LAPEER, Michigan — Forgive students for being a little confused. After all, Karen Allmen and Amber Weidinger do look like teachers; they talk like teachers, too.
Are they, though?
“I tell students that I’m a teacher but, instead of teaching the same classes every day, I get to work with teachers and students all across the building,” said Karen Allmen, one of the District’s most experienced learning coaches. “I tell other adults that my primary role is to collaborate with classroom teachers on a focus or topic that they think will best help their students grow and learn.”
For more than a decade, Lapeer Community Schools has been investing in the learning coach model of instruction. This model creates an entire system of support for teachers that, ultimately, leads to increased academic success for students. Learning coaches aid in the development of curriculum, provide intervention and assessment support, research and analyze data, and so much more.
“Everything we do is built around goals for the students — our coaching is about working with the teacher to help students reach a learning goal,” said Amber Weidinger, a learning coach at Turrill Elementary in Lapeer. “First and foremost, I’m a teacher who works collaboratively with others to improve teaching and increase learning.”
Allmen has been a learning coach in the District for nearly a decade, and, in that time, she has seen the role of the learning coach in the overall mission of the District increase substantially.
“When I first started, we were trying to work out the balance of the ‘coach’ role and the ‘interventionist’ role, and how our support might look for each of those things,” she said. “We’ve continued to develop the coach part of the job, realizing that focusing on supporting the ongoing work of teachers in their classrooms is the best way to impact student learning. We’ve done this by developing an understanding of what successful job-embedded professional learning can be and creating a model focused on that understanding.”
Allmen believes the most critical aspect of the learning coach model is its ability to adapt as needs among students and staff change over time. For Weidinger, this adaptability depends on the collaborative efforts of the entire team, as they deploy new strategies for learning growth at every level.
“It’s a continuous cycle of growth and learning,” Weidinger said. “When I’m in classrooms, I have the opportunity to partner with teachers to build a collective, shared understanding of student learning. Together we are trying to determine what students know, understand, and do in relation to a teaching objective. This effort allows for us to jointly determine next steps for instruction.”
This cycle offers learning coaches a unique perspective that can often lead to breakthroughs with students and staff.
“It allows us to see connections all across the building,” Allmen said. “We can connect teachers who might be working on similar things and not be aware of each other’s work. Similarly, we can help students make connections across their different classes.”
The LCS Board of Education recently received a presentation from Rolland-Warner 6-7 Campus coaches at their regular meeting. Coaching, in this context, aligns perfectly with many of the goals of the Board, including the development of high-quality collaborative processes to improve teacher performance and student achievement.
After the presentation, LCS Superintendent Matt Wandrie recalled his early days as a teacher, noting that he didn’t have this level of support when he needed it most.
“Back then, it was like ‘here are the keys to your classroom …. and good luck,” he said. “We had a vision for something better here, and this is the culmination of that vision. We are fully invested in this model and are excited about what it offers our students and staff.”
When Weidinger started coaching ten years ago, coaches were limited to one or two in each elementary school. Over the years, Lapeer’s coaching program has grown to include secondary coaches at the middle and high school levels. Additionally, it has expanded to include several supports shared across the District such as a new-teacher coach, a data coach and technology coaches.
“This growth of our program, even during financially difficult times, is a commitment to the coaching process and a reflection of how coaching increases student learning,“ she said. “We have a shared belief that through collective action, we positively impact student achievement. Together, we can accomplish great things!”