PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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I hate how Iphone’s only hold their charge for around 5 hours and obviously less if they are used. In frustration I walked out to my car to get my charger card and saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. My body had a little shiver as I dislike the vermin that are mice. I saw the movement again and focused on a small sandwich bag moving away from me. I took a step away from my car to get a closer look and couldn’t believe my eyes. There before me was a little green man with a sandwich bag flung over one shoulder with a strange green object inside and on his other a wrapped up tiny piece of paper. Some would say that the next sound they heard was a shriek, but I think it was more of a deep yell that came from inside me. The little man dropped his bag and piece of paper and disappeared up a pipe that was nearby. I slowly made my way to the discarded objects and picked them up. Inside the bag was a tiny green rock and when I touched it a gold coin was revealed as the rock broke in two. I unrolled the small piece of paper and saw a tiny map with 16 x’s marked on it. I immediately went to the photocopier and enlarged the map and saw markings that resembled the school grounds and locations where I hoped to find buried treasure.

Now I am obviously a confident person and not afraid of small creatures but I thought it might be valuable to enlist some helpers on my quest. I ran upstairs to Mrs. Lee’s k-2 class and asked if they could help me. They are small, I could probably out run them if anything bad went down and they seemed to have a keen interest in small green men since it was St. Patrick’s day. I told them what I had seen and sure enough they were in for the adventure.

We split into two groups and made our way outside with maps in hand. We went to the first location and there was another bag with the green rock inside. After the map was found to be legitimate the race was on. We travelled all over the school yard in search of treasure, using our maps as a guide and teamwork as a tool. In the end we all found a piece of treasure.

When we made it back to class and Mrs. Lee said that she had some magical water that we could wash the rocks in. It smelt a little funny, almost like vinegar. We put our rocks in and it bubbled and frothed like a magic green potion. The rocks disappeared and sure enough each rock had a gold coin inside. We were pretty excited as a class and a little sad that the adventure was over. Who knows what magic we will encounter in our learning tomorrow?

Is it Worth the Risk?


Photo Credit: joserrai via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: joserrai via Compfight cc

I’m not a real risk-taker.  That’s not to say I don’t try new things or that I don’t push myself out of my comfort zone.  I do.  But I generally don’t seek out risks.  Since becoming a learning coach, though, that’s exactly what I have tried to encourage teachers (and students) to do.  I realize that sounds hugely hypocritical, but in the process it turns out I have actually started to take a few more risks myself.  It hasn’t always been comfortable and it definitely hasn’t always been successful, but usually I am happy for the risks that I have taken.  Occasionally, though, it ends with, “That was a bit of a disaster.  Why did I do that?”  Not too long ago I had one of those days, but by some crazy coincidence, I received this post “How to Deal With Criticism When You Take Consistent Risks” by A.J. Juliani the very next day in my Inbox.  I can’t say the title really grabbed me (and again, I certainly wouldn’t say my life is full of “consistent risks”), but I read it and I’m glad I did.  Juliani not only acknowledges that with anything new comes criticism, he encourages looking closer for the feedback that might actually help make you better, and he supports the use of that criticism as a motivator for newer and better things.  One more thing: he feels that sharing your “criticism stories” might help others.  It turns out he was right.  I’m not done being uncomfortable just yet.

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.

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 ( and when you get a chance!


It’s All About the Relationships

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


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!


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”.


Success Doesn’t Always Look the Same

I have noticed yet another trend this year:  Many conversations I have been having with teachers and educational assistants center around the idea that “success looks different”.  I reiterated this at our October and November PD days.  It’s the idea that we can (and should) celebrate successes based on the individual and it not only helps with daily planning and programming, but also seems to alleviate a lot of anxiety for teachers and students.  One student playing for an entire recess with a friend, or not leaving the room for the whole morning, or gaining two reading levels in a year, can be just as worthy of celebration as a perfect score on a PAT or a winning performance at a championship basketball game.

I know this statement has impacted staff because I am constantly getting “pop-ins” to tell me, “I just have to tell you our success…” and I love it!  I just had an EA stop to tell me a grade four student is now in the room 97% of the day and he knows how to ask for help – SUCCESS!  Earlier today a teacher told me one of her grade three students has improved four reading levels since September (he began the year at a beginning grade one level) – SUCCESS!

Sometimes success comes from adapting the expectations and sometimes it comes from adapting the supports.  But either way, we are creating an environment in which students can build confidence and become excited about their learning – SUCCESS!

Twyla Badry

Student Engagment

Student Engagement

“What Are We Doing at School Today?”

This is the question we asked ourselves at Greystone and what we should expect to see as we walk into classrooms.  As we continued to develop our students’ skills in inquiry and strong instructional practices with our teachers, we still felt we needed to see more active intellectual engagement by our students.  Using our Professional Development Days, our staff worked collaboratively to help define what intellectual engagement is.  There were many discussions such as, what are the students’ actions within the classroom that help define it and what are the strategies and practices that teachers should be doing with the class to help foster and develop intellectual engagement within our students.

As we continued our work around student engagement, we continued to revisit the big question:

“What do we believe about Learner Engagement and what is the evidence we are getting it right for our learners?”

As teachers shared specific projects, experiences and practices that exemplified successful engagement, we then collectively put the ideas into words and processes which would guide our practices.  This is what we came up with:

Risk Taking: Learners are persevering to grow outside their boundaries.

Creating:  Learners are thinking, acting, and engaging with ideas to discover possibilities.

Collaborating: Learners are open-minded to different perspectives in order to build an interdependent learning community.

Questioning: Learners’ natural curiosity is leading them to explore deeper learning.

Ensuring Authentic Learning: Learners are emotionally and intellectually invested in work that is personally relevant and deeply connected to the world in which they live.

Providing Evidence:  Learners are an active part of the assessment and feedback process and therefore move their learning forward.

For each of the six components, examples were given of how students and teachers would demonstrate them and what it would look like within the classroom.  As learning coach, this document is helping me guide my work with teachers in terms of providing criteria for planning and reflective feedback, common language and examples, and moving our staff’s learning forward in a similar direction.

Claudia Scanga

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

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