Leading and Learning

2009–10 Teacher Learning and Leadership Program

by Leanne Miller, OCT

Above (seated, from left): Jennifer Pells Chisholm, OCT, Chris Hickman, OCT, and Amy Allison, OCT, collaborate to plan a lesson  at Talbot Trail School in Windsor with support from Lisa Galvan, OCT, (standing, centre) and ArtSMart

The Ministry program to fund teachers’ school-based research projects is making significant impact on teachers, students, schools and board programming.

Imagine an entire school board committed to ensuring students’ successful elementary to secondary transition. Imagine a dedicated program where students learn skills and knowledge to successfully move from the Junior-level, one-teacher classroom to the Intermediate and Senior levels with four to eight teachers and classes every day. Imagine students with the work habits, note-taking, organization, time-management, independence and communication skills they need to be successful. Imagine absences and lates not being a major problem. And imagine Grade 9 credit accumulation rates at over 95 per cent.

Sound too good to be true? What started out as an idealistic goal for Brigitte Lepage, OCT, and Mélanie St-Jean, OCT, at école secondaire publique Louis-Riel may well become a dream come true across the conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CÉPEO).

Two years ago Lepage and St-Jean successfully applied for support to develop a student success program at Louis-Riel through the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP)/Le Programme d’apprentissage et de leadership du personnel enseignant (PALPE). A collaborative effort of the Ministry of Education and the teacher federations, the program provides funding primarily for time release to allow experienced classroom teachers to research and develop strategies and share best practices to enhance teachers’ learning and professional practice.

The funding provided Lepage with two 50-minute time-release periods per week – over the course of the 2008–09 school year – in which to work with St-Jean, a full-time Special Education teacher, to develop an Intermediate-level student success program. It was so successful that Louis-Riel principal Martin Bertrand, OCT, asked drama teacher Lepage to staff the program half-time during the 2009–10 school year. Bertrand hopes that the dream really will come true across the CÉPEO this September. The board is considering making what began as a small school-based project an across-the-board policy. If implemented, all 14 secondary schools that incorporate Grades 7 to 12 in the region – which stretches north from Trenton to Pembroke and east through Kingston and Ottawa right to the Québec border – will have a teacher-staffed success program to assist Grade 7 and 8 students in navigating the high school transition.

Lepage and St-Jean called their project Leader ERRÉ – enseignant(e) responsable de la réussite des élèves au niveau intermédiaire – a student success program for Intermediate students. They were seeing too many students struggle as they arrived at Louis-Riel, a Grade 7 to 12 school in Ottawa.

“Kids in our board face two significant transitions,” St-Jean explains. “First from Grade 6 to Grade 7 and then again into Grade 9.”

Although Louis-Riel’s Intermediate students learn and work in a separate wing of the school, the students are on full rotary and the culture is much like that of a traditional secondary school. St-Jean explains that Grade 9 students receive many supports, thanks in part to every high school’s school success teacher, but at the Grade 7 and 8 levels there were gaps, and there was no program to support those potentially at risk.

“Many of the Grade 7 students were not ready for the increased rigour and responsibility of secondary school expectations,” St-Jean recalls. “They are young when they come to Grade 7, especially the boys, and we wanted to give them the tools they needed for success. We could see that many were at risk, and we wanted to develop a program that would help them be successful and support their teachers at the same time.”

St-Jean points out that the kids that she and Lepage bring into their success program are not the ones working on Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

“Children with IEPs get the help they need. These children would fall through the cracks without some extra support.”

Consistency is a key factor to success with students at risk.  

These are students who are underachieving, explains Lepage – students who are chronically late to first period and after lunch, the ones with disorganized lockers and binders, the ones who do not study effectively and struggle to complete assignments on time. They are often the ones with personal problems or weak conflict-resolution and time-management skills. Many of them underperform, St-Jean explains, because they suffer from anxiety about not doing well enough in school.

Lepage and St-Jean created a student success room where they could work with students identified by their teachers as being at risk. Supporting the classroom teacher became one of their four goals. As part of their project, they created opportunities for the school’s 14 Intermediate teachers to get together to discuss students at risk and share frustrations and strategies for success. All the teachers appreciated the opportunity to communicate and share.

“We wanted to take a consistent approach with these students,” Lepage explains, and we wanted to open the lines of communication among all teachers, including the Grade 6 teachers who had these children in their classrooms for a whole year.”

Every spring, St-Jean tries to visit the feeder schools. As a resource teacher, she attends the Identification, Placement and Review Committee meeting and gathers information about each child who will attend Grade 7 at Louis-Riel. She finds out about the Special Education needs of some children and the special challenges faced by others – those who are disorganized, those with short attention spans – and she finds out about all kids’ strengths and special interests.

“We want their new teachers to know what they enjoy and what they are good at so they can plan engaging lessons,” St-Jean explains.

Every summer, Lepage and St-Jean hit the local Walmart and buy journals for the students they will encounter. All colours, shapes and sizes of journals. They have found that the kids who visit the success room like to write to clear their heads. Sometimes they reflect on what they write and say, “Madame, I overreacted here.” Other times, once something stressful or upsetting has been transferred to the journal, it is gone. Sometimes kids mark a certain page and ask Lepage or St-Jean to read it. The success room is also about trust.

At all times, withdrawal from the regular classroom is seen as a last resort. The goal is to keep students learning successfully in the regular classroom. A system was set up whereby Lepage goes into classrooms and works alongside children who are struggling to complete work or stay on task. If students need extra support to understand new concepts or complete assignments or organize notebooks, Lepage works with them in the quiet success room or has students come in at lunch or after school.

“We work to teach the students the necessary skills to take responsibility for their own learning and actions,” explains Lepage. “And we don’t stop once an assignment is complete.”

She and St-Jean help students organize binders, practise note-taking and learn study skills.

Photo Photo

Mélanie St-Jean and a student demonstrate one visual impact strategy used at école secondaire publique Louis-Riel – literally putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Lisa Galvan (right) offers support to Jennifer Pells Chisholm in implementing the arts across the curriculum in her Grade 8 class at Talbot Trail School.

They also use visual impact techniques developed by Danie Beaulieu – a psychologist specializing in multisensory intervention and teaching methods – and taught through her Académie Impact (www.academieimpact.com). When two kids act out, Lepage or St-Jean takes a pop can and shakes it as she sits with them discussing the problem.

“You know what happens if we keep things bottled up inside and don’t talk about them?” St-Jean asks. The kids wince as she motions to open the can. “Everything explodes and it’s a mess. But if we set it aside for a while and leave it alone, then things settle down, don’t they?”

“Oui, Madame.”

Another impact strategy the pair uses is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, literally. St-Jean will sit down with a child who has acted out in class and ask him to put himself in her shoes – to literally put her shoes on and walk around the room.

“How does it feel to be in my shoes? she asks. “How would it feel if you were Madame X and someone had acted as you did today?”

And so goes the conversation, wearing Madame’s shoes.

“It’s simple, and it’s quite effective,” St-Jean says.

She and Lepage often do the same thing with two students, asking them to swap shoes and talk through a conflict.

As with many high school students, lates are a problem at Louis-Riel, especially to first period. Intermediate students at risk are referred to Lepage or St-Jean to explain why they are late. If the problem persists, the students themselves have to call their parents – right there in the success room – and explain why they were late. The same goes for missed or incomplete assignments.

“It’s very effective,” says Lepage with a smile. “The reality is that classroom teachers don’t have time to make calls every day, and yet we know that calling home is very effective. We lighten their load and make sure that these important calls are made.”

St-Jean adds, “We always put the phone on speaker so we can hear both sides of the conversation. It’s often, ‘You sat and watched TV all night and said you didn’t have any homework.’ The responsibility for work completion is given instantly to the child. It’s rare that we have to make a second call.”

They talk with up to 20 parents every day, keeping them informed about progress and problems and encouraging them to be more involved in their children’s schooling.

“Parents are a vital component of our success,” emphasizes St-Jean. They have to know what is going on at school, and they have to be involved. They need to be part of our dialogue of success.”

Students at Louis-Riel have learned that help is available, and they see the benefits of taking advantage of it.  

The success room now facilitates and encourages consistent and regular communication among teachers, parents and students. Parents and teachers drop in most days. They want to know what is happening, share a success story or strategy, or just say “hi” to the two women making such a positive impact on the children.

A benefit of the program was a dramatic reduction in the number of students being sent to the office for discipline issues. Lepage and St-Jean quickly realized that what started out as a difficulty learning something in a busy classroom often became a behaviour problem, and teachers had no choice but to send students to the office. With an extra set of eyes and hands in the classroom to work with children struggling to learn, teachers find they have fewer discipline problems.

It wasn’t long before students wanted to come to the success room on their own to catch up on missed work and complete assignments. Motivation increased along with student success.

Lepage and St-Jean developed tracking sheets for teachers, students and parents to monitor progress, work completion and attendance. They kept in mind one of their key goals of building individual ownership and accountability for problems.

Their TLLP work showed improvement the first semester it ran. Lepage, St-Jean and their colleagues soon observed better work completion, fewer lates and fewer pupils being sent to the office. At the same time, all teachers were more satisfied with their classrooms’ teaching and learning environment.

This year, Lepage and St-Jean worked with Louis-Riel’s Grade 9 student success teacher to continue supporting and monitoring students. They used the same tracking sheets, motivations, language and expectations.

“Consistency,” Lepage says, “is a key factor to success with students at risk.”

The benefits of this TLLP were so significant that first year that Louis-Riel principal Martin Bertrand asked Lepage to staff the student success room half-time this year. And the successes continue.

“This year in Grade 9 we had far fewer lates and more students achieving their potential,” comments Bertrand. “Many of the students whom teachers felt were at risk in Grades 7 and 8 were then successful in Grade 9.”

This past fall, after the November report card, the student success teacher met with all underachieving Grade 9 students and got them to commit to an improvement plan. She reminded them of what they had learned from St-Jean and Lepage in Grade 8 and put some of them on the tracking sheets they had used the previous year. The at-risk students were thus refocused by the approach they had first seen in Lepage and St-Jean’s success room.

Bertrand proudly points to what he describes as a significant increase in course credit accumulation at the end of the first semester, compared to previous years. Perhaps more important, the principal credits the program with creating a stronger student work ethic and ownership for learning.

“This year we saw more students willing to ask for help from teachers, guidance counsellors and the student success teacher,” Bertrand comments. “Students at Louis-Riel have learned that help is available, and they see the benefits of taking advantage of it. They want to be successful.”

Starting in September, the success may spread. The CÉPEO has been so impressed with Louis-Riel’s program that this spring it was considering assigning a half-time teacher to develop and staff a similar success room in every Grade 7 to 12 school in the board.


Brigitte Lepage and Mélanie St-Jean collaborated to develop a student success program at école secondaire publique Louis-Riel.

Another successful TLLP

“After watching YouTube with my daughter, I thought the best way to support teachers faced with teaching art would be to teach it for them!”

At the southwest end of the province, Lisa Galvan, OCT, reflects on the TLLP that she and her colleague Kevin Alles, OCT, began at Prince Andrew PS in LaSalle, just outside Windsor. She says that what started two years ago as a school-based resource boost for Intermediate teachers wanting to strengthen their visual art repertoire is now an online program that supports teachers in the Greater Essex County DSB and throughout the province.

“The TLLP enabled us to take control of our professional learning and create a program to support the specific needs of art teachers throughout our board,” Galvan comments.

Galvan’s TLLP, now called ArtSMart, began as a response to findings from her MEd work at the University of Windsor and to the fact that although art is considered a specialty course, in most cases in the elementary panel, it is not taught by art teachers. She examined the challenges created by the 1998 restructuring and increased rigour of the Grade 7 and 8 visual art curriculum and the broader range of knowledge and proficiency now required of generalist elementary teachers.

In surveying 42 teachers in the Greater Essex DSB, Galvan found that the new Ministry requirements for standardization and consistency in teaching and assessing Grade 7 and 8 visual art were not being met.

She also found that many teachers had limited experience, a lack of knowledge and understanding of the subject, and limited professional development opportunities.

“Most generalist Grade 7 and 8 teachers,” she comments, “needed to increase their comfort level teaching and assessing visual art. Many simply were not trained to effectively support and develop their visual art students, especially those children with strong skills and interests.”

Galvan and Alles used their TLLP Ministry time-release funding to create an online and easy-to-follow visual art support program for teachers with little or no art background to help them gain confidence and enthusiasm for teaching visual art.

She figured that if teachers saw what teaching an art lesson could look and sound like, then they could use that lesson or take parts of it and apply it to their own classrooms.

“We thought it would be a great way to scaffold teacher learning,” she says.

Teachers in particular quickly gained confidence and enthusiasm for teaching visual art.  

Galvan and Alles created a blog and posted short video-based lessons, slideshows of step-by-step procedures, student work samples and short lesson summaries that were easy to follow and use and were based directly on the Intermediate curriculum. What’s more, the blog provided a variety of assessment methods, rubrics and extension activities to help teachers engage and challenge Level 4 students.

Thirty-six teachers from the Greater Essex County DSB regularly took part in the ArtSMart program and used the lessons Galvan and Alles developed as part of their TLLP.

“It was very popular,” Galvan says, “and teachers were excited to use it to better help them engage and challenge their visual art students. Generalist teachers in particular quickly gained confidence and enthusiasm for teaching visual art activities when they were provided with a quick and easy-to-use visual online resource.”

She and Alles tracked 648 site visits and 1,719 specific page views during the six-month period when their TLLP began.

She shares some of the teacher comments that appeared during that time:

“Much more confident in explaining ideas and assessing the art when finished.”

“It has been extremely helpful. For the first time in my career I have work I feel proud to put on a bulletin board in the hallway. Students are accomplishing artwork of differing levels and above what they are used to because I have the skill and the examples to help them improve their work.”

“Invaluable. I have shared with Intermediate colleagues who are also enduring the same pains I have in the past. Please keep the blog alive!”

Although Alles is no longer involved, Galvan, who is now working as an elementary literacy numeracy support teacher for the board, is determined to keep her project alive. Working with board IT professionals, she has successfully transformed her small and often slow blog site to a more sophisticated board-hosted interactive web site that interested teachers around the province can now access to support their visual art programming.

This past spring, Galvan formed a team to broaden the scope of ArtSMart. She worked with Nancy Johns, a Windsor-based art gallery owner, Sherry Doherty, OCT, another literacy numeracy support teacher with no visual art background, and pre-service teacher Vicki Papanastassiou, who is also a local artist. The team developed cross-curricular lessons for the Grade 7 and 8 curriculum and added Grade 2 and 5 visual art support lessons. They hope to offer Grade 3 and 6 curriculum support by the fall.

“Literacy is important,” comments Galvan, “and I see tremendous benefits in supporting and building literacy skills through all modalities, especially the arts, since that is one of my great interests.”

Those are just two of the many success stories of the TLLP. During the 2009–10 school year, more than 350 teachers received funding to support 75 school-based research projects around the province.

Paul Anthony, OCT, is Director of the Teaching Policy and Standards Branch at the Ministry. He explains that teacher leadership and teachers helping each other to improve practice are at the core of the TLLP and that the benefits come from both the process and the outcomes.

“When teachers conceive and lead their professional learning,” he says, “when they collaborate and share experiences and challenges with other teachers, when what they learn can be applied immediately in the classroom, and when they see positive outcomes – their students getting it – they are motivated.”

TLLP applications

The Teaching Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) has been designed to take teachers beyond more traditional forms of professional development by enabling them to take what they learn and put it into practice in their own classrooms, with the support of like-minded colleagues.

Either groups of teachers or individual teachers may apply for funding to receive time release and learning materials to support self-directed professional learning projects.

College members working in provincially funded district school boards, school authorities or provincial schools are eligible to apply if they are beyond the induction career stage and their primary assignment is teaching students. Classroom or co-op teachers, teacher-librarians and guidance counsellors as well as itinerant and occasional teachers are eligible to apply. So too are education assistants, social workers, parents and community members, as long as they are part of a group led by an eligible teacher.

Proposals should focus on innovative professional learning topics related to effective practices for student learning and development. Applicants should think about what would help them be better professionals. Topics could include but are not limited to:

Successful applicants attend a two-day leadership-skills training session designed by the Ontario Teachers’ Federation and its affiliates to help teachers develop the skills they need to manage their learning projects and to share their learning with others. They are also required to carry out the activities described in their proposal application, participate in an online forum, share their learning with colleagues, analyze what they have learned and write a report on their learning and submit it to the Ministry within one year of beginning the project.

Final funding decisions are made by the Teacher Professional Learning Committee, which consists of representatives from the federations and the Ministry of Education.

For details on the application process and specific dates, visit the Ministry’s TLLP web site or the PALPE web site.

For more information on the TLLP, contact Camille Chénier, Senior Policy Advisor (Camille.Chenier@ontario.ca or 416-325-1074) or Armand Gagné, Education Officer (Armand.Gagne@ontario.ca or 416-325-4349).