struggles regarded as legitimate and not as deliberate refusal to meet expectations, because “kids do well if they can”.

(Sorry this post is so long! Has anyone else worked with CPS? Do you see the same relationship to UDL that I am seeing? I’d love to hear your thoughts!)

-Katia Reid

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