Alison Nye taught kindergarten and first grade for 27 years in the Lawrence school district. She wanted a challenge and when she heard about the new learning coach program the district started in 2008, Nye thought it would be a job she would like.
“I’ve always loved working with student teachers, working in that capacity, building their capacity as well,” Nye said. “I thought this would be a great way to stay right here in Lawrence and just do something a little different.”
The learning coach program followed other teacher support projects such as technology and peer assistants for new teachers. But school leaders said they needed a way to bring those people together to collaborate.
“Each one operated independently,” instructional services division director Angelique Kobler said. “How can we bring them all together and support a consistent message?”
The district has 16 learning coaches spread out among elementary, secondary and special education novice teachers. New teachers are on conditional licenses from the state and having a mentor is part of getting a professional license.
“This is a state requirement,” Kobler said. “It’s critical that the novice teacher receives that support that first year for them to move from their conditional to their professional license.”
One of the district’s new teachers, Kim Ledbetter, is settling into her sixth-grade classroom at Pinckney School. She teaches reading to the oldest two grades in the school. While she home-schooled her children before the family moved to Lawrence, she went to college to become a teacher once she enrolled her children in public schools.
“(Colleges) teach more of the content area and things to prepare and ways to work with students,” Ledbetter said. “But in classroom management, they still don’t get everything.”
Nye is one of the learning coaches assigned to the family of schools that covers Pinckney, Woodlawn, New York, Prairie Park, Hillcrest and the East Heights Early Childhood Family Center. She is available when Ledbetter needs some guidance, and the new teacher says it’s a big help.
“It’s a nice cushion to fall back on, just somebody to actually talk with,” Ledbetter said. “She’s there and she’s never had a problem with me just coming to her and talking with her.”
Learning coaches are paid according to the teacher salary schedule and are funded through Title II-A federal funds.
“Those funds are tied directly to having highly qualified teachers,” Kobler said. “That includes professional development.”
The learning coaches aren’t all from the same background, either — they have experience in different subject areas, including English as a second language.
“We wanted to make sure we had a well-rounded team,” Kobler said.
Nye was new to standardized testing and technology when she began her role as a learning coach. Even though she might not be teaching students, she’s still learning every day.
“I was familiar with early childhood but not so much intermediate grades,” Nye said. She’s learned about the district’s MAP testing, or Measures of Academic Progress, as well as state standards for each grade and different strategies for teaching. “I get to learn and then share that with other people.”
And those other people are benefiting from the real life classroom experiences of the learning coaches.
“It’s just a comfort to know that things you’re wanting to try or do with students, just having that second opinion,” Ledbetter said.
While the learning coach structure is still new, Kobler thinks the program has a bright future. “One of my goals is we continue to assist the district in achieving district goals, building goals, team goals, individuals goals of teachers,” she said.
“But first and foremost, it’s about student learning.”