PSD70 Learning Coach Program

A Parkland School Division Blog Site

Kagan’s in the House…..

It is hard to believe that October is already here and the year is in “full swing”.  Reflecting back, it has been a great start to my second year as a Learning Coach.  For me, the school year started in late August when I (along with some of my colleagues) attended the Kagan Cooperative Learning Institute.  Like many of my colleagues in our profession, I am a firm believer that professional development opportunities are a great way to not only further develop our pedagogy and practice, but they can also inspire us.  For me, the Kagan Cooperative Learning Institute did just that.

As I think back to my first day at the Institute, I smile at how confident I felt in my own teaching experiences utilizing what I thought was cooperative learning with my students.  It did not take me long to realize, however, that what I had actually been doing was a kind of “glorified group work”.  That realization gave me new appreciation for the research, philosophy, methods and structures that Dr. Kagan spent years perfecting.  In fact, the Kagan institute was just the thing I needed to reignite my excitement for the new school year.  I could not wait to work with my  staff and their students on integrating the Kagan philosophy and structures into their teaching.

Introducing my staff to Kagan came soon after I attended institute,  on one of our beginning of the year staff planning days.  The Assistant Principal and I had planned on facilitating a P.D. session introducing our staff to Executive Function Skills.  Although Executive Function is a fascinating topic, and definitely something that I knew our teachers would appreciate learning about, it can be a little dry at times; so, we needed to be mindful as to how we delivered this important information to staff.  This, of course was my golden opportunity to introduce my staff to Kagan.  Using the Kagan structures to teach Executive Function was actually very simple, and the response from our adult learners was fascinating and exciting to watch.  What I remember most was the focused noise level coming from the cooperative groups as they worked through the Kagan structures.  The energy in the room contagious.  Seeing staff actively participating in their learning…sharing their thoughts and ideas, with everyone having an equal opportunity to share was fantastic.  The positive feedback from staff after our P.D. session confirmed my belief in how effective these structures really are in providing opportunities for optimal student engagement.

Now that a month has gone by, I have had several opportunities to go into classrooms and work with teachers and their students using the Kagan structures to teach concepts in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies.  I see the same thing over and over again in each classroom – active, engaged learning with equal participation by all.  As the year progresses, I cannot wait to continue my work with teachers on planning, implementing and reflecting on the Kagan structures and philosophy.

Christine Paterson

Student Engagement

This year through the PSD Learning Coach program, I have the opportunity to be involved in a Professional Learning Community that will spend time looking at the topic of student engagement.  This is one of the 3 priorities outlined by Parkland School Divison.

The PLC is an invaluable tool to have focussed time to look at our teaching practices and how we can continue to engage students in their learning.  Everyone has a busy schedule, and to have dedicated time put aside for this is necessary for it to get the intentional work done that is so important.  From a professional development perspectivee, the opportunity to leverage the collective knowledge, experience, and passion of the group will provide the greatest benefit.

I am excited to get started on this work today, knowing that I will be able to bring back and work with teachers in my school to implement ideas and strategies that will have a direct impact on student success and learning!

What is my mindset??? A reflection.


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Anne Davis

When thinking about my own personal and professional growth as a Learning Coach this year, I immediately think about the book “Mindset” by Carol Dwek.  When I first began to read Carol’s book early on in the school year, I was amazed at how simplistic and yet profound the whole idea of one’s “mindset” is, and how it affects so much of who we are and how we meet life’s challenges.  In Carol’s book, I learned that mindsets are beliefs about ourselves and our most basic qualities.  When a person has a fixed mindset, they believe that the most basic qualities such as intelligence, talents and personality are carved in stone and are unchangeable.  When a person has a growth mindset, they believe that these most basic traits can be cultivated throughout their lives, through dedication, hard work and resiliency.

I was very excited about this book, because I felt that it fit closely into my own belief system about teaching and learning.  As I began to read Carol’s book, I was especially confident in my own “growth mindset”.  I saw myself as a risk taker, someone who embraced flexibility, growth and change.  I was also very confident in my role as a Learning Coach – that collaborative partner that would support my colleagues with their own professional growth this year.

As the year progressed however, I came to the stark realization that in some ways my mindset was in fact fixed.  This especially came to light whenever I was placed in a situation that was completely out of my comfort zone.  The ironic thing is that this happened often in my new role as Learning Coach, causing me a great deal of anxiety.  Because of this, I really had no choice but to stop and take an honest look at what was causing me anxiety during these times and why.  Being able to honestly recognize my own fixed mindset was both a humbling and freeing experience.  Like many others, I am my own worst critic.  When things got challenging for me in my role as Learning Coach, my first response was to feel frustrated with what I felt like were my own shortcomings.  This put me into a very fixed mindset.  It took real effort at times to change my own thinking by taking a step back and being very deliberate with my own self-talk and self-reflection, so that I was able to honestly see things through the “growth mindset lens”.

Carol Dwek states in her book, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.” Once I was able to look at these times of anxiety through the growth mindset, honestly looking at what was happening and critically thinking about what changes I needed to make, I felt so much more resilient.  My anxiety lessoned and I felt freer to take risks and make mistakes, looking at these as opportunities for growth.  This process also gave me a deeper understanding of what others go through when they hit that fixed mindset wall.  In order to be successful in supporting learning and growth, I honestly believe that I need to meet students and colleagues where they are at in their learning journey.  Reading Carol’s book gave me the understanding of what a fixed mindset is and how to support others in moving towards a growth mindset.  My own challenges allowed me to understand and empathize with others when they felt this same anxiety and frustration when working outside of their comfort zone.  As I reflect back to the many learning opportunities that I have had this year, I smile when I think about the successes and smile even more when I think about the challenges.  It may have not always been pretty or perfect, but I am confident that relationships were built and learning did take place.

Looking Back…Moving Forward


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by nosha

The 2012-2013 school year is whispering good bye and with that comes quiet reflection.  As a part time learning coach at Millgrove School I had the honour of sharing experiences, beliefs, wonders and worries with many colleagues and students.  Listening carefully, really listening, asking reflective questions and using the paraphrasing technique were practices I tried to employ not only in my role as learning coach, but also in my daily life both in and out of school.  I was able to witness and be a part of student learning, adult learning and setting direction to ensure future successes.  As teachers we have the responsibility and privilege of making decisions and plans that impact the lives of the children in our care.  As a teams of trusting and respectful teachers we  need to welcome the opportunity to  collaborate and improve our practices to ensure each and every student in our classrooms  is moving forward as an engaged learner.  Teaching well is not easy or quick, but teaching well is necessary.  I believe the Learning Coaches of PSD 70 can can work beside the teachers and help to bring about the best we all have to offer our students.

Offerings


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by NJ Moore

At times, in my personal life, I have struggled with a particular teaching from my spiritual tradition. The teaching is to “make your offering, then step away,” meaning that when we have given what we have to give, we need to consciously let go of expectations of how other people might receive our offerings. Ultimately, this teaching frees us from the desire to control responses or feelings that we can’t, but truly it is a difficult teaching to accept. So often I wish that I could influence others to see the “offerings” of my coaching work as something they are ready to invite into their classroom, wholeheartedly embrace, or view as the way toward teaching growth.  In such relational work, it is easy to tangle our ideas with our identities, and to feel any hesitance as rejection.

The recognition that those around us are on their own path, and will take from us only what they need and see value in at any given time, is a gift that allows me to create my offerings without expectation – and a gift that I feel I have finally been able to accept during this year. I am grateful for my struggles with the challenges of coaching in this first year as I learned how to move forward with respect for the individual journeys of those around me. Enriched with my new understandings and continued passion for inclusive practices, I am excited to make the offering of another year of coaching and personal growth.

-Katia

Reflection


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Silk Road Collection

As I look in the Magic Mirror of Professional Reflection I see before me a Learning Coach that has had a year of great learning opportunities.  “Mirror on the wall what was the greatest learning of all?”  My reflection shows me a great number of areas of growth but one that particularly stands out is in the area of UDL.  This year included an ongoing development of skills for me and many of the teachers that I work with in removing barriers to learning for students. Technology was certainly a huge component in removing those barriers.  I have worked with teachers and students in discovering ways to use iPads and computers to encourage student engagement and allow the students to demonstrate their knowledge in new ways.  Using text-to-speech and speech-to-text programs in the classrooms was an ever evolving project.  The most gratifying part of the process was watching the students complete an assignment that they had avoided or refused to do using traditional strategies and then transform into enthusiastic, proud and capable workers.  The sparkle in the eyes and the grin on the faces was proof enough that we were on the right path.  That path wound around many turns this year and branched off  in many directions.  That same path will lead me and others to destinations unknown at this time but we are eager to follow it.  I hope that you have had the opportunity to see the transformation in a student when the barriers are removed and the learning begins.  It is a beautiful thing to see and reflect on.  What is your reflection showing you?  “Mirror mirror on the wall what was your greatest learning of all?”

Teaching Success

We all hope, dream and wish for success.  Success for ourselves, our family and our students.  We all love that feeling we get  when we have successfully achieved a goal.  But, can we teach success?

When looking at characteristics of successful people, some common traits emerge.  One of the first traits centres on relationships.  Successful people build relationships with people.  They network, they know lots of people, they cooperate with others, they have empathy, they encourage others and are generally interested in people.  If we want to see our students become successful adults, what are the steps we need to take so that they are able to build relationships.

Another trait that is high on the list is hard working.  Apparently, working hard pays off.  Successful people have ambition, daily discipline and they know how to focus.  Research suggests that if we praise a student’s efforts and their willingness to work hard instead of their accomplishments, those students will keep trying new things and work towards their goals.  They see mistakes and set-backs as learning opportunities and don’t give up when they are frustrated. How can we as educators take this information and teach students to be hard workers?

Another characteristic is eager to learn.  We talk about teachers being life long learners and I believe that we are eager to learn.  Successful people are observed to want to learn everything, they are curious and ask questions, they seek knowledge and training and they are eager to learn and apply new information.  How do we pass our love of learning on to our students?

The list of characteristics associated with being successful is often composed of 7 to 10 traits.  Along with delivering the curriculum, I’m wondering how teachers are setting students up to be successful in life.  I have seen many programs and strategies being used.  How will all of us ensure that the students in our schools will be successful?

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

A Beautiful Moment for Coaching

I was fortunate today to begin working with a new teacher in a class that I have not spent much time in.  She was introducing me to her class and explaining my role.  She explained to her student what my role was and how her I would be working together and what that would look like over the next few weeks.  I found myself reflecting on how far this program has come since the beginning of the year.

In September I spent a lot of time explaining to teachers what my role was as a Learning Coach.  Even up until January, I was clarifiying my role for teachers and here I was sitting in a clasroom listening to a teacher explain my role to her students.

It seems that my role is now understood and ……..embraced!  It is very exciting!

 

Sharmayne Seal

“We Make the Road by Walking”: Implementing CPS

As the school year comes to an end, we are already making plans for September and preparing ourselves for the challenges next year will bring. One of our big, exciting, and intimidating, plans for the coming year at Seba Beach School is to begin whole-school implementation of differentiated discipline, using the Collaborative Problem Solving model. Although I have used the approach in my classroom for some time, designing an implementation plan for Seba Beach has been a process of learning many new skills! I have been reminded of the importance of collaboration as I searched the internet for examples to follow and found very few concrete resources to support us. Once again, I have become cognisant of our own role in sharing the resources we develop and the wisdom we gain from reflection.

Lately, I have had many questions come my way by email about the Collaborative Problem Solving approach and challenges with implementation. While I do not have the expertise of Dr. Greene (obviously), I feel that it might be beneficial to post some of these questions and the best answers I can offer from my experience with the approach. I’m also very willing to try to find answers that I don’t know!

 

1. What message does CPS send to other children? Are we showing that misbehaviour is tolerated?

CPS sends the message to all children that making mistakes is a normal part of learning, and that the caring adults in their lives will help to guide them through challenges. CPS advocates that misbehaviour does not occur because we haven’t punished children harshly or publicly enough to make an example of them, it occurs because kids don’t have the skills yet to make better choices. The only way out of this dilemma is to educate them.

2. What about kids who do not have genuine challenges, but are simply testing boundaries?

From the perspective of CPS, there are no such children. The types of challenges that children are encountering may be invisible to us, but the job of CPS is to uncover what these challenges are. The bottom line is that kids do well if they can… if they’re not doing well, it’s because they can’t (yet).

3. I tried the approach, but it isn’t working to end the behaviour!

CPS is not a quick fix… it is a commitment to help children learn to solve problems, and often this takes more than one CPS conversation. It is important to think back on the initial CPS conversation and ask ourselves “did I fully understand the problem from the child’s perspective?” before jumping to a strategy. Also, was the agreed upon solution mutually satisfactory and realistic? Keep in mind that if an adult generated the solution, it is not CPS! There are a number of ways that the initial conversation may have not provided the key to solving the issue. It is always okay to return to the dialogue and reflect.

4. (If you are a Coach) I’m not sure how to help teachers start thinking about CPS.

Something that has worked in the past for me is reviewing the Bill of Rights for Behaviourally Challenging Kids with teachers. You can find it here: http://www.livesinthebalance.org/bill-rights-behaviorally-challenging-kids . This document includes some fairly new ideas about children and discipline, and it’s a great opportunity for some “heavy” coaching conversations about our assumptions and philosophies.

5. Can you use CPS with an existing discipline plan?

Yes, but there should be a clear delineation between CPS conversations and discipline practices. CPS is not a punishment, and if children think it could be used as such (or information they provide could be used against them!) they will not participate honestly in the process, if at all. Some schools are trying CPS as a reintegration practice, after the existing discipline policy had been followed. My personal opinion is that some CPS is better than no CPS, if people are not ready to make the transition completely.

6. Once a specific lagging skill is identified, how should it be taught?

Fortunately, the process of doing CPS itself teaches many of the lagging skills listed in the ALSUP (eg. considering the perspective of others, considering likely outcomes, seeing “greys”, etc.) Another possibility is that the proposed solution may “teach” the skill (eg. wearing a digital watch may help develop time awareness for a child who loses track of time.) Any lagging skills that cannot be taught these ways, can be taught exactly as we do usually… maybe this is an opportunity for teachers to speak with their Learning Coach for ideas?

 

One of my principals consistently reminds teachers of the quote from educator Paulo Freire that “we make the road by walking”. It has been especially helpful for me to reflect on that concept as we move forward in our plans for implementing CPS: There is no road for us to follow, but the action we take now will determine what kind of path we leave for others.

-Katia Reid

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