Three Things I Learned in Reflecting Upon This Year . . .

1. Relationships are key.

One of my earliest conversations with Lorna hinged upon the value of relationships. To ensure I was carrying out the work in a manner representative of what Jigsaw Learning has established across the educational landscape, I asked Lead Learner Lorna if there was anything that I could be doing to ensure the upcoming work I would be involved in was on track and starting off in the right direction. Lorna’s only reply was this - ensure that I develop good relationships!

This was already at the forefront of my mind, especially as much of the work I was about to become involved in would be taking over from work, and relationships, that others in the Jigsaw Learning team had already established during the previous year. How would I go in unknown, and reinforce these genuine relationships already established in a way that people would feel comfortable working with me? Big shoes to fill as Lorna is widely known for her kind heart and warm hugs.

While refilling my water bottle in a school staff room during a coaching visit with one of our district partners, I overhead a teacher I had been working with that morning commenting to the school administrator - “Kurtis and Lorna sure knew what they were doing when they hired new people this year”. This allowed for a sigh of relief, indicating that perhaps I was on the right track after all. Jigsaw Learning, founded by Kurtis and Lorna Hewson is known for the strength and sincerity in their relationships. I felt relieved that my approach to working alongside people was on par with the solid relational foundation already established. Developing relationships of trust at the onset allowed teachers to open up and ask honest questions about their practice.

2. Meet people where they are.

This goes for systems, school administration, and teacher levels. Finding out where people are, and supporting them with where they want to go, by offering guidance in that direction, is both important and strategic. If I go in with preconceived ideas of the direction a classroom teacher, a school administrator, or a systems leader needs to go to further their practice or create school or district wide improvement, I will have missed a valuable learning opportunity. To blindly offer suggestions or guidance without first understanding what people know and believe, and how they’d like to improve or effect change would not be beneficial nor create the desired results that our partners are seeking.

Everyone, at all levels of the system, wants to do well for kids. One of the benefits of my role is that I see many different classrooms, schools, and districts at various stages of development. When I can go in alongside, and find out where a district is in creating district wide literacy improvement, I can create a plan with them to help them actualize their goals. There is no single, right way to do things. What works well for one school or district may not work for another. Building on existing resources and structures allows us to create a path forward to support literacy learning for all.

3. A GPS is necessary.

I am not known for my sense of direction and I’m easily turned around when traveling in unfamiliar places. This year has found me on many back roads on my way to rural schools as well as driving to remote towns in several provinces across Canada. Lets just say I have gone over my data limit on a regular basis through my frequent use of Google Maps!

While I depend greatly on my iPhone and my map app, I also rely on my ability to visualize a direction for creating school and district wide improvement. Through understanding a partner’s unique context, we can establish specific goals for the year and put the necessary resources and supports in place to move forward on a path of improvement. With strategic planning, goal setting, and supports established, all levels of the system are aligned and moving in the same direction towards a common destination. I feel that the opportunity to work alongside so many different educators in a variety of roles is a privilege and the work that we can accomplish together, in partnership, can have some amazing results.

Author: Cheryl Gascoyne