Compelling Stories

" The SmartLearning framework has allowed teachers in my district to go deeper in their understanding of wise practice.  The framework gives everyone a common starting point and explicitly focuses instruction in the areas of connecting, processing, transforming and reflecting. As teachers participate in learning rounds and co-plan lessons, critical dialogue occurs around how best to support learning at each of the stages. Through these conversations, tools are selected to 'best-fit' the development of targeted skills. Powerful conversations about matching tools with desired outcomes push everyone's thinking, learning and professional practice. Feedback from teachers indicates that the opportunity to plan and work within the framework of SmartLearning, utilizing the SmartThinking tools, is the most powerful professional development they have done. Personally, the framework has redefined how I plan and teach. I am more accountable, focused and intentional which has increased student achievement, engagement and enthusiasm in the lessons. "

Tammy Renyard
District Learning Facilitator and SmartLearning Trainer 
School District 79, Cowichan Valley, 
Vancouver Island

" Several years ago my school was facing yet another goal of improving student reading. Although we had had several similar goals for reading improvement in previous years, there still seemed to be a need to continue with the same goal. I had heard rumours of something Susan Close was doing in New West, called SMARTReading so I decided to pursue this. When I went to my first three-day conference in New Westminster, where we actually got into classroom and saw teachers using the SmartLearning strategies I was immediately impressed. I saw students engaged in reading in a very thoughtful manner. They were involved in their learning, and the understanding of text was amazing. I saw teachers who truly believed in how they were teaching and had the research to back up their methods. Finally, I saw a district administrator who worked alongside the teachers guiding and supporting them. I am using many of the ideas I saw in New Westminster in my own classroom and am continually amazed at what powerful and insightful readers students can become. Thank you, Susan! "

Kathy Nelson

A Recipe for Success:
How shared leadership developed into professional learning groups
" Combine the latest research on reading comprehension and a vision of shared leadership with a staff of life-long learners and you have a recipe for success. However, as every cook knows, too much of one ingredient, or not enough of another, can also be a recipe for disaster. In January/February of 2007 it became obvious that the ingredients had been mixed perfectly. The staff at Coal Tyee School had begun by coming together, made progress by keeping together and were finally succeeding by working together. It was no longer a leadership model with "experts" at the top, but one where a staff comes together as equals, sharing experiences and expertise. 
As lead literacy teachers, we are so excited about what has happened in our school and we honestly do run down hallways and interrupt each other's classes, just to share what our students are doing. We really didn't understand how much our students were capable of or how little we had to change our teaching to make such a significant difference in their thinking. Just as importantly, we didn't realize how much our excitement, commitment and hard work would impact those around us. If we believe in ourselves as learners and trust the professionals with whom we work, amazing things can happen!
It began with a belief in SmartLearning and SmartReading. It really didn't take long to realize the difference SMART makes for all students…the results are powerful and immediate. It simply makes good teaching/learning sense: combine current research about reading comprehension with a proven framework and you are on your way. Like all "new" learning, the first few steps were taken with a great deal of caution. We knew it was going to take a lot more than believing something was worthwhile to make significant change in our school. But, we also knew there were three important ingredients already in the mixing bowl:

  • Our district had instituted a "shared leadership" component to district literacy. Schools are given a 0.2 lead literacy position that is in place for 3 years. At Coal Tyee we have been sharing the position for the past 2 years (0.1 each).
  • The SD#68 Literacy Resource Teacher recognized our school's potential and supported us (money, time, training).
  • Coal Tyee has a supportive staff of learners and an administrator who provided release time in classrooms and purchased resources. 

We also had some common basic beliefs (based on research) about learning and change:

  • School-wide change and teacher knowledge and expertise make the most significant
  • There is a need to raise the bar for student learning and to close the gap to ensure all of our students have the opportunity for a future of their choosing.
  • Research repeatedly shows that good instruction is a key factor in improving student learning.
  • Success leads to success through shared leadership. As teachers take risks using powerful instruction and see results with their students, they are inspired to share their expertise and become leaders.
  • There is a need for literacy assessment of all students in order to design purposeful and appropriate instruction.

After two and half years of hard work, persistence and a belief that we could improve reading and writing for all students, something special happened.  In the fall of 2006, after our for-learning district assessment, teachers met in grade groups to analyze results. They agreed that the teaching of inference was an obvious need, K-7. As lead literacy teachers we agreed to become inference experts and share our expertise; staff members agreed to develop sequences (inference focus), for their classes (or grade group for those who wanted to work together) by Christmas break. We had to do a lot of research to fully understand (at least what we thought was fully understanding) inference and be ready for a January in-service.
Our first meeting in January was quiet, almost uncomfortable. After the first couple of days the conversations started ...and wow! Staff members realized they needed more support and more information…we realized we weren't the "experts" we thought we were and all the questions and conversations sent us back to the books (professional resources like: Mosiac of Thought; Strategies That Work; Reading Power; Comprehension Toolkit; Reading with Meaning; Non-Fiction Matters; etc.) several times. This was exactly what we needed….we now knew staff members were thinking deeply about what they were teaching. We all felt like students…well, at least beginning teachers. More than once we had to rescue teachers in hallways as they fumbled their way trying to teach something they realized they didn't fully understand. The more questions they asked, the more deeply we all had to think. 
Lunch hour conversations were buzzing with what worked and didn't work, copying "language" from each other and running into our classrooms in the afternoon, hoping we finally had answers. These conversations were so valuable they led to meetings based on need: "Help me now!" or "Let me show you what we've just done!".  These soon developed into a regular Monday book club; a professional learning community was developing. At the end of the six weeks teachers did not stop; many classrooms have now worked their way through several books (picture books, novels, non fiction texts) that helped them teach inference. The professional sharing that is happening in our hallways, at lunch, before school, after school, using email and in our classrooms has left us speechless! Our recipe is working!
We feel the teaching of inference has "turned the tide" at Coal Tyee. Why? Staff members have definitely made a difference for their students by being learners themselves and therefore improving instruction. But, we have also made a difference in our professional community through shared leadership and professional learning groups. For us, the icing on the cake was when we were no longer "leading" our professional learning group ….teachers were bringing their students' work to show what they had accomplished and other teachers, including us, were listening and asking questions about their instructional strategies. We were now all learning from each other. Our "shared leadership" model had now gone from two "experts" at the top to one of a community of experts learning from each other. Success does lead to success! When teachers take risks using powerful instruction and see results with their students, they are inspired to share their expertise and become leaders.
Teachers are having so much fun with their lessons and are constantly amazed at what students are capable of. It will still be a long time before everyone is willing and able to consistently be SMART but it is slowly happening with each teacher moving at his/her own speed - speed of comfort. " 

Donna Anderson and Tammy Reynolds
Lead Literacy Teachers
Coal Tyee Elementary School, 
Nanaimo, BC

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