PSD70 Learning Coach Program

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Making Thinking Visible

Photo Credit: wadem via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: wadem via Compfight cc

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the AAC Fall Conference (thanks Leah!).  I left with a full head, to say the least.  Even the title of the conference “Assessment to Inspire Learning” gave me so much to think about.  I couldn’t possibly go through it all here on the blog (although I’d love to talk later with anyone who is interested), but I would like to highlight the keynote speaker, Ron Ritchart.

Mr. Ritchart spoke on the importance of making thinking visible and offered several examples of “thinking routines” to use across grades and across the curriculum.  Using thinking routines regularly in classrooms will promote engagement, deeper understanding, and development of thinking skills, and hopefully eliminate the stress-inducing, time-wasting question, “What does the teacher want me to do?”.

To see several of these “thinking routines”, check out Mr. Ritchart’s website  They are thoroughly described and ready-to-go for classroom teachers.  My favourite has to be the “CSI” routine.  It stands for Colour, Symbol, Image and has students explore and share their own understandings by designating (and justifying) a colour, symbol and image that “best represents or captures the essence” of an idea.  Not only does a routine such as this make thinking extremely visible for the teacher, it makes it visible to the students and promotes a great deal of reflection and critical thinking.

If we truly are using assessment to INSPIRE learning, routines such as these are invaluable.  I can’t wait to share them with staff.

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!


At Hope, Not At-Risk: Helping Children with Trauma Experiences at School (Part 2)

Yikes! It’s been busy lately, but I finally got around to writing the second part of my post on Trauma-Informed classrooms, as promised. I had planned for this to be a two-post series, but before I move on to classroom strategies for supporting children with trauma experiences, I realised that there are a few important concepts which inform which strategies we choose to use in our classrooms.

The fundamental understanding to have about children and trauma is that when a child has experienced trauma it can have a long-term impact on that child’s brain. Memory, impulse control, emotional processing, language and many other cognitive functions can be impaired, and these kids need our help to learn new skills. We need to know what trauma “looks like” when it’s in our classrooms, so that we can take steps to help our students who are struggling.

Hypervigilence: “Hypervigilence is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. Other symptoms include: abnormally increased arousal, a high responsiveness to stimuli, and a constant scanning of the environment for threats.” In the classroom this can look like excessive eye contact, a tense body posture, putting distance between themselves and other students, aggressive or provocative statements and actions. It is very important to be aware that hypervigilent students will often start a conflict themselves, rather than wait to see what reaction they will get from others around them. Waiting is often too stressful and frightening when they believe that a conflict is inevitable, so they take control of the situation. It is important to maintain consistency in our interactions with these children in order to reduce their stress that results from “guessing” about outcomes.

Freeze and Dissociation: “When a threat is utterly overwhelming and too much for the fight / flight system to cope with, the brain goes into a ‘Freeze’ state; a numbing or collapse response. This sort of trauma is experienced as a general shutdown, lack of vitality, emotional separation and detachment.” In the classroom, this can look like a “who cares?” attitude or total withdrawal, such as refraining from speech, staring blankly, pulling a hood up, or putting their head down on a desk. The “threat” that causes a freeze and dissociation response is frequently not perceived by those around the child, but remains real and frightening regardless. At times, students may actually re-live sensory elements of their trauma during dissociation. It is important that we stay personally calm, and limit elements which may contribute to sensory overload, such as loud noises or frenetic activity.

Amygdala Hijack: “The amygdala …regulates the fight or flight response that is key to the survival mechanism for many animals, including humans and other primates. At the moment a threat is perceived, the amygdala can override the neocortex, the center of higher thinking, and initiate a violent response. In the wild or in the presence of actual physical threats, this can be a life-saving function. In ordinary day-to-day living, however, this amygdala hijack can inspire impulsive responses the person will later regret.” Studies show that it can take up to thirty minutes before the brain is able to process information normally again, after the amygdala has taken over from the neocortex – if the student is not re-triggered to remain stressed. In the classroom, this can look like tantrums or destructive behaviour as a result of strong emotional responses, such as punching walls, throwing objects, lying down and crying etc. Students may feel regretful or embarrassed later, when they are regulated once more. It is important that we explicitly coach students in ways to calm down, as opposed to simply “letting” them calm down, which can worsen the situation – coaching deep breathing, using stress tools, or having the child label their emotions may help. Shame increases affect dysregulation, so it is additionally essential to protect the dignity of these children and to refrain from comments which may be perceived as demeaning, such as “you’re too old for this” or “you know better.” A quick summary of how Amygdala Hijack occurs can be found on youtube here.

Cortisol: “Cortisol is a stress hormone… Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels also increase risk for depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy. This week, two separate studies were published in Science linking elevated cortisol levels as a potential trigger for mental illness and decreased resilience—especially in adolescence.” When the body is in a stressed state, as part of the General Adaptation Syndrome, the body produces cortisol. If a baby is left to cry, cortisol levels elevate in that baby until he or she is comforted by the mother. Worrying about safety or if there will be enough money for food raises cortisol, as does witnessing traumatic events. Over time, the body of a child who has regularly elevated cortisol levels may begin to overproduce cortisol and remain in a stressed state for prolonged periods of time. In the classroom, this can look like hypervigilence, exhaustion, pain, depression, and even chronic illness. It is important that we provide guided opportunities to release stress and lower cortisol levels during the course of the school day. Children with elevated cortisol may experience time that other students use to “unwind,” such as recess, free play, and active gym games, as stressful because of the unpredictability and high level of sensory input. Deliberate and calm exercise breaks (yoga, balancing, etc.), guided meditations, listening to music, and other trauma-sensitive breaks should be built into the school routine at regular intervals.

Please feel free to leave a question in the comments if you have anything particular you would like me to mention in my next post about strategies! I am excited to write my final post in this series and share some ideas for building Trauma-Informed classrooms.

-Katia Reid


Quotes taken from…


Two Heads Are Better Than One!

Everyone keeps saying how computers make the world smaller…I knew what they were saying and in small ways I had joined in their journey, but today I feel like I made a leap.  After sending out an inquiry, Katia replied with some interest in joining me on my mission to create a monthly coaching memo for staff.  Quickly I was thinking about ways for us to connect and work together, brainstorm, create lists of ideas and develop a document to share out.  That is when Google Documents came to us!

Hello Katia!   Hello Patricia!…we connected to begin our work, to collaborate, to support each other in a professional capacity.

I have to confess that I am a recent convert to the idea of professional collaboration. As a perfectionist by nature, my initial experiences with collaboration were characterized by the frustrations of “group work” in my own school career, and the results were consistently disappointing. My first positive encounters with collaboration occurred when I went to theatre school the summer I was fourteen. I approached the idea of working in groups with the same dread – but my teachers approached things differently than I had ever experienced! After teaching us about the purpose of collaboration, they introduced us to the types of roles (both problematic and helpful) that we might play in our groups, and offered us numerous opportunities to produce “imperfect” work… with the focus always on our process, rather than on our product. But truthfully, it was the product that sold me on collaboration. I saw results that I knew I could never have produced if I had simply created the project without the input of others, and my perfectionist tendencies were so impressed that I learned to trust others  to contribute. Over ten years later I still appreciate the lessons I learned that summer, so when Patricia approached me to collaborate, I was excited to jump on board!

Google documents has allowed us to begin to build and share ideas and collaborate despite our different schedules and locations.  We inspire each other to take our practice further to look for new ways to encourage colleagues and support professional learning and growth.

Two heads really are better than one…just look at this post!!

“Thanks Katia!”…”Thanks Patricia!”

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


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.


Buzzing like a Bumblebee!!

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

As I reflect on my personal and professional growth this year I think of the saying “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  I am passionate about teaching and children and sometimes this passion creates an energy for me that has an incredibly fast pace and I can run right over others.  Because I believe so strongly in what I am doing I think others should be running alongside me at the same pace.  I am like a bumblebee whirling around and I want everyone at the same flower as me.  But the teachers that I was fortunate to work with this year set the pace of their learning and often in turn, my own learning.  I was able to grow both personally and professionally by inceasing my tolerance for the learning rate of my colleauges.  I learned to take baby steps which is not at all my pace of choice.  So to my collegues I say Thank You for helping me to grow and to slow.


Restoring Discipline

More and more often, the conversations I have with teachers about supporting children with challenging behaviours are turning to the question of discipline. Prevention – through universally designed lessons, conversations which build understanding, mentoring, and other structures of support – is obviously preferable to reactive discipline, but often we are forced to play “catch up”, disciplining children for incidents that have already occurred.

Although I have been using the Collaborative Problem Solving model for some time to prevent and address challenging behaviours, there are points at which I have found the model to offer me insufficient tools. This is by no means a reflection on the value of CPS for individuals, but a recognition that at times CPS is not able to address the concerns of others “around” an incident (parents, other children, teachers etc.) when they have been seriously harmed by a behaviour.

While CPS is necessarily an individual approach, Restorative Justice practices can offer us an opportunity to address the needs of others who have been harmed by a particular action. These processes, when used in schools, are called “restorative discipline” and usually take the form of a conferencing circle where all those affected by an incident participate. Questions are asked which help the child to recognise the impact his or her actions have had on others, and those impacted are given an opportunity to suggest how the child might make restitution and repair the damaged relationships. Some examples of questions that can be asked are; “What were you thinking about at the time of the incident?” “What have you thought about since?” “Who was harmed by this?” “What needs to happen to make things right?” There are often times when the harm cannot be completely alleviated, but in all cases the focus is on how to make the situation “as right as possible,” given that we cannot change the past.

Punishment rarely assists others around an incident to feel better about the harm that was done to them – for example, the forced apology, or a three day suspension from which a child frequently returns angry. It also often has a ripple effect, where the punished child feels blameful of others and can often become vengeful rather than developing accountability. Most importantly however, punishment can damage relationships with adults and with the community. The fewer positive, trusting, and consistent relationships that a child has in his or her life, the more likely that child is to be at risk for self-harm, risky behaviour, and aggression or violence, or at risk to have these behaviours escalate.

Embedding restorative circle processes as a part of classroom routines is not an overnight solution. Children are often unfamiliar with these type of practices and (as Dr. Ross Greene extensively notes in his books on CPS) are often very unused to being listened to. They are uncomfortable and unsure in discipline proceedings that do not follow the pattern we have become accustomed to:  one-on-one, in an office, directive rather than investigative, top-down etc. We need to be intentional in teaching students how to participate in circle conferencing if we have chosen to use this approach.

While not all children or teachers are ready to use circle processes, we can ensure that our discipline practices are restorative, regardless of what form they will take. We need to be honest in evaluating whether our discipline policies are a net loss or gain to our communities, both within the school and outside it.

Here are some excellent resources to support us in the process…  (Dr. Greene’s School Discipline Survey) (“Restorative Justice: It’s Elementary” video) (“Teach Kids a Lesson… Or Help Them Learn?” article)

The Teacher’s Guide to Restorative Classroom Discipline (I am happy to send this PDF to anyone interested)


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: . 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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