‘Hibernation’ was refreshing…it’s almost on to ‘spring’

One of many animals that hibernate...we've got tons of gophers here at the farm.

One of many animals that hibernate…we’ve got tons of gophers here at the farm.

I’m alive!

Seriously, though, even I could hear the cricket chirps coming from this blog.

I have been in a continuous cycle of writing and reflecting, but only a select group of people and I have been privy to my writing.  My master’s classes in Professional Development are nearing completion (only seven weeks to go!) and I feel like… a gopher, maybe (otherwise known as a Richardson Ground Squirrel).

The analogy begins with any hibernating animal.  Why hibernation?  For these animals, it’s a matter of survival.

  • weather changes are drastic
  • food is scarce

Check out 10 Animals That Hibernate if you’re curious.

I am like a wood frog.  My heart (for teaching) has in some ways gone back into action following this university hibernation.

I am like a deer mouse.  Their hibernation is called torpor, where they hibernate during the day with other deer mice and spend their nights in their regular pursuits.  My university hibernation had a reverse schedule.

I am like a gopher.  They apparently have awesome tunnels built with all the amenities (including bathrooms) and are said to go into hibernation “as a response to a change in their blood” (Conservation Institute, 2015).  I have spent many an hour studying in the comfy chair by our wood-burning fireplace.  And I felt compelled to do this work in order to do my coaching well.

This bear looks well-rested.

This bear looks well-rested.

I am like a bear.  Their hibernation is also more like a torpor, and they are easily woken.  During my university torpor, I was constantly being awakened to connections between my coaching and my course work.  I was able to focus on both because each helped the other.

Like all of these animals, I focused on the essentials during my university hibernation or torpor.  I worked hard.  I cared for our family.  I read. I wrote.  I slept.  And I did it all over and over again for the past 18 months.  No room for extras, like blogging.

Spring is springing around here, friends.  I’m feeling it.

And I can’t wait to move from this life-giving survival period into the new spring of my life.

Being Part of the “Nerd Herd”

So, I actually looked it up.  There are several versions of nerd herd out there.

There is a tech support company at NerdHerd.com.  There is a book called Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd (Black & Castellucci, 2010) that looks pretty good.  I found a take on it in the blogging world called Nerd Heard.  There is even a Nerd Herd group on Facebook with over 16 000 likes.

Why had I never heard this expression before?  I belong to the best nerd herds ever!!

Though http://www.urbandictionary.com had several definitions of nerd herd, I came up with this one:

nerd herd (n.): an intelligent, like-minded group of individuals who stick together because of common interest, ideas, and/or support

Admittedly, the members of my nerd herd aren’t always together at the same time.  But if they were, man, we’d have some serious fun!

Clayton, who decided he wanted to be a combine for Halloween this year.

Clayton, who decided he wanted to be a combine for Halloween this year.

Anthony, loving life while painting a bird house.

Anthony, loving life while painting a bird house.

The youngest members are my children, Clayton at age 10 and Anthony at age 7.  It is not uncommon for my 10-year-old’s conversations to start with, “Mom, have you read___?  You have GOT to read it!”, followed by a delightful conversation about the virtues of a great book.  My 7-year-old is constantly challenging me with fabulous questions and infinite curiousity, as in, “Let’s make up a cool craft, Mom… what would happen if… check out what I built… look what I just figured out…” Love it.  Love them!

Curtis and I at the Regina Home Show in March.  A great weekend get-away!

Curtis and I at the Regina Home Show in March. A great weekend get-away!

My husband and I have an exclusive nerd herd around farming and home building.  Well, not exclusive for him.  He talks to plenty of people about such things all the time.   But, he is definitely the lead nerd in our home building herd.  Love it.  Love him!

Next up are my students.  I am no longer teaching in one school specifically, but when I return to the school that I had taught at for the past seven years, the kids and I connect over a variety of topics, from books, to hunting, to classes, to movies – you name it. Love it.  Love them!

Meeting Richard Allington at the Saskatchewan Reading Conference 2014 in Saskatoon.

Meeting Richard Allington at the Saskatchewan Reading Conference 2014 in Saskatoon.

And there are my totally awesome colleagues.  Colleagues in the schools I work in, at my office, in my university classes, on Twitter (#myplnrocks), that I meet at conferences.  These are the major nerds in my professional nerd herd, the peeps who make me feel like I am part of something so much bigger than myself.  They support me, challenge me, cheer for me, and question me, and some I have never even met!  Love it.  Love them!

I am so very thankful for these guru groups or pensive posses or collaborative crowds (I could only think of alliterative words – rhyming would have taken me way too long, much like the delay between my blog posts).  Regardless, I couldn’t be happier to be a nerd, particularly when it means I get to spend time with such amazing people.

To you, unknown reader, welcome to the herd.

Why I Will Coach #SAVMP

It has been a summer full of PD opportunities, and I am so grateful for it.  I have always enjoyed learning about learning and teaching, and now that I’m transitioning from Learning Achievement Coach to Tier One Instructional Coach, I’ve enjoyed it even more.  Teaching (and subsequently leading) is what I feel called to do.

I’ve always been an avid learner.  The story goes that I came home from Kindergarten on the first day madder than a wet hen because my teacher hadn’t taught us how to read!  I excelled in school, loved being in the classroom, read and drew and performed.  In Grade Seven I thought that I wanted to be a mathematical engineer (the lure of a big salary was pressing on my teenage brain).  By Grade Twelve, following a summer job working as a programmer for a recreational program for kids, I knew where my heart was.  I applied to the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have not always been a coach.  I have taught for 15 years now, multi-grade and straight-grade classrooms from Kindergarten through Grade 12.  I have been a high school soccer team manager and a middle-years volleyball assistant coach.  I have held the role as Learning Achievement Coach at a fabulous school for four years.  And yet… I haven’t always been the coach I have figured out that I’d like to be.

As I experienced Cognitive Coaching training this summer and as I have read and reflected on The Art of Coaching (Aguilar, 2013), my ideas of effective teaching, coaching, and leadership have been challenged and grown.

The mission of Cognitive Coaching is to produce self-directed persons with the cognitive capacity for excellence both independently and as members of a community.  (Cognitive Coaching Seminars Foundation Training Learning Guide, 2013, 19)

There are Four Support Functions in Cognitive Coaching (15):

  1. Coaching
  2. Collaborating
  3. Consulting
  4. Evaluating

I feel that each of these support functions plays a role in leadership as teaching in a classroom: teacher as coach, collaborator, consultant, and evaluator of students and their learning.  I also feel that they are all support functions in the role of leadership as working with colleagues.  I believe that I have gotten the collaborative (team approach to forming ideas and solutions together) and the consultative (informing others of pedagogy and so-called ‘best practices’) down pat.   But I aspire to the leadership support function of coaching.

I have consulted a lot.  I wanted to help others get better at their craft, to grow their knowledge and skills, and develop their understanding of current practices in education.  Consulting is a support function of coaching/leadership.  Sometimes I had the expertise or experience that others needed to learn, see, and then practice on their own.

But I aspire to the leadership support function of coaching.

I am going into this coaching role because I want to help mediate

  • efficacy – being a problem solver and taking action;
  • flexibility – seeing multiple perspectives and being willing to consider change;
  • craftsmanship – being life-long learners and always striving to grow;
  • consciousness – being metacognitive and self-aware of own decisions and resulting effects; and
  • interdependence – contributing to the common good and remaining true to self

in the colleagues and students I work with (Cognitive Coaching, 26).  I want to be a transformative part in creating a culture of learning in our classrooms, schools, divisions, and world!  I will be a leader/coach because I feel called to help others recognize their potential as leaders themselves.

I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. – Ralph Nader

I am full of nervous energy.  As I reflect on the past four years and the bridges I’ve built (or, for that matter, burned), I am excited for the opportunity to work in this capacity.  I will coach because, in this spectacular profession of teaching, I believe:

   We are in this together.

   We deserve to feel happiness in our hard work.

   We can each make a difference.

Pray for me as I embark with my colleagues on this coaching journey.

Literacy Routines – Like Learning to Ride a Bike

It’s been a big summer for our youngest son, Anthony.  As a six-year-old entering Grade One, the final frontier for him has been learning to ride his two-wheeler.  And as we worked on this together, I realized that helping someone learn to ride a bike is like helping kids learn to be a part of literacy routines.

Getting more and more confident every day.

Getting more and more confident every day.

The steps to success are much the same.  Here are my thoughts.

1.  Know your learner(s).  Anthony is a smart, funny, out-going boy but he doesn’t like to take risks.  Let me clarify that – safety risks.  Sticking his neck out takes awhile for him because he has to step out of his comfort zone, learn all he needs to know to his satisfaction, and experience success, all at the same time.  I know this about him, and we have a trusting relationship.  The very same thing needs to happen in classrooms.  Take time to know your learners – their interests, their strengths, their hurdles.  This investment builds trust, a key component for a learning relationship to flourish.

2. Talk about goals – for the hour, the day, the month, the year.  Our goal was to have Anthony riding his bike before our first camping trip mid-July so that he could rip around with his brother at camp.  We almost made it.  He was really looking forward to biking with his brother, and although it was a goal we all had, it became personal for him.  Our students need to know the ‘why’ of what we do in class.  What are we working toward?  Why is this important?  Through class goals/outcomes and individualized goals, students can take ownership over the routine building process and their own learning.

3. Set them up for success by teaching the key ‘procedures.’   Anthony had time with the training wheels on his bike.  He knew what bike riding looked like (helmet on, pedalling consistently, staying balanced) and felt like before we took the trainers off.  It didn’t mean he rode on his own the second we took them off; he just knew what he needed to work on to build his stamina and success as a rider.  In our classrooms, we need to take all the time our students need to teach and practice the routine procedures that will lead to them being successful independently.  They need to know what literacy routines look, sound, and feel like and the time to practice these behaviours before we can expect them to have a measure of success on their own.

4. Let them have a say in what they’re doing.  Some days were better than others.  Some days Anthony would ask to ride first thing in the morning.  Other days, no amount of questioning (or nagging) on our part could convince him to get on that bike, even though we desperately wanted him to practice.  He choose the swings, the sandbox, Lego, or books instead.  And that’s okay.  Kids need choice in what they’re doing.  When you give them options for their experiences, they take ownership and build independence.  It doesn’t mean you can’t guide them; it means providing them with choices, helping them to know what’s expected, and trusting them to do things on their own.

5. Get them going and step back.  Anthony needed us to teach him and then give him a chance to practice.  We needed to know when to hold onto the seat of the bike and when to let go.  A gradual release of responsibility involves everyone.  Know when to directly instruct your learners, know when you need to be in on the practice, and know when you need to stand back and watch the learning unfold.

The structure and safety of knowing what to expect and what support you will receive builds confidence, trust, and positive relationships.  Most importantly, it builds independence and success as a learner.

I am so glad I had the chance to help Anthony learn to ride his bike.