Originially printed in the Calgary Science School Spectrum
Chris Dittmann Communications Director
On August 31, 2012 the Calgary Science School hosted a networking/PD event for learning coaches, organized by CSS PD and Collaboration Coordinator Dan McWilliam. The purpose of the session was to bring together learning coaches and instructional leaders from a variety of schools and districts to discuss the role and explore best practices and skills as they strive to support enhanced teacher learning. We also hope to build a supportive network of learning leaders in Calgary and the surrounding area, who can develop materials, structures, and supports for the role.
This marks the second year that CSS is incorporating learning coaches in developing teaching practices. The purpose of learning coaches is to provide classroom teachers with the opportunity to collaborate with another staff member in examining all elements of his or her teaching practice. Learning coaches provide a ‘second brain’ as teachers make decisions in planning and evaluating learning, assessement and classroom management. There is equality in the relationship in that the teacher assuming the role of the learning coach and the colleague in the role of the classroom teacher are equals in the process. Both partners share ideas and make decisions together. The goal is for “the best idea to win…and the best idea wins most frequently when both partners think their way through a discussion” (Jim Knight, “What Good Coaches Do” Education Leadership, October 2011)
This networking and PD day proved that CSS is certainly not alone in focusing on this method of collaboration. There were a total of 24 learning coaches in attendance representing 5 different school boards (Calgary Board of Education, Canadian Rockies Public Schools, Rocky View School District, Calgary Girls School, and CSS). The day was led by Dr. Pamela Adams and Dr. David Townsend, both members of the Faculty of Education of the University of Lethbridge focusing on school improvement.
The morning session focused on discussion around the role and goals of the learning coach. Why learning coaches exist, the presumed functions of the learning coach, the tasks undertaken to fulfill these; all these concepts were open to be unpacked and discussed. Taking the discussion down to the core of the learning coach role was appreciated by Crossing Park School learning coach Alison Predika.
“It’s fairly new in schools and not a very well defined role. We talked about opening yourself to the teachers, just like you would with students,” she commented.
Working directly with teachers, rather than students, clearly requires the learning coach to adapt the way he or she teaches and collaborates. “We’re working with a variety of teachers at different places in their practice,” explained Alison’s colleague, Sheryl Schoenthaler. Fellow Crossing Park teacher Lynnsy Plunz underlined the challenge of working with different, individual teachers. “Teachers can be at different places in their readiness to work together (with a learning coach),” she reflected.
The afternoon focused on the cycle of professional partnership support that learning coaches provide. Specifically, participants discussed three elements of the process; Pre-conversation, Instructional Observation, and Post-conversation.
Finally, the group made a collective commitment to continuing to engage in meaningful dialogue, starting with the creation of a Google doc, allowing all participants to share and respond. This commitment was underlined by the group setting a date in November for their next meeting.
Overall, participants found the dual focus of networking and professional development unique in comparison to other PD activities they’d experienced. “It wasn’t as rigid a model. It was more open, authentic and real. It wasn’t as contrived,” observed Sheryl.
Another Learning Coaches Networking Day is being planned for November. If you would like more information please contact PD and Outreach Coordinator [email protected]