Category Archives: Leading a Learning Community

My Storify for Summit 6: Vulnerable Readers

Check out my Storify for Summit 6: Vulnerable Readers!

This was an excellent conference with many great experts on literacy instruction:

Dr. Richard Allington

Dr. Janet Mort



Pat Johnson: @PatJ222




Appreciate Strength & Just do it

Appreciate strengths (1)


Photo by Delaney Schlemko & the story behind the photo


As I reflect on my Connected Coaching experience, I can solidly use many of the protocols and activities in my own practice to assist in teacher growth.  I have been trained as a 7Habits trainer and a Cognitive Coach. Connected Coaching gave me new ways to think about coaching in all three pathmarkers: Trustbuilding, Questioning and Design Thinking.  As an administrator, I have opportunities to coach a variety of stakeholders at any given time and the more tools I have in my toolbox the better. This gives me better opportunity to choose the right tool for the right situation.


Although there are many new possibilities in using the Connected Coaching knowledge and skills, in this reflection I will discuss possibilities in two of the three major pathmarkers: Trustbuilding and Design Thinking. As I reflect on these pathmarkers, I share possibilities that have been generated due to significant “ah-ha” moments.  These possibilities are my own thoughts and will be brought to our design team.



Two things that continue to resonate for me in this pathmarker are: Building relationships using the Appreciative Inquiry approach and the power of story. A few weeks ago I shared some of my thinking about these here.  I continue to think about the possibilities…

Relationships built on trust have always been the number 1 foundational piece in every aspect of life–personal or professional. Some examples that are related to my previous coaching experience are: Effective reflective practice requires you to trust yourself first according to York-Barr, et al, effective coaching can not occur in Cognitive Coaching  unless rapport is established and, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is based on the belief that one must master the Private Victory  (including self-trust) before one can operate in the Public Victory (trusting others). Here I also talk about how Monty Roberts describes the importance of relationships; no learning happens if there is no relationship:

“As with horse whisperers, we, too, want to “Join-Up” with teachers rather than to break them down.  We want teachers to work out of willingness, not out of fear.”

From: Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time by Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran.


Appreciative Inquiry 

The significance for me is how the Appreciative Inquiry Approach (video here and article here) within the Connected Coaching model can continue to powerfully build trust throughout the process. It has the potential to consistently build trust because of the way this approach makes the coachee feel. People feel empowered and motivated…not defeated.  Trust does not just happen over night and this approach constantly works at it and, at the same time, moves people forward. Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran state:

“ AI does not pretend there are no problems; it rather assumes that people will outgrow their problems the more they focus on their strengths, vitalities, aspirations, and possibilities.”


 Story Empathy

Don’t underestimate the power of story is still a significant “ah-ha” for me. Powerful stories bring about emotions and when people are emotionally moved in a positive way, they remember and can become motivated. 

“Stories can be the best way to package meaning and spur others on to achieve.”

(Hattersley, 1997)

From: Tales for coaching: using stories and metaphors with individuals & small groups By Margaret Parkin


When people are hesitant in relationships, stuck in their thinking or have challenges with change, then the power of story can positively find ways to overcome these challenges.


The AI approach and using the power of story within this model has brought about some possibilities for me to use in my practice:


  1. Rethink how we assist teachers with their professional growth plan:  

Although we currently use a coaching model to assist teachers in their reflection of their own classroom walk-through data, we still require goal setting based on what they think they need growth. It just seems defeating to always have to focus on what needs improving instead of focusing on building up what is going right.  We might be able to change not only our coaching conversations but also making sure processes align by using this design thinking template.


  1. Rethink interview questions within the evidence-based hiring proces:

Stop asking interview candidates their areas of growth!! Leave it at: “What are your strengths?”. We spend a half an hour talking about their strengths, successful experiences, etc. We look at their portfolio (which is a showcase of their best work) and we talk to references who describe best highlights. Yet, we still feel the need to ask what are their deficits.  It’s like we did not listen or see all the great strengths for the first 27 minutes!!


  1. Rethink how we look at our values and beliefs:

Digging deeper to examine our values and beliefs can help facilitate change.  Paradigms and paradigm shifts through the 7 Habits are summarized here.  The way we think, act and change is also explain here as the Ladder of Inference. Knowing how we think can help bring about change. The Appreciative Inquiry approach also assists in this examination in a positive way.


  1. Rethink how to move forward through the change process:

Requesting stories and reframing the positive in stories when people are stuck in their thinking or having challenges with change can bring about new energy.


  1. Rethink new possibilities on developing Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind:

The Connected Coaching model with the Appreciative Inquiry approach and design thinking has great opportunities to create the “end in mind” in an empowering way.


  1. Rethink the way we help kids:

As schools, are being forewarned that 40% of kids will have mental health challenges in the near future and then we are asked “how will you deal with it?”. I see potential to align the AI approach when working with our kids as well:  Strength-based Approach for kids.


Design Thinking

My “ah-ha” moment for me with design thinking is that we do it all the time. We may not be consciously aware of it and we might not have an official process to follow but teachers are always designing to meet the needs of students.  This structured process and the variety of activities that go along with it can really bring design to a new level! It’s an effective process for “learn to do by doing” (the 4-H motto is true!).  The process can help alleviate fear of failure and promote the “do something” and “just do it!” attitude!

The design thinking ‘big possibility’ for me right now is that our PLTs (professional learning teams) are design teams. Using the design thinking process will help staff to understand that our response to intervention within the Collaborative Response Model will be a prototype.  This process will help generate more ideas, develop prototypes and help them to realize it won’t be perfect the first time and that we will continue to build on it.


The past 8 weeks of learning in collaboration with new colleagues through Powerful Learning Practice has brought on many new possibilities foe me.  Now the work begins…

Strength-based Coaching: Why Ask: “What areas can be improved?”

photo (6)


During the past 5 weeks I have been involved in an online connected coaching course via plpnetwork. At this point, this course has given me great learning to reflect upon and to connect with past experience.


Connected Coaching is a combination of strengths from three coaching models:

1. The 5 States of Mind with self reflection and self-efficacy from  Cognitive Coaching by Costa & Garmston

2. Collaborative communities of inquiry from Instructional Coaching by Knight

3. Appreciative Inquiry approach focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses from Evocative Coaching by Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran.  


What has surprised me the most is how the Appreciative Inquiry approach can promote growth solely reflecting from a strength-based perspective.  Since I learned about AI, I am excited about focusing on people’s strengths and, at the same time, feeling confident that it will help them grow personally & professionally in a positive frame of mind. When I think about teachers reflecting on their classroom walk-through data and in PLCs, I don’t ever want them to feel like they are not doing anything right.  There are always many things that they are doing well and I want them to build upon those strengths and be empowered by it. In the past, I viewed coaching as helping people with their weaknesses, not their strengths.  The AI approach has given me a different perspective.  We do not have to focus on areas of improvement when focusing on strengths can move us forward more effectively.


Connected coaching has also helped me to realize the importance of stories. Trust & rapport emerge from educators telling their stories from a positive framework. Confidence & empowerment also start to shine as educators reflect on their practice and effectively move forward. If a negative mindset gets us off track, then the power of stories about what has gone well can bring us back to a positive frame of mind to work within.


Evocative Coaching also describes the importance of brainstorming. The idea of the Wondering Playground from Dana, N. F., & Yendol-Hoppey, D. in their book: The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Professional Development: Coaching Inquiry- Oriented Learning Communities also appeals to me because it connects with what I currently believe– play is important.  This framework gives PLCs a structure for “play”.  I think this will also empower teachers to pursue what may be a burning question for them that emerges from their practice.


I’m looking forward to the last few weeks of this course as I hone my skills and learn more from my colleagues.


5 Ways Leaders Can Promote Schoolwide Learning for Restructuring



Photo credit

“There is so much to learn…we need to be in a continuous learning mode.”       Fullan, 2013

Before taking a look at these the suggestions below, we must always be reminded about relationships, relationships, relationships! These 5 ways are built on a foundation of trust.  Relationships must continuously be nurtured and strengthened. Leaders and teachers must trust themselves in order to trust others. As Costa & Garmston (2002) state: “Self-trust is prerequisite to developing trusting relationships with others.”.  One way this can be developed is posted here and to help decide what balance leaders may need is posted here.

After considering the relationship piece, these 5 ways can help bring about innovation and learning that can translate in improved student learning.

1.Provide many opportunities to learn, explore and experience new knowledge and skills. Time to learn and experiment with colleagues can help change behaviours. Leaders need to plan to spend money for resources and to get creative with scheduling for on-going, embedded collaboration. Learning in community can change attitudes and beliefs that, ultimately, change behaviour and practices. Continued support for teachers along the way such as coaching is essential.

2.  Loose-tight leadership:  Change is messy.  Often we can end up with pockets of innovative teaching and the entire staff is at different places in the journey. To develop consistency in all classrooms, leaders can decide on areas that they are willing to be “loose” on and areas that they need to be “tight”on (Dufour, 1998). For example,  the school’s collectively agreed upon mission/vision must be a “tight” area.  Any decision is based on the question: Does it align with our mission/vision/values & beliefs? The areas that leaders can consider to be “loose” with are areas of discovery and exploration of new pedagogy/resources/tools. Other examples might be “tight” with the guidelines of digital citizenship & “loose” on finding innovative ways to teach it.  Once exploration has been done by the early adopters, then a collective decision can be made as a staff on some common practices/best pedagogy for the school.  This can create effective learning environments for students year after year with common language and effective pedagogy.

3.  Honor where people are at, provide generous support and remove barriers. In this  article by Schlechty (1993), he describes five roles people play in the change process and how they can be supported. He also defines the difference between school improvement and restructuring which is significant for where educational change is at currently and continuing to go.

4.  Develop teacher capacity to create teacher leaders by “making learning personal” (Bray, 2012) not just for students but for teachers too. Change is personal! Leaders can personalize learning by providing training and resources for self-improvement that is meaningful (see first paragraph above) and, by providing high-quality professional development at every staff meeting–directly and indirectly.  Directly meaning on-going PD during a portion of your staff meeting day. Indirectly meaning embedding the learning in everyday things.  For example, if the goal is to help staff learn about a highly effective strategy or tool, then use it in a meaningful way during your meeting. Something as simple as putting the staff meeting agenda in Google Docs and staff using mobile devices to see the agenda to follow the links will go a long way in staff learning.

5. On-going reflective practice that includes individual and school wide reflection. To keep reflection at the forefront, provide opportunity for personal reflection time during staff development time, develop reflection mechanisms for professional learning communities and, implement activities during professional development days to reflect as a whole staff. Promoting reflection at all stages of organizational change will assist in riding through the implementation dip. A great resource for individual and school wide reflective practice is here.

In what other ways can leaders lead successful restructuring?

What’s Your Metaphor?


Flickr: Over the Corn Field by Walt Stoneburner

I’ve been reading a book called Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop by Patrick A. Allen.  In this book, it quoted a metaphor by Mark Wagler (Mooney, Mooney, and Holt, 1996) for a traditional classroom:

“Traditional classrooms are like corn fields. The farmer plows the

whole field at one time. One type of corn is planted with a standard

distance between the rows and between the seeds within the rows.

Every row receives the same amount of fertilizer. Each plant should

look about the same and will be harvested at the same time. A very

simple structure.”  

What metaphor would you use for your classroom or the classrooms in your building? Would each classroom be a different metaphor? Would they all align with this metaphor?  What would be a metaphor for a great learning environment? Would the metaphor align with the school’s mission/vision?

Why 7Habits?

Recently, I had another school approach me about the 7Habits initiative we have implemented at our school.  Some of the questions asked were “Why 7Habits?” and  “What makes it different from other character education programs?” My response involved going back to what my initial thoughts were when I first stumbled upon The Leader in Me book in Chapters one Saturday afternoon. After reading this book at that time, I knew it was different from programs that were known to me for the following reasons:

1. It Personally Develops All Stakeholders

The training process has a high level of personal reflection.  It’s not a “program” that train staff how to teach the 7Habits.  It’s a process that staff go through to reflect how they are living and can live by these timeless principles to improve relationships and productivity in their personal lives.  It also gives staff tools to deal with difficult situations personally and professionally, and above all, it helps people deal with change.  The biggest challenge that I have as an administrator is helping staff (and myself!) deal with change.  Everyone hates change because it’s uncomfortable. I have read many books about change (thank you Michael Fullan et al.) but it is very difficult to follow through as a whole group.  As a leader, it’s finding a balance between moving the organization forward and not overwhelming people. At that time, I believed that the 7Habits would help people in all areas of their life…not just professionally. The education profession can be very demanding on personal time.  This was one way to “give back” personally and, ultimately, when people are personally happy then it pays back tenfold professionally.  The staff are living the 7Habits and that in turn has made the learning more real and deep for the students and their families. It’s very powerful because staff have ownership


2. It’s Sustainable

Another key feature is that it’s effectively sustainable due to the official and extensive training.  When administrators are trained as trainers then:

  • Whole staff can be officially trained in-house

  • On-going training can happen at every staff meeting to keep it in the forefront

  • New staff can be trained as they are hired

  • Parents and community members can also be trained to develop community  buy-in

Three years later, I’m reflecting upon this decision and I’m happy to report that it has made a difference!  How do I know?

  • Staff are walking the talk

  • Students are internalizing the habits and teaching it to their families

  • Parents report how their children are referring to the habits at home

  • Kids have the skills to lead conflict resolution on their own

  • School council request training

  • Staff have committed to high expectations aligned with our mission/vision and have made huge gains

  • We continue to to connect it to everything we do (i.e. digital citizenship)

It’s still going strong!  As a leader, I hope that it continues well after our team leaves.  That will be the ultimate indicator.

Reflections on Pedagogy, Technology and Change

“When you are engaged with others doing something meaningful, you can accomplish wonders.” (pp. 70). This quote is from a book by Michael Fullan called Stratosphere. From my perspective, this describes our journey at our school.

Our staff often celebrate and reflect what we have accomplished through collaboration. Our lead team (admin, special education facilitator/coach, & instructional/tech coach) also get together to reflect. The number one celebration theme for the past few years continues to be common language amongst staff, students and parents.  It started with the 7Habits language, then it gained momentum with the comprehension/thinking strategies and the gradual release pedagogy and now it’s carrying on with the DAILY 5 structure as well as purposeful technology integration including class blogs, student blogs and BYOD in  K-4 environment. Here is some of our baseline data for pedagogical change throughout the last few years:

  • All staff read The Leader in Me by Stephen R. Covey and were trained in the 7Habits
  • Some school council members read Leader in Me

  • All staff collaborated on developing mission/vision

  • School council educated in 7Habits & digital citizenship

  • All staff read Reading for Meaning by Debbie Miller and some read Strategies that Work by S. Harvey & A. Goudvis to extend their learning

  • All staff in-serviced in and instructing comprehension/thinking strategies from the books indicated above with common language

  • All staff teaching using gradual release of responsibility model to set up instruction for small groups and individuals

  • All staff assessing literacy using the Fountas & Pinnell system

  • All staff educated in and implement our 7Habits of Digital Citizenship

  • All staff have class blogs and some also have student blogs

  • Grade 1-4 classes implement BYOD

  • ¾ staff have been in-serviced in Daily 5 by “The Sisters”

  • All staff moving towards flexible classroom space/environment

  • School has been leveraging social media to:

    • develop professional growth

    • connect classrooms globally

    • engage parents and community

As I finished reading Stratosphere, I realized even more so what an incredible journey- pedagogically & technologically- we are traveling. Fullan states that “Pedagogy, technology, and change knowledge operating in concert will become a powerhouse of learning.” (pp.71).  I believe we are beginning to experience this due to our commitment to common language and framework:

1. Pedagogical change by implementing comprehension/thinking strategies within a gradual release of a responsibility model and flexible classroom environment model.

2. Technology integration by having the opportunity to facilitate our U21C project: Pedagogy First that provided time and support for teachers to collaborate.

3. Change knowledge by purposefully planning, innovating and building capacity: “…leadership and teaching is proactive in the sense of helping other people create a world they didn’t know they wanted.” (pp. 68).

It’s very exciting work!

Makes Me Think…

Photo by Life Inspired Photography

I recently finished the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell.  In this book he argues how opportunity and time on task result in success and that it’s not always the “best and the brightest”.  He gives a wide variety of examples from birth dates to lucky breaks.  Here are some of my thoughts in relation to students, staff and  instructional leadership for the 21st century:

1. Gladwell suggests that if your birthday is within 3 months after any sports cut off date, you have a very high chance at getting to “the show” in that sport.  He gave hockey as an example.

This makes me think about our students who have “late” birthdays.  We often forget what a difference a few months can make developmentally.  When we think about infants, a few weeks can be the difference between walking and not walking yet.  We cannot forget this as they get older.  Kids need to know that they might not be ready for some concepts and we cannot let them think that they will never “get it”.  One size does not fit all.

2. Gladwell reveals that studies show how low-income kids start school academically similar to middle – high income kids.  However, the academic gap increases by the time they are in grade 5 due to fewer opportunities during the summer months.

This makes me think how important it is to continue to support students all year.  What can we do to increase awareness and support for these kids?

3.  Gladwell discusses how 10,000 hours of practice is needed to master a skill. It does not depend on natural talent.

This makes me think:  Are we giving our students enough time to practice skills.  For example, we expect our students to be proficient readers but do we give them enough time to practice reading silently or to someone during the school day?  Are we instructing 80% of the time and only giving students 20% of the time to practice when it should be 20% instruction and 80% practice?  What about math?  It takes time and practice to solve problems.  Are we assuming the best students are the ones who can solve problems quickly?  Are we giving others opportunities to solve even if they take longer or prefer different ways to show what they know ?

This also makes me think about the time we give our teachers to master new skills as well.  As leaders, have we created built-in time for teachers to collaborate and master teaching in a 21st century environment?

4.  Gladwell states that opportunities are a huge factor in success.  Bill Gates would not be where he is today if he did not have the opportunity to have unlimited access to a time-sharing terminal to master computer programming when he was 13 years old.

This makes me think:  Are we giving our students opportunities to learn how they want to learn and with the tools that they prefer?  As leaders, have we given opportunities to our staff to master technology integration in the classroom?  Have we created even the smallest opportunities to have procedures such as signing up for a whole school activity using a collaborative web tool instead of circulating a sign up paper at the staff meeting or having 25 copies of the sign up sheet going around via emails?   As leaders, have we neglected opportunities that have been given to us to improve our 21st century skills or have we pushed them aside due to time, fear, beliefs, hoping it will go away,…etc.?

If success = opportunities and time, what opportunities can we continue to create for staff and students?  Check out our school’s journey.

iPads in Pre-K: App-solutely Fun!

Here is a list of our top 5 favourite pre-k apps according to the pre-k students.  These apps are an engaging way to develop fine motor, speech and thinking skills:

1.  Cookie Doodle: This app lets the students be creative and it develops their fine motor skills at the same time!

What the pre-k’s say:

” I like cracking the egg.”

” I like to roll it and bake it.”

2.  Cyber Toy:  This app develops fine motors skills by pushing and sliding buttons with their fingers.

What the pre-k’s say:

” It transforms!”

” I like Bumble Bee.”

3. Toca Hair Salon:  This app also let’s student be creative and giving their fine motor skills a work out!

What the pre-k’s say:

“I like to cut the hair.”

” It’s fun because you get to blow dry the hair!”

“The guys are funny.”

4. Talking Tom: This fun app repeats anything you say!  It gets students talking and practicing proper speech in an engaging way!

What the pre-k’s say:

” He’s funny!”

” I can hear what I say!”

5. Meet Biscuit:  This app has the read aloud story, coloring pages, sticker book, memory game and puzzles!

What the pre-k’s say:

” I like the puzzles!”

” The story is funny!”

Shift: “How Can We?” to “This Is What We Can Do!”

It is amazing to the see the mind shift of our teachers since starting our IREC Pedagogy First Project in September!  Our plan was :

Year 1

1. Teach the 7Habits of Digital Citizenship that our staff created so the filter can be opened

2. Assist teachers to create a class blog using the Gradual Release of Responsibility model

Year 2

1. Continue with class blogging

2. Invite students to bring their own devices

Well!  Plans are meant to be changed! It’s only January and half our classes are ready to start exploring BYOD!  It’s so exciting that our teachers are “chomping at the bit” to open up the filter and solidify our BYOD policy.  The conversation has shifted to “How can we?” to ” This is what we can do…!”.