Tuesday, 18 June 2019

The Circle of Courage

By Kate Henkel, Instructional Coach

In November of 2018, Michele Edwards (FSD First Nations, Metis, Inuit Family School Liason Counsellor) and myself attended a Neufeld Institute conference entitled Resilience, Recovery and Relationship - Towards Flourishing Youth. A key part of our learning during this conference pertained to The Circle of Courage model, created by Dr. Martin Brokenleg, Dr. Larry Brendtro and Steve Van Bockern. Their book, Reclaiming Youth at Risk, centres on creating environments which provide opportunities for youth to feel significant, powerful, competent, and worthy.  The book provides a universal framework rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing which align with contemporary models of Child Psychology.  
In this materialistic, fast-paced culture, many children have broken circles, and the fault line usually starts with damaged relationships. Having no bonds to significant adults, they chase counterfeit belongings through gangs, cults, and promiscuous relationships. Some are so alienated that they have abandoned the pursuit of human attachment. Guarded, lonely, and distrustful, they live in despair or strike out in rage. Families, schools, and youth organizations are being challenged to form new “tribes” for all of our children so there will be no “psychological orphans.”  ~Martin Brokenleg

The Circle of Courage is a model in which all young people can grow and flourish. (Jack Hirose and Associates, The Neufeld Institute, accessed June 2019) The model is comprised of the following four areas considered essential for building strong and resilient youth:

Generosity - instilling a sense of self  “I am worthwhile. I can make the world a better place. I have something to contribute.”

Belonging - creating an environment in which students see themselves and feel a connection to, when they are away from home

Mastery - providing opportunities for rich contextual learning, leading to excellence and success

Independence - empowering students with the confidence to make
decisions and problem solve when they encounter challenges in life

This model provides a framework from which schools can foster a strong sense of belonging
and  support all youth in fulfilling their optimum potential. I had the great pleasure of presenting
my learning from the conference to a group of Foothills School Division teachers and
administrators during our February System Learning Day. During this session participants
had an opportunity to explore ways in which this model could be applied to their particular
school setting.
   This year, I have worked closely with Oilfields, Longview and Highwood High Schools as an Instructional Coach and would like to highlight some of the work that staff have done to bring the Circle of Courage to life in these schools.
Cultural Wellness Space - Longview School
The Cultural Wellness Space is a collaborative endeavour between school, community and Elders to create a space which supports a sense of belonging by bringing together students and the community. Stoney Nakoda Elders, Philomene and Virgle Stephens, blessed the space with a traditional pipe ceremony. Staff at Longview School are committed to ensuring that this space becomes an integral part of the school as they continue to nurture a safe, caring and welcoming environment for all students.
Pictured left to right: Philomene, Cassandra and Virgle Stephens

Chief Jacob Bearspaw School Powwow

Eden Valley hosts Longview School as students and staff join together to celebrate and share Indigenous culture. June 4, 2019

Oilfields School

Tylie JimmyJohn sits in front of the Star Quilt displayed in the Main Foyer at Oilfields School.The blanket was created by Eden Valley community member Penny Rider. Star Quilts have replaced the buffalo robe as a symbol of giving and generosity. The quilts are created to mark important milestones and are often shared at traditional ceremonies and cultural events.

Oilfields School students Rainbow and Josie Lefthand, Erica Johnston, Tylie JimmyJohn and Elshia JimmyJohn were part of FSD’s February System Learning Day at Ecole Secondaire Foothills Composite High School.
Students prepared traditional Indigenous dishes to share with session participants and shared the Circle of Courage model.

Indigenous Drums in the Learning Commons at Oilfields School  

Cindy Watts, Learning Commons Facilitator, runs a Musical Circle session during the lunch break. Cindy shared that “music creates a culture of community” at Oilfields School.

Circle of Courage Awards, Oilfields High School

Chet Musgrove, Darald Lavallie and Tim Hasiuk present the 2019 Circle of Courage award.
Circle of Courage Award Criteria- Oilfields School

The circle is a sacred symbol of life ... Individual parts within the circle connect with every other; and what happens to one, or what one part does, affects all within the circle.

The circle of courage is a model of learning that uses the circle and stresses 4 fundamental needs of all children in order to flourish: belonging, independence, generosity and mastery.

Oilfields has always in some way incorporated these principles in our teaching, but we are now creating a newly named award that will be given each year to students who exhibit these qualities.
(The Circle of Courage Award, Oilfields High, 2019)

Oilfields students met with Cheryle Chagnon Greyeyes, Leader of the Alberta Green Party, as she shared her challenges and successes in her journey towards becoming the first female Indigenous leader of a political party in Canada. Left to right: Rainbow Lefthand, Elshia JimmyJohn, Cheryle Chagnon - Greyeyes, Michele Edwards, First Nations, Metis and Inuit Family School Liason,  and Tylie JimmyJohn.

Indigenous Dance Instruction at Highwood High

Michelle Alberts, Physical Education teacher at Highwood High,
was “impressed with her students’ level of engagement and risk taking” as they learned a new dance and performed it for their peers. Shirley Hill also brought many Indigenous cultural artifacts along with her and spent time prior to the dance instruction teaching students about Indigenous ways of knowing.

Shirley Hill teaches Highwood students Indigenous dance.

Shirley Hill (Anatsipi’kssaakii – Pretty Sound Bird Woman) is the daughter of Kurt Hill and the late Rosa Ross. Her father is originally from Frankfurt, Germany and her late mom was from Siksika Nation. Shirley has a beautiful daughter and a sixteen year old grandson. She has been dancing for over 36 years, and loves to teach fancy shawl dance, teach beading class and craft-making. Shirley currently teaches beading at Mount Royal University, is an accredited Powwow dance teacher who works with Niitsitapi Learning Centre, various schools with the Calgary Board of Education, and Pathways Community Services.

Jason Robideau, First Nation Metis and Inuit Lead Teacher at Highwood High, says “a key thing for me is that there is Elder voice throughout the process as we seek to foster a sense of belonging for everyone involved in the path towards Reconciliation. At Highwood, we have begun to work on building a firm foundation as we continue this journey.”

     Highwood, Oilfields and Longview schools have all incorporated the principles of Belonging, Mastery, Independence and Generosity into their school culture. The result is the creation of enduring relationships which provide a strong foundation for continued growth in the spirit of all that the Circle of Courage represents.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Strategies and Structures for Teaching Writing

Written by Calli Robertson, Instructional Coach

This post is based on the book, The Writing Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo and the workshop Strategies and Structures for Teaching Reading and Writing with Jennifer Serravallo on May 23, 2019 in Calgary, Alberta.

“Strategies make the often invisible work of reading actionable and visible. Teachers can offer strategies to students to put the work in doable terms for those who are still practicing, so that they may become more comfortable and competent with the new skill.”
- Jennifer Serravallo

Jennifer Serravallo, the author of several practical books for teaching reading and writing, uses “goals” as the steering wheel to teach writing. It is through her experience that she chose goals over other commonly recommended approaches for teaching writing. For example, focusing on the writing process is important, however there are many strategies throughout that don’t just happen at one point or another in the writing process. Serravallo says writers don’t just focus on spelling when editing, or think about their lead or hook when drafting; they also revisit these things throughout the process. To isolate a writing strategy to one step in an iterative, complex, ongoing process, doesn’t have as much impact. In her experience, and with this I can relate, she used to teach writing strategies within the context of genres. She would focus on fiction, personal narrative, poetry, etc. As a writer herself though, she quickly realized that these lines can be blurred. A poem can be written to tell a story, or to teach about a topic. A nonfiction piece can take a narrative form (biography) or expository or be a hybrid of the two (historical accounts). After taking stock and reflecting on these practices, Serravallo was confronted by Hattie’s (2009) research into effective classroom practices. Her reality, supported by this research, was that helping kids articulate clear goals for their writing, and supporting them with strategies and feedback to accomplish those goals made a huge impact on their success.

While you may have heard of some of these “strategies” as qualities of good writing, craft, writing traits, habits of good writers or other terms, Serravallo is intentional about the language she uses in setting goals, teaching strategies and providing feedback in order to support learners.

Where to Start: Setting Goals

In her book, The Writing Strategies Book, Serravallo outlines some steps you can take for helping identify student writing goals:
  1. Observe students write; spy on them as writers
  2. Meet with students to confer; ask them not just about what they wrote and how, but their disposition towards writing too; ask them about their interests and hopes for writing
  3. Use formal assessments; ask them to write “on demand” (completing a piece of writing in one sitting)
Looking closely and thoughtfully at the evidence collected will allow teachers to have a deep knowledge of their students and their writing journey.

Serravallo recommends using formative assessments that suit your learners and context and suggests Anderson’s Assessing Writers (2005), Calkins’ Writing Pathways (2014) and her Literacy Teacher’s Playbook series (2013-2014).

Once the teacher and the students have collaboratively determined their goals for writing, Serravallo suggests making these goals visible. Once the students can clearly articulate their goal(s), determining strategies is easy and teacher feedback can be specific and actionable.

Examples of making goals visible (above, left); forms of feedback (above, right)
Student reflection checklist: What can I work on as a writer? (below); link to checklist

Serravallo’s strategies can be used alongside a variety of literacy frameworks including Lucy Calkin's Units of Study, Daily 5, Traits Writing, etc. In addition to making goals visible, setting up your classroom to support independence in the writing process is important. This can be done by using writing centers, charts and tools and mentor texts.


The Writing Strategies are organized based on these 10 goals:
Goal #1: Composing with Pictures
Goal #2: Engagement: Independence, Increasing Volume & Developing a Writing Identity
Goal #3: Generating & Collecting Ideas
Goal #4: Focus/Meaning
Goal #5: Organization & Structure
Goal #6: Elaboration
Goal #7: Word Choice
Goal #8: Conventions: Spelling & Letter Formation
Goal #9: Conventions: Grammar & Punctuation
Goal #10: Collaborating with Writing Partners & Clubs

Break down the skill related to the goals the students are working towards into clear, actionable steps. Notice the verbs.

Here are some sample strategies from her book. If you are interested in learning more about Serravallo’s, The Reading Strategies Book, ask your instructional coach to borrow the resource or support in implementing some strategies.

Engagement Strategy: The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword
Try out a variety of pen and pencil types. Notice how they glide on the page. Notice how the marks look on the paper. Make a choice about which tool will help you get your best writing done.

  • Is the pen/pencil you’ve chosen helping you write?
  • Are you comfortable when you write?
  • What kind of writing tool might help you feel more comfortable?
  • Check out the writing center to see if there’s something else you’d rather work with.

Generating & Collecting Ideas Strategies: Important People, Moments with Strong Feelings, Observe Closely
Make a list of important people in your life that matter most to you. Starting with one person, list memories you have with that person. Choose one and write the memory bit by bit.


  • Name some people in your life who matter to you.
  • List some memories of these people.
  • Which memory is clearest in your mind? Turn to a new page and start writing it.

Choose a strong feeling (worry, dear, embarrassment, excitement, joy, etc.). Think about memories you have that connect to that feeling. Try to use details that show the feeling of that moment.


  • What strong feelings might spark good ideas for writing?

Find an object that matters to you. Examine it closely, looking at it part by part. Describe what you see literally, using all of your senses. Describe what you see by comparing it to other things. Describe how it makes you feel.


  • Go part by part.
  • Describe it, don’t just tell what the part is called.
  • Linger on the part a bit longer, using more words to say what you see.
  • Think about using other senses. What more can you add?
  • What does it remind you of?

Organization & Structure Strategy: Say Say Say, Sketch Sketch Sketch, Write Write Write
Lay the pages of your book in front of you. Say one part of your story for each page. Next, sketch the pictures that will help you to remember what you said on each page. Then, go back to page 1, write the words for that page, then the next and the next. You can use the picture you sketched as a reminder of what you wanted to write.


  • Start with telling your story.
  • Touch the page as you tell that part.
  • You told all the parts of your story. Let’s go back and start sketching.
  • Remember, a sketch is a quick drawing, just to get your idea down. You can go back and work on the illustration later.
  • Let’s see, you’ve said your story. You’ve sketched your story. What next?
  • I see you’re touching each page as you say your story - that will help you remember the order!
*This strategy is similar to Read, Sketch, Stretch for older students. Students can read to learn more about a topic they’ll be writing about. Stopping to make sense of what they read, students will sketch a picture to show what they learned. Adding label or captions to their notes in their own words can help stretch the information to add more detail.

Elaboration Strategy: Crack Open Nouns
Return to your draft looking for places that may need more description or detail. Underline single nouns or noun phrases that seem to summarize rather than describe. On a sticky note or in your notebook, try to take the single word or phrase and turn it it into a long descriptive phrase.

  • Underline your nouns.
  • Which of those nouns seems to give a quick summary, rather than describe?
  • Take that one word and turn it into a descriptive phrase.
  • By making that revision, you’ve added in much more detail!

Word Choice Strategy: Alphabox
As you think about your topic and/or read to learn about your topic, add words to an alphabox page. When you draft, reread the words to jog your memory about facts you know about the topic Use the specific words an expert would use to sound knowledgeable about the topic.

  • What words do you know that fit with this topic?
  • Add some words to the alphabox that go with your topic. Which words will you use in your writing?

Conventions: Spelling: Circle & Spell
As you’re writing, if you realize you don’t know how to spell a word, just write it as best you can and circle to return to it later. Use your tools (ask a friend, dictionary, online tool) to find the spelling later.

  • Just circle it if you don’t think it’s spelled correctly and go back later.
  • Let’s look back at your draft…
  • What strategy will you try for finding the correct spelling?
  • That’s it - just circle and keep going. You can come back to it later.

Conventions: Grammar & Punctuation: Does it Sound like a Book?
As you reread your draft, be on the lookout for words, phrases, or ways of saying things that you hear in everyday speech but you don’t often read in a book. In most cases, you’ll want your published writing to sound like a published book.

  • Let’s think about how it would sound if we saw it in a book.
  • Is that book language?
  • Let’s try to write it another way. Can you explain why you wrote it that way?

Training Wheels or Balance Bike?

In exploring new writing strategies to support students in working towards their goals, consider the analogy of learning to ride a bike. Training wheels don’t allow kids to actually experience the feel of balancing on a bike. It is just a band-aid solution to get them pedaling, without learning any strategies to help them ride independently. We need to provide students opportunities to “balance” on their own and get rid of the training wheels. Riding on a balance bike is riding a bike, allowing kids to use strategies to develop their skills and work towards their next goal: making quick turns, riding down a hill, using a pedal bike, going off jumps and beyond. Can you shift your practice to remove the "training wheels" of writing and move towards getting your students “balancing” on their own, as they work towards their goals?