My province, as part of the move toward a more inclusive education system, has posted the following definition on the Education Department website:
Learning Coach - a teacher who is knowledgeable about inclusion and curriculum, and is skilled at teacher collaboration and sharing promising practices. The learning coach works as part of the learning support team to build the capacity of the school, and works side by side with teachers to improve instruction and design learning experiences that are accessible, effective and engaging for all students.
Wow! Who wouldn’t want a teacher with this kind of expertise at their school. Imagine the growth and capacity building that would take place assuming the right person was assigned to a position like that. Reluctant teachers would have the much-needed support to try new approaches and we would be well on our way to our province’s vision to transform the education system to one where students would become “engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit” within an inclusive education system. Problem is that funding is not provided to hire learning coaches, leaving schools on their own to find creative ways to work them in.
So last spring, while preparing a very tight budget for the current school year, we decided it was worth the effort to rearrange staffing and assign a .5 LC for our school. The individual we selected brings a strong literacy background and full complement of engaging and innovative practices to the position, but perhaps most importantly places great value on collaboration and risk-taking. I must say that the level of student engagement is definitely improving as they participate in an array of new learning experiences, some of which can be seen here and here. Perhaps the most important outcome of each project has been that the classroom teacher increased their own capacity to incorporate important competencies into their daily practice and better engage all learners. This is making our already good teachers even better.
But what about schools that are simply unable to allocate adequate funds for even a part-time Learning Coach. Many would see this as an ‘extra position’ that simply could not be supported by an already stretched budget. Expecting them to forgo other necessary expenditures just wouldn’t make sense. So does that mean they will be unable to improve instruction and design learning experiences that are accessible, effective and engaging for all students, as outlined in the definition above? Does it mean they are not knowledgeable about inclusion and curriculum, or skilled at teacher collaboration and sharing promising practices? Of course not.
A Learning Coach, in my opinion, is not an individual but a philosophy. It’s about building a culture. It’s about providing the trust to experiment with new approaches. It’s about learning together by sharing best practices. It’s about taking advantage of the untapped expertise right in front of us. Don’t just wait around for a silver bullet that may never arrive. Start building the Learning Coach philosophy in your school tomorrow morning.