Following the unexpected postponement of our 2020 Literacy & Learning Conference, we wanted to create alternative opportunities for professional learning from home. While we already had a series of webinars planned, we also wanted to provide a space to promote discussion and community building. So we decided to try something new and create what we are calling the “IDA Ontario Professional Learning Circles”.
Since teachers were not expected to teach during the first two weeks following March break, we worked quickly to organize five online learning circles specifically for teachers that would meet during this time. Each group had two volunteer mentors (teachers who have experience using structured literacy in the classroom) and 10 teacher participants. We had 50 spaces available for teachers and every spot was filled within a few hours of announcing this program! The groups met online twice a week using Zoom during the two-week school closure. At the end of this initial period, the groups and mentors decided together how to proceed. As the transition to remote learning presented a new challenge for many, some of the groups have decided to meet once a week going forward while others have decided to continue to communicate via email and the new Facebook group that we created for Ontario teachers interested in structured literacy.
When the initial announcement was made, we also had inquiries from some school administrators and parents looking for similar opportunities. We’re working with our partners at Decoding Dyslexia Ontario, who will be creating a similar opportunity for parents. Additionally, we’ve formed one group specifically for school administrators, led by IDA Ontario board member and former school principal Joanne Bertrand.
Since mid-March, a group of school principals, two itinerant literacy teachers, and one superintendent have been meeting online via Zoom to learn about how they can bring structured literacy into their schools within the parameters of the present curriculum. They interviewed Ron Cadez, a principal who has done this successfully in Manitoba, who helped the administrators understand which elements are essential for this process. Based on the significant improvement in reading scores at his school, the entire board is now moving toward the implementation of structured literacy in all 40 schools. This is quite encouraging for us in Ontario!
In addition, the administrators have been studying the recommendations of Dr. Margie Gillis (president and founder of Literacy How) for mentoring teachers in structured literacy. In April, two teacher trainers, Martha Kovack and Liisa Freure, will be describing how they trained and mentored teachers in Ontario schools that have begun using a structured literacy approach.
The administrators have also been receiving advice from teacher mentors who are gathering information on the type of supports and resources teachers require to implement a structured literacy approach. Overall, the group plans on continuing to meet once per week during the foreseeable future, with the goal of building their administrative knowledge and skills in this area.
The feedback from these circles has been very positive and we’re looking to expand this program in the future. Please stay tuned to our newsletter, Facebook and Twitter feed for information on upcoming opportunities.