PSD70 Learning Coach Program

A Parkland School Division Blog Site

Learning Coach Team

cute penguin couple - explored
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Adam Foster via Compfight

Why penguins? I’m not sure either. Yesterday I was introduced to the Learning Coaches for Parkland School Division. As one of the newest members I had contacted a few of them last year to get a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of Learning Coaches in the division. I was immediately overwhelmed with the knowledge and understanding they were bringing to their assignments, and then I began to worry. With the prospect of providing services to grade k-9 in 3 different schools I wondered how I could do it all. Yesterday gave me my answer.

After yesterday and meeting all the coaches I thought, I don’t have to know it all. I don’t need to know it all because I have access to a group that really does, or at least knows where to look. Each coach has diverse and unique needs in each of their schools and brings that expertise to the group. From my first interaction to yesterday I must say that I am amazed at the depth of knowledge this team has. Between Learning Services and the Learning Coaches I know I can get the information I need to assist the staff at the schools I serve. I am looking forward to continued collaboration with the group as I navigate my journey as Learning Coach.

Read and Reflect – love it when an article gets you going!!

Hold On
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: brillianthues via Compfight

There are very few articles that I feel should be shared out on a large scale:  “Making Differences Ordinary in Inclusive Classrooms” is one that I would love to know that colleagues throughout education have read and discussed.   It is essential on this road to inclusion that we build pedagogy and vision together.  We need to really assess our practices as teams and consider alternatives with open minds and embrace change in practice.  It may mean asking the tough questions of ourselves.

Many of us have said in past posts and I will restate in conversation and in this post that we are at an incredibly exciting time in education.  We are seeing differences as ordinary and qualities to supported and recognized.  With UDL/RTI/DI we are recognizing that not only are supports and modifications good for some students but need to be accessed by students who feel they would benefit from it as well:  what is available to one is available to all.   Moving from creating boundaries and skill grouping to allowing students to have input and set goals and being mindful of social isolation and creating stress in a student’s schedule.

We, all of us here in Parkland, are committed to our students.  You can see as you watch the year begin.  So what can we do to continue on our journey?  Collaborate!

McLeskey and Waldron state: “There seems to be little doubt that neither general or special education teachers alone have the knowledge and skills to achieve this goal but, rather, that meaningful change will require that these educators collaborate “to reinvent schools to be more accommodating to all dimensions of human diversity”(Ferguson 1995, p 285)

I hope you have had the time to read through this article and I look forward to our further discussion on Thursday!  See you all then.



Pyramid Of Success

Most people have probably heard of Coach John Wooden.  If you haven’t, you should check out one of the many sites dedicated to him. I had heard of Coach Wooden but didn’t realize the positive impact he had on the lives of so many people.  During the Cognitive Coaching portion of our Learning Coach training, I became more aware of how Mr. Wooden was able to encourage others to be and do their best.  One of his most famous quotes is “Success is peace of mind which is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”  From this John Wooden developed the Pyramid of Success.  If you haven’t seen the pyramid, you should check it out as well.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with a young athlete who, although talented and hard-working, was experiencing great frustration.  We examined the Pyramid of Success together and she realized how focussing on positive character traits would allow her to become a better athlete and better person in general.  It also occurred to me that as teachers and learning coaches we need to focus on these positive traits.

At the base of Mr. Wooden’s pyramid are five blocks labeled, INDUSTRIOUSNESS, FRIENDSHIP, LOYALTY, COOPERATION and ENTHUSIASM.  A brief description is included in each of these blocks. The  first of the two corner blocks states, “Worthwhile results come from hard work and careful planning.” and the other corner block includes, “Enthusiasm brushes off upon those with whom you come in contact. You must truly enjoy what you are doing.”  We could take any one of the blocks from The Pyramid of Success, apply it to teaching and create positive results. If we combine just the two corner blocks and apply them to our teaching and coaching we would certainly meet with success.  If we truly enjoy what we are doing and are willing to plan carefully and work hard, then that enthusiasm will surely brush off on the colleagues and students with whom we come in contact.

When you reflect on success and self-satisfaction, how would you build your pyramid?

Happy New Year

As we move into 2014, it is a great time to reflect on the past year, as well as look forward to the year to come.  Many of us have come up with a New Year’s resolution or two, and I am no different.  As I reconnect with staff after the Christmas break, I am again reminded of the exciting and challenging times we are facing in Education today.  This makes me think of the important work that we need to continue to do in creating inclusive environments for students in Parkland School Division.  It also brings to mind my own role as a Learning Coach within the Division, reflecting on how the past year and a half has gone and what personal goals I need to set for myself for the remainder of this school year.  Keeping all of this in mind, I have started 2014 by looking again at the PSD Commitment to Inclusion Statements and started my own personal reflection process.

PSD’s Commitment to Inclusion:
Move from:

  • the idea of fixing students to the idea of improving environments
  • dependence on staff (teachers and EA’s) to a focus on independence
  • “Special Ed” to ALL students being special
  • a deficit model of thinking to a strength based model of thinking
  • having high expectations for some to having high expectations for ALL

A big part of my reflection process has started by not just looking at the commitment statements, but honestly reflecting on each one of them by asking myself two things:

  1.  In my role as a learning coach, how have I used the Commitment Statements to guide my behaviors and decisions in supporting a cultural shift in the schools that I work with?
  2. What barriers might I personally have that could be slowing down my ability to support change?

Reflecting on the relationships that I have built with staff and the projects, supports and collaboration opportunities I have initiated in my role as a learning coach, has been a validating experience.  Often we don’t realize how much we have done unless we take a moment to reflect on it.  What is great about reflecting is that it also provides the opportunity to build onto what has already been put in place and set goals for the months to come, as well as ask deeper questions.  As I have reflected on how things have been going, more and more questions and ideas have come about and this has also inspired me to start discussions with staff, which has made this whole process a richer experience…. as we all know….collaboration is always key to growth!

Looking at the my second question has been a little more challenging as I really have needed to critically examine my barriers; and, I have to admit that I have actually come face to face with one or two that I myself have created because of my own discomfort/comfort level, perceptions and beliefs.  Owning this, at first was difficult for me, as like others, pride myself on doing my best work.  The interesting and motivating  thing  is that once I took the opportunity to look critically at these barriers, the process of setting new goals for myself and coming up with strategies to remove these barriers has been a powerful experience.  Like with my reflection on how I have supported change, my reflection on barriers also has brought about other, deeper questions.  I don’t necessarily have all of the answers to these questions yet, but working through this process will I believe, be big part of my growth.

As the first weeks back to school move along and I continue to work through my reflection process, I feel I have a deeper sense of where I have been and where I need to go next in my role as a learning coach.  Using the PSD Commitment to Inclusion Statements have been a key part of this process and asking key questions has taken my self-reflection to a deeper level.  I am excited to start the New Year with some well thought out “resolutions”, both personal and professional.  Wising everyone all the very best in 2014!

Shifting Gears, Ruts, and Getting Unstuck

Yes, it is winter in Alberta and daily we receive students and staff into the school with some tale of the challenges of winter driving: shifting gears to rock a vehicle back and forth  to get out of the snow ruts or snow banks.  This leads me to continue with some thinking  about shifting something else … my perspective.

With the many communication partners I have in my life: teachers, educational assistants, administrators, siblings, stubborn children (no idea where they get that from ), and ageing senior parents, I need to frequently let go of my own views and my perceived ‘obvious’ solutions to ‘their problems’, and open myself up to the possibility of another perspective or equally valid solution and/or  point of view.  That pause and reflection (with mouth firmly closed), helps get me unstuck. It gives me the flow of movement to shift my thinking up or down, to be a functional vehicle of change, for the people around me.

I know that it is not always easy for me or some of the partners in my interactions to not get stuck in a ‘rut’ or rigid path of perspectives (again the stubborn genetics issue); but I am always thrilled when one or both of us are able to see where the other person is coming from – even for a brief period of time – acknowledge the differences, look for the commonalities and move forward not spinning our tires – making the ruts deeper and harder to move out of. 

As a learning coach, I need to remember the cognitive coaching training …listen intently , probe and ask good questions , allow time to process and reflect, not always being the problem solver (with my own pre-conceived shovel and sandbag in tow) to push and/or pull the other person out of their present situation …. rut or not.

Winter may be upon us, the roads may get icy or snowy … but heck, I hear it will be +4 degrees by the weekend!  Maybe I can put my shovel and sand bag away for a day and just let winter be winter… ruts and all.

To Thine own self be True

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by tonynetone

I remember this phrase from Shakespeare.  Perhaps he too borrowed it from somewhere or somebody, but that it remains must be a testament to the truth it carries. As we reflected today on our area of most professional growth, a continuing theme was that we as a team have a belief, a belief that what we are doing in our schools makes a difference for kids. This being said, we need to continue to be the change that makes a difference for our students. The change we want to see in our students, and the world.  What was reinforced for me this year, was what I know to be true.  No one can tell you to change; no one can make you believe something.  You have to want to – and you have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone to try new things, and become, I believe, a selfless human being.   This is much easier said than done.  Over the past year I have reflected a lot about change, and have been in numerous conversations with other teachers about change.  What can I, and  what can we do, to make fulfilling, and beneficial changes  to our teaching practice.  Through these conversations I have been inspired by many people who share similar passions.  Educators who are dedicated individuals who want to make a difference; educators who know that we can’t change everything, but we can change and do a lot.  What I know to be true is that we all need to get involved in the discussion. As a Learning Coach I  have another avenue to do just that: discuss, question, challenge myself and others, raise doubt, and face fears. Change is scary for most of us; we fear the unknown.  It is never easy and it always involves work. As educators we know that the work and the effort will make a difference.  However, we often need a reason to move from the “knowing and thinking” to “the doing”.  It was great to be part of some awesome “doing” this year.

Thank you to all my colleagues who shared the journey.

“They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself”. – Andy Warhol

Analee McAllister



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.


Riding the Winds

As I look into the waters of reflection and I think back on my first year in the coaching role I smile with contentment.  Was the year easy?  No.  Was it hard? No.  It was satisfying, it pushed me to new limits, I have grown professionally and personally in ways that I could not predict would happen.  My greatest reward from the year is that my growth and celebrations from the year are not my own – they have been shared.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Adam Franco

Today we were asked to finish the statement: “A learning coach is like a windsurfer because…..?” .  As I looked at the photo I recalled what it felt like to windsurf and could feel and see so many analogies.  First Balance – as a coach we must balance and keep in mind many facets.  The division’s vision, our school’s mission, a teacher’s goals, what is best for students, our strengths and areas of growth.   Without keeping everything in mind and keeping the balance you could end up taking a swim.   Second, the sail – strength is needed to keep the sail held high against the resisting winds so that movement forward is achieved.  To let go when there is resistance would mean floating without purpose.   We need to work with the wind for movement.  Focus and planning is the last similarity, you must look ahead and have purpose and vision for where you want to finish.  Without a plan and without vision the balance and the sail could not be purposeful.

I am thankful for those who filled my sails. For those that set me off balance and made me take another look at situations.    I have celebrated every child and colleague who has met me here at the end of the sail.  Get ready for the next one – I can’t wait to see you out there navigating the waters!

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