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Meet Michelle AuCoin, An Educator Passionate About Empowering Students with Different Learning Abilities

She loves employing hardworking people and seeing them pass on their expertise and passion to students

Michelle AuCoin is the Founder and President of LearnAbility Educational Solutions (since 2005). Michelle and her team have taught thousands of students for decades, specializing in Learning Disabilities. A 28-year veteran of education, Michelle completed her Bachelor of Arts in Communication and has a Master’s in Education, majoring in Special Education. She is the 2022 Winner of the Businessperson of the Year Award for the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Next Gen Vital Employer Excellence Award in 2021, the Cape Breton Chamber of Commerce Professional Services award in 2013, and the 2012 Businesswoman award for Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation (ECBC).

Michelle is currently on the National Committee for the development of the Putting a Canadian Face on Learning Disabilities (PACFOLD) project with the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. She previously worked on multiple initiatives with the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, including being a contributor to the National manual: A Roadmap on LD for Employers. Michelle has been married for 26 years to her husband Darryl and has a 24-year-old son who has become the Business Development Officer for LearnAbility.

My first job ever was… working in my family’s small corner store when I was a teenager. Perhaps without realizing it, this is where I received my initial introduction to small business and a strong work ethic. 

Before my work with LearnAbility Educational Solutions, I was… working in the field of specialized education, awareness, and advocacy. In 1994, I started working at a communication clinic in Halifax. By 1999, I started doing contracts with the Learning Disabilities Association of both Nova Scotia and the national organization LDAC until I opened my own private practice in 2005. 

I founded LearnAbility because… I recognized a need for specialized education in my community. I was approached by multiple families who knew what I had done when I worked in Halifax before relocating to Cape Breton in 2000. Word of mouth spread quickly, and I became very busy with families desperate to get support for their children, most of whom had diagnosed learning disabilities. 

I’m passionate about accessible education because… I see the difference accessible education makes in the lives of adults and children. Without access to intervention, equitable services, accommodations, and strategies, there are adults and children who will slip through the cracks, leave school or post-secondary, choose programs that are below their actual potential, or be underemployed. 

My proudest accomplishment is… creating my company from the ground up and growing it from a home-based small sole proprietorship to a Women Business Enterprises Canada Council (WBE) and Inclusive Workplace & Supply Council of Canada (IWSCC) certified national corporation. Over the course of 18 years, my company has grown to employ more than 25 individuals. I took a chance on myself after working for others and in a non-profit. I had no idea how to start or grow a business, but something told me that I not only had the potential, but that I needed to create something that would help children and adults struggling to learn. 

My biggest setback was… the COVID-19 pandemic. As with many companies during this period, we saw a decline in our services because we were primarily an in-person business. 

I overcame it by… creating a new strategy immediately and pivoting. During March Break 2020, it became apparent that we were not going to be able to open as scheduled the following week. My team and I went into emergency mode and determined that we could move everything online. It took research for the best platforms, investments in software and hardware, and a team willing to change their jobs into online instructors. Although enrolment declined, we were able to keep our business because we adjusted. 

My best advice for anyone that cares about a cause and wants to contribute to it would be… to simply put yourself out there and be open to whatever comes your way. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… to always integrate self-care into your schedule just like you would any other meeting.  

The thing I love most about what I do is… teaching. No matter what I do as an executive, I always make sure that I maintain a certain amount of students in my schedule. It keeps me inspired and my skills as an educator sharp.  

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… good mentorship. I have had the great fortune of being mentored by community leaders, the Centre for Women in Business, WBE and the IWSCC. I also had the very good fortune of having a bank – TD —who recognized that I had a good business plan and a strong future. They took a chance on me, and I am incredibly grateful. Mentorship can change the trajectory of a career or business, and every entrepreneur should investigate and find a good fit. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I grew up with epilepsy. At nine years old, I was diagnosed after several severe seizures. I had parents who encouraged me and almost demanded that I not allow my disability to interfere with my dreams. It did not. I had a son when I was told I would not be able to have children. I have multiple degrees and a business, despite being told that I may not even finish high school. My epilepsy did not define me nor did it get in my way. I learned to accommodate and compensate, but always move forward. 

I stay inspired by… having the opportunity to employ hardworking people, and then seeing them pass on their expertise and passion to our students. We are changing the lives of our students by helping them to learn the way they need to learn. 

The future excites me because… we continue to evolve and grow. I am amazed every day by how we are still gaining contracts, students, recognition, and building a larger team. It requires being “open to the magic” as one of my mentors says and practicing my motto: “No’s are free!”

My next step is… continuing to support students in all areas of our country, especially students who do not have access to support, perhaps because they are in rural areas, under serviced areas, or impoverished communities. Our vision and execution as a company is based on our social values.