PSD70 Learning Coach Program

A Parkland School Division Blog Site

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.

Mental Health First Aid



TJ Skalski recently offered Mental Health First Aid for Parkland School Division. The in-service was an interactive and intense two days focusing on mental health issues and how to support people struggling with disorders. Substance, Mood, Anxiety, Eating and Psychotic disorders affect many Canadians. In Canada, one person in three will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime.  Hopefully with increased awareness and education we can provide the support and resources to support mental health concerns. ALGEE references the 5 basic actions of Mental Health First Aid:

1. Assess the risk of suicide and/or harm

2. Listen non-judgmentally

3. Give reassurance and information

4. Encourage the young person to get appropriate professional help

5. Encourage other supports


Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)

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!


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”.


At Hope, Not At-Risk: Helping Children with Trauma Experiences in School (Part 1)

In the first tier of our response to Intervention model, we acknowledge the importance of understanding the background of each child to the best of our ability. As educators, we recognise that the life of a child outside or before entering school has an indisputable impact on a child’s readiness to learn and participate in school activities. While classrooms are often prepared to address factors such as cultural, linguistic, or familial diversity, new understandings about the importance of addressing childhood trauma at school are beginning to have a positive impact on our ability to meet kids “where they’re at.” In my work with teachers of behaviourally challenging kids this year, one aspect I have been focusing on is the connection between trauma and learning. Recent studies have deepened and developed our understanding of the role that childhood experiences of trauma can have in schools and learning, giving us more tools than ever to help children.

Childhood trauma can include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, but it can also include events such as the loss of a home to fire, divorce, serious illness, witnessing an accident, neglect and many other events. Trauma is very subjective, and whether a child experiences a negative event as “trauma” is based in part on how many protective factors a child has in their life. For instance, the death of a pet may not be traumatic for a child with strong family relationships, a secure home situation, and positive school experiences, while a child without these protective factors may find the same event traumatic. Recent studies show that 63% of children under the age of eighteen experience at least one incidence of trauma, meaning these experiences are incredibly common in our classrooms. As the number of different types of negative experience increase for an individual, so does their level of risk for tragic life outcomes such as suicide, drug use, intimate partner violence, illness, and many others.*

Beyond simply affecting the emotional well-being of a child, trauma experiences have a deep impact on the way that children learn – which, in turn, means we need to adjust our practices to meet the needs of children who are healing from trauma. One of the interesting facts about trauma is that it changes the brain. Not just the “software” of the brain, such as neural pathways, but the “hardware” as well. The shape and size of a child’s brain may be changed by traumatic experiences in childhood, which can have an impact on the way in which a child processes information and emotions at school. Because the frontal lobe of the brain develops last (and isn’t fully developed until well into adulthood), trauma typically has the greatest impact on this area of the brain. Memory, impulse control, and language are some areas of the brain which may be affected by trauma; and similarly these are skill domains that are heavily relied on in traditional classrooms. Supporting the philosophy that “kids do well if they can,” neuroscience has revealed that children with significant out-of-school challenges need our understanding to help remove barriers to their learning.

Trauma-Sensitive or Trauma-Informed classrooms are school settings where trauma is understood, recognised, and responded to in ways that empower survivors. These supports are often Universally Designed, in order to avoid isolating individuals who have experienced trauma, and also to ensure that all children benefit from these safe and caring spaces! The strategies used in trauma-informed practice emphasize executive skill development, brain-based learning, emotional intelligence, and non-adversarial discipline to help children grow in their academic learning and their behaviour self-regulation. The goal of trauma-sensitive classrooms is not to replace therapy, but rather to put in place simple supports that help children cope with the demands of the school day in order to do their best learning.

In my next post, I will share some trauma-informed practices for inclusive classrooms. Do you have experience with trauma-informed practice? Please share if you do!

-Katia Reid

*Visit here to read the ACE Study or assess your own ACE score.

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?


Amazing Work!

Here we are at week 3 in the school year.  For each of these three weeks, I have been able to spend one week each in the three schools that I work with.  This actually has been a priviledge for me, to see some amazing work in action and be able to work with teachers that are really focused on using ideas that have been proven to help kids become more successful learners.  The three things that have been the most exciting these three weeks are: the Daily 5, creating Learning Profiles to inform teaching, and using the Gini-Newman concept of “Cascading Curriculum” to engage students by giving them a real purpose for learning.

Most of you know that the Daily 5 is a literacy structure that is fantastic for both providing DIFFERENTIATION and CONSISTENCY in the classroom.  It engages students and teaches them independence in reading and writing. One of the teachers I am working with is introducing this structure into her class of grade 2/3 combined.  Each week she introduces a new literacy “task” that the students practice until they can both achieve the task being learned and transition  between tasks successfully.  I have been observing the Daily 5 in action and later the teacher and I are able to discuss what students were doing, how to tweak things for success, who might need a little more structure to be successfull etc.. I know that she has mentioned that the extra set of eyes while she is going through this process, as well as the follow up conversations have been really helpful.  I hope more teachers look at this program as it is fantastic!

I am also working with a number of teachers to build learning profiles on their students.  These teachers would like to try some DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION with their students and are using the learning profiles as a starting point.  Differentiation works best when you know your students.  Once the profiles are built, the next steps will be to “tweak” (I use that word a lot, I know!) many of the lessons they currently use to better match the learner profiles in the room.  I’ll keep you posted on how we do that in a future post!

Ever since I attented the Garfield Gini-Newman session at Division Office last year, I have been hoping to find a teacher that wanted to try the “Cascading Curriculum” idea of putting a a “transcendent” question out to the students BEFORE a unit of study.  This question will connect the ‘big idea” from the curriculum to the students lives and the world they live in.  I helps give meaning to the learning for the students.  At the same time, the students are presented with a “challenge”  that they will complete that produces evidence of their learning in the unit and reflect one of the six critical thinking prompts.  Through-out the unit the students are presented with Mini-Challenges that reflect the broad understandings the students need to know to be able to complete the challenge.  Currently I am working with a grade 9 science teacher who is using this method in his electricity unit.  The students were given the challenge that by the end of the unit they are going to have to invent an electrical device that somehow makes human’s life a little easier.  The teacher is currently working on the mini-challenges so that the grade 9s have the background knowledge they need to meet the challenge.  As he finishes each mini challenge, he has the students go back and readdress their ideas for the invention, based on  their new learnings.  He has found the students more engaged because they are more clear about the purpose for the learning.

Parkland teachers Rock!!

Amy Wolodko

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!

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