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.

Find a Way or Make a Way

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc

So excited to share with all of you another amazing speaker that I was fortunate enough to see this year.  I have followed Paula Kluth for quite awhile and have used and recommended her resources and strategies over and over.  It was the practicality of her ideas that got me hooked, but seeing her at the Special Education Conference last month gave me a whole new admiration of her and a whole new inspiration going back to my schools.

She spoke of inclusion in a way that makes so much sense to me and I think will make sense to the teachers at my schools.  She said, “Inclusion is not about the space, it’s about the spirit” and she broke this “spirit” into 3 helpful Habits of Mind (which happen to fit into Parkland’s Commitment to Inclusion quite nicely…).

  1. See Inclusion as a Process, not a Place – (find a way or make a way!)

  2. Teach Up – (presume competence and expect more)

  3. Seek Benefits for All – (all students learn about themselves and their learning)

She spoke extensively on “changing the learning state” through strategies such as brain breaks and focused on “building on strengths” to inspire learning.  I won’t go through her hundreds of specific suggestions, because many are on her two sites, but I will highlight a couple because they are just too good!

Brain Breaks Jar – Each stick has a different “brain break” idea, colour-coded according to length of time they each take.

Question Jar – Stop 2-3 times during a lesson and have a child pull from the question jar and ask the question.  This enhances focus and engagement, while allowing greater opportunities for communication in a “safe” way for students.

Check her out at ( and when you get a chance!


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.

We Want You! (#EdCampPSD70)


CaptureLast spring I was asked to join the committee organizing our first-ever EdCamp in PSD, and I’m so glad I did!  I have never before been to an EdCamp, but as I learn more and more about it, I love the idea. It aligns perfectly with my role of learning coach and with the vision of Inspiring Education, by embracing the values of Choice, Opportunity and Excellence.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with EdCamps (like I was until very recently), they’re often referred to as “un-conferences”.  September 27 will not be your run-of-the-mill conference with scheduled speakers at specific times – in fact, none of us will know what the day has in-store until about 9:30 in the morning!

So this is how it works:

– You register (FOR FREE) on the EdCamp PSD70 website

– You come to Spruce Grove Comp on September 27 at 8:30am.

– You enjoy coffee and networking with colleagues.

– You provide input about possible topics for the day (those you would like to share about and/or learn about).

– You hear a keynote speaker (this is the only scheduled speaker) while we furiously plan the day.

– You choose 4 sessions that are relevant to you, your classroom and your school.

– You might just win one of several door prizes (fingers crossed).

– You leave at 3:30, inspired by the collaboration and learning of the day.


So please pass on the message to your staff and consider joining us on the 27th!

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!


Strength-Based Staff

Being able to see, hear and experience every classroom in the school is one of my favourite parts of being a Learning Coach.  Part of this is selfish (I am constantly “stealing” ideas to add to my toolbox), but mostly it’s the opportunity to facilitate the sharing.  It’s being able to see the skills, strategies and supports that are enhancing student learning in one classroom, and being able to transfer those same ideas to benefit two or three times as many students.  So often, even when we value collaboration, we as teachers feel isolated in our own classroom and either don’t experience the amazing things going on in other classrooms, or don’t see the value of what’s happening in our own (or both).  One of my goals this year was (and continues to be) to promote and facilitate this sharing.

This year I started holding teacher sharing sessions.  They are short (45 minutes to an hour), include food (of course), are optional, and the topics are driven by teachers.  I begin with a short introduction, but the rest of the time is reserved for teachers to ask questions, discuss what they have found successful (or not) and offer suggestions or assistance to their colleagues.  After we have finished, I compile what we’ve done and share it on a GoogleDoc so it can be continually accessed and enhanced.

Collaboration happens daily in schools – in the hallways, around the staffroom table, and even on the walk out to the parking lot – but sometimes in the busy lives of teachers, having a set time, place and topic is helpful to really “get the ball rolling”.


Success Doesn’t Always Look the Same

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

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

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

Twyla Badry

Subtle differences…Big shift

It’s happening! I’m noticing more and more teachers seeing Inclusion as a positive for the students in their classrooms. The conversations I am having with teachers this year are less about “this student” and more about “the students in my class”. I know this seems like a bit of semantics, but to me it shows that the teachers in Parkland are seeing every student as special (…and that they understand my role better…). I’m seeing “true” inclusion, not just in the physical sense (all students are in the same room), but in the sense that students are learning from each other and that teachers are taking the time to identify and build on the strengths of each child to create a classroom of successful learners. I am hearing an unbelievable amount of collaboration between teachers and feel fortunate to facilitate this collaboration between my two schools.
Of course, it’s still a process and not everyone is in the same place on this journey, but I’m definitely seeing the trend and it makes me so hopeful.

Twyla Badry

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

Critical Thinking and Inclusion

As our Critical Thinking Lead Teacher for two years, it makes sense that much of the co-planning and co-teaching that I am invited to do centers around just that.  I expected this, and welcomed it!  But I have noticed one significant difference this year:  teachers aren’t asking for help with critical thinking because they feel like they should, or because it’s the “newest trend”…they want it because of the statements behind PSD’s Commitment to Inclusion.  Classes are becoming increasingly diverse and the inclusive environment can, at times, be daunting.  Teachers are looking for help to help their students and many are coming to the conclusion that critical thinking tools and challenges are an effective way to do this.  YAY!!!

Does it Improve Environments?

A middle years teacher and I have been working together a lot to create a social studies program that will promote a classroom of critical thinkers.  Reflecting with the teacher, it has become clear that the environment that has been created through the critical thinking model has led to greater risk-taking and enhanced communication skills for many of the students sometimes unwilling to participate fully.  Students are aware that as long as they can follow the criteria and give reasons for their response, their answers are valid.

Does it Focus on Independence?

The word criteria floats around our school, but it’s when the students are really assessing themselves and their classmates, using that criteria, that it really shows their understanding of the word.  Early years classes have criteria for everything from walking down the hallway and asking powerful questions during show and share, to respectful listening.  Nothing creates independence like students creating their own criteria and assessing themselves using it.

Does it promote ALL Students being Special?

Students in one of our early years classes regularly participate in a critical thinking learning station.  I can honestly say that my discussions with one of the lower-academic groups, have been some of the most insightful and exciting.  In reflecting with the teacher about this, we felt many of the activities and assessments that are traditionally used are not always intended to highlight the habits of mind shown by these students (open-mindedness, intellectual courage, inquiring mind).

Does it use a Strength-Based Model of Thinking?

One of our early years students has been demonstrating quite high-level skills in many areas.  In conversations with his teacher, it was decided that he would benefit from some differentiated instruction and enrichment projects.  These often take the form of a critical challenge.  After each project, he presents to the class (modeling new skills and “tools”) and the teacher and/or I present a critical challenge for the rest of the class based on the student’s project.

Does it maintain High Expectations for All?

An early years teacher and I have been working on a social studies unit heavily based on technology and critical thinking.  There’s a great deal of differentiation regarding how students can learn the material, acquire the skills (tools) and demonstrate what they know and what they can do.  It was set up this way intentionally so that all students have the opportunity (and responsibility) to perform to the best of their abilities.  I think it will.

I’d love to hear your critical thinking success stories!

Twyla Badry


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