PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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Find a Way or Make a Way

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc

So excited to share with all of you another amazing speaker that I was fortunate enough to see this year.  I have followed Paula Kluth for quite awhile and have used and recommended her resources and strategies over and over.  It was the practicality of her ideas that got me hooked, but seeing her at the Special Education Conference last month gave me a whole new admiration of her and a whole new inspiration going back to my schools.

She spoke of inclusion in a way that makes so much sense to me and I think will make sense to the teachers at my schools.  She said, “Inclusion is not about the space, it’s about the spirit” and she broke this “spirit” into 3 helpful Habits of Mind (which happen to fit into Parkland’s Commitment to Inclusion quite nicely…).

  1. See Inclusion as a Process, not a Place – (find a way or make a way!)

  2. Teach Up – (presume competence and expect more)

  3. Seek Benefits for All – (all students learn about themselves and their learning)

She spoke extensively on “changing the learning state” through strategies such as brain breaks and focused on “building on strengths” to inspire learning.  I won’t go through her hundreds of specific suggestions, because many are on her two sites, but I will highlight a couple because they are just too good!

Brain Breaks Jar – Each stick has a different “brain break” idea, colour-coded according to length of time they each take.

Question Jar – Stop 2-3 times during a lesson and have a child pull from the question jar and ask the question.  This enhances focus and engagement, while allowing greater opportunities for communication in a “safe” way for students.

Check her out at (http://www.paulakluth.com/ and http://differentiationdaily.com when you get a chance!

 

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.

Strength-Based Staff

Being able to see, hear and experience every classroom in the school is one of my favourite parts of being a Learning Coach.  Part of this is selfish (I am constantly “stealing” ideas to add to my toolbox), but mostly it’s the opportunity to facilitate the sharing.  It’s being able to see the skills, strategies and supports that are enhancing student learning in one classroom, and being able to transfer those same ideas to benefit two or three times as many students.  So often, even when we value collaboration, we as teachers feel isolated in our own classroom and either don’t experience the amazing things going on in other classrooms, or don’t see the value of what’s happening in our own (or both).  One of my goals this year was (and continues to be) to promote and facilitate this sharing.

This year I started holding teacher sharing sessions.  They are short (45 minutes to an hour), include food (of course), are optional, and the topics are driven by teachers.  I begin with a short introduction, but the rest of the time is reserved for teachers to ask questions, discuss what they have found successful (or not) and offer suggestions or assistance to their colleagues.  After we have finished, I compile what we’ve done and share it on a GoogleDoc so it can be continually accessed and enhanced.

Collaboration happens daily in schools – in the hallways, around the staffroom table, and even on the walk out to the parking lot – but sometimes in the busy lives of teachers, having a set time, place and topic is helpful to really “get the ball rolling”.

 

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!

Sharing Our Vision

Finding the time to pause and reflect on the past busy months, I notice that my thoughts are still spinning from all the learning and growth I have experienced with staff. At the start of the year, I always feel the pressure to do more and faster. At Seba Beach, we have launched several new initiatives including Response to Intervention, a school-wide numeracy program, and a proactive discipline plan which incorporates Collaborative Problem Solving. All these changes take time, resources, and sustained enthusiasm to become a permanent part of the culture in a school. At times, it can feel like there are endless tasks to accomplish and that the need to hurry is overwhelming.

Last week, I was asked to observe students in a Grade One art class. They were tearing squares of construction paper and using them to create collages of Fall trees, and I helped one little boy to begin his work. Eventually, I left him to help other children with the work of pasting paper and creating their art. Each time I looked back, the boy was hard at work, but soon I realised that he was simply tearing squares of paper and hadn’t begun to glue them into his collage. When the pile of torn paper was several inches high, I approached him and asked if he would like some help getting started with the glue. He looked calmly at me and whispered “Shhh, Miss Reid, I’m still practicing.”

When I saw the peaceful look on the face of the little boy creating his collage, I was reminded of the importance of entering change slowly and deliberately with a clear vision for what we want to accomplish. If we are not intentional in establishing our definitions of success, we risk running straight past the markers or in the wrong direction entirely. During our session work around inclusion with Dianne McConnell, we were asked to define the terms “inclusion” and “inclusive education system.” As I tried to incorporate all the aspects of my vision for inclusion into a single, cohesive definition, it became obvious that I while actively work toward particular attributes of this vision, I have rarely considered how they are interrelated.

As we strive to be “agents of change” within our educational settings, it’s so important to pause to consider what our definitions of success for inclusion really are… and what implications these have for classroom practice. In my coaching work, I will be asking teachers for their definition of inclusion as we begin our collaborative process. Comparing and contrasting our different understandings of these complex terms, supports considering all the diverse facets of inclusive education and helps to align our goals. Sometimes, unpacking the meaning of a word can mean removing barriers to building the kind of classrooms we strive for. I hope to share these conversations with many colleagues over the next little while?

-Katia

Subtle differences…Big shift

It’s happening! I’m noticing more and more teachers seeing Inclusion as a positive for the students in their classrooms. The conversations I am having with teachers this year are less about “this student” and more about “the students in my class”. I know this seems like a bit of semantics, but to me it shows that the teachers in Parkland are seeing every student as special (…and that they understand my role better…). I’m seeing “true” inclusion, not just in the physical sense (all students are in the same room), but in the sense that students are learning from each other and that teachers are taking the time to identify and build on the strengths of each child to create a classroom of successful learners. I am hearing an unbelievable amount of collaboration between teachers and feel fortunate to facilitate this collaboration between my two schools.
Of course, it’s still a process and not everyone is in the same place on this journey, but I’m definitely seeing the trend and it makes me so hopeful.

Twyla Badry

Mental Cheat Sheet

Knowing there are definite stumbling blocks in getting to the point of coaching heavy, I felt like I needed a couple of key questions that I could keep in mind to ask myself and the teachers in my school (of course supporting, not negating, the conversation maps and their key steps) that would keep me focused in the heavy coaching, rather than getting sidetracked to the lighter side. Thanks to our PSD Learning Coach team at division office and to Joellen Killion, because most of these I have stolen from them!

Questions for me:

  • Am I inviting reflection or imposing ideas?
  • Am I asking questions or giving answers?
  • Am I promoting change or maintaining comfort?

Questions for teachers (depending on the situation):

  • Are your teaching practices in direct alignment with your core beliefs about teaching and learning?
  • What is your philosophy of teaching? (Remember that question when you were putting your resume together?) Has it changed since you first started teaching? Have your practices changed along with it?
  • Describe an “inclusion success story” from your classroom, referring to one of PSD’s five commitments to inclusion. Where can this lead you?
  • Describe an “inclusion challenge” for you. Could one of PSD’s commitments to inclusion help? What would be the first step?
  • Given PSD’s five commitments to inclusion, which do you feel might help in this situation? What would you be doing? What would the students be doing?

Right now I’m still finding that I have to be consciously thinking about these questions or similar questions to ensure the “coaching heavy”. Hopefully, soon it’ll be second nature in my conversations with teachers!

Twyla Badry

Learning Through Collaboration…Different Perspectives Are Powerful

In recent months, I have had the opportunity to participate in a collaborative book study focusing on Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This has been an excellent opportunity facilitated by Learning Services, as it has brought together Teachers, Educational Assistants, Learning Coaches and Key Contacts with the common purpose of furthering our understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder and looking closely at what strategies can be implemented in order to provide student support within the inclusive classroom environment.  As I reflect on this book study experience, from reading the text, reflecting on what I have read and meeting with colleagues through the book study process, two words resonate with me; “inclusion” and “collaboration”.

When thinking about “inclusion”, as a Teacher and a Learning Coach, I think about supporting student learning, valuing individual differences and advocating for all students.  In order to meet student needs, the role of the Teacher is becoming increasingly diverse.  Within the inclusive classroom there are a wide variety of student needs and teachers are ever challenged to be responsive to these needs on an immediate and consistent basis.  As a Learning Coach, it is my role to support Teachers in the inclusive environment and as the Teacher’s role becomes more diverse, so does mine.  At times, this can be challenging, especially when as a Learning Coach, my knowledge and experience is not as deep as I feel it should be in some areas.   When thinking about Autism Spectrum Disorder and reflecting on my own teaching experiences, I have to honestly admit that prior to this year; I have had very little experience working with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  For me, this book study could not have come at a better time as it has given me a wealth of information and it was written in a very straightforward, reader friendly manner.  Although the text itself has helped me to develop my knowledge and understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder, the most meaningful learning took place when we were given the opportunity to discuss, share and work collaboratively through the book study process.

Teaching is no longer an isolated job.  In order to meet student needs within the inclusive classroom environment, collaboration is key, especially collaboration involving all members of the support team.  Just like our students, when we are given opportunities to discuss and reflect upon our own thoughts, feelings, knowledge and experiences, the learning process is so much more meaningful.  What resonates with me most about my experiences being involved this book study, is the vast amount of knowledge and experience that our Teachers and most especially our Educational Assistants have right here in Parkland School Division.  This became very clear to me almost immediately during our first opportunity to work through the collaborative book study process.  Discussions were rich and meaningful because of the wide range of perspectives, insights and experiences brought to the table.  In the weeks between our book study meetings, conversations continued at the schools where I work as a Learning Coach, as support teams worked through challenges and celebrated successes when working with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  As we continue to work through the book study, I look forward to continuing to develop my understanding through the collaborative process, as people share their unique perspectives and experiences.

Christine Janewski

Critical Thinking and Inclusion

As our Critical Thinking Lead Teacher for two years, it makes sense that much of the co-planning and co-teaching that I am invited to do centers around just that.  I expected this, and welcomed it!  But I have noticed one significant difference this year:  teachers aren’t asking for help with critical thinking because they feel like they should, or because it’s the “newest trend”…they want it because of the statements behind PSD’s Commitment to Inclusion.  Classes are becoming increasingly diverse and the inclusive environment can, at times, be daunting.  Teachers are looking for help to help their students and many are coming to the conclusion that critical thinking tools and challenges are an effective way to do this.  YAY!!!

Does it Improve Environments?

A middle years teacher and I have been working together a lot to create a social studies program that will promote a classroom of critical thinkers.  Reflecting with the teacher, it has become clear that the environment that has been created through the critical thinking model has led to greater risk-taking and enhanced communication skills for many of the students sometimes unwilling to participate fully.  Students are aware that as long as they can follow the criteria and give reasons for their response, their answers are valid.

Does it Focus on Independence?

The word criteria floats around our school, but it’s when the students are really assessing themselves and their classmates, using that criteria, that it really shows their understanding of the word.  Early years classes have criteria for everything from walking down the hallway and asking powerful questions during show and share, to respectful listening.  Nothing creates independence like students creating their own criteria and assessing themselves using it.

Does it promote ALL Students being Special?

Students in one of our early years classes regularly participate in a critical thinking learning station.  I can honestly say that my discussions with one of the lower-academic groups, have been some of the most insightful and exciting.  In reflecting with the teacher about this, we felt many of the activities and assessments that are traditionally used are not always intended to highlight the habits of mind shown by these students (open-mindedness, intellectual courage, inquiring mind).

Does it use a Strength-Based Model of Thinking?

One of our early years students has been demonstrating quite high-level skills in many areas.  In conversations with his teacher, it was decided that he would benefit from some differentiated instruction and enrichment projects.  These often take the form of a critical challenge.  After each project, he presents to the class (modeling new skills and “tools”) and the teacher and/or I present a critical challenge for the rest of the class based on the student’s project.

Does it maintain High Expectations for All?

An early years teacher and I have been working on a social studies unit heavily based on technology and critical thinking.  There’s a great deal of differentiation regarding how students can learn the material, acquire the skills (tools) and demonstrate what they know and what they can do.  It was set up this way intentionally so that all students have the opportunity (and responsibility) to perform to the best of their abilities.  I think it will.

I’d love to hear your critical thinking success stories!

Twyla Badry

 

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