Video conferences, webinars, hangouts and virtual chats – much of this is uncharted territory in K-12 education. As educators, we thrive on connections and relationships, especially those developed in the classroom. Unfortunately, when crisis strikes, that opportunity can be fleeting. As an instructional coach, it is important to maintain those relationships with your teachers and continue the growth that has already occurred this year. More personally, it is important to continue being a constant presence for your teachers during a time of crisis to continue providing that ‘therapeutic support’ teachers need.
If you are new to video conferencing or have apprehension about it, please understand that is normal. Your teachers will likely feel some apprehension as well, as these tools and platforms are unfamiliar to them. The more times you are able to video conference with your teachers, the more comfortable both of you will become.
Here are some tips and best practices for instructional coaching by video:
Tip #1: Know Thy Etiquette
We all know there are certain rules and etiquette that govern appropriate behavior during face to face interactions. Video conferences also have some standard rules of etiquette that are important for you to understand, but even more essential that you communicate with those you are working with. Consider using your first video conference as a “test meeting” where you and the teacher can ensure the platforms are working correctly, you can make certain teachers understand all the buttons and features in front of them, and that teachers know the social norms and rules acceptable for this new type of interaction.
Luckily, many of the same rules of face-to-face coaching apply to virtual coaching conferences. First and foremost, it is important to be on time. Video conferences allow the teacher and coach to meet from home at a convenient time, so it is important to honor that. You don’t want to be late to a meeting taking place on your own couch.
General courtesy is another face-to-face norm that can apply to virtual conferences. In a face-to-face meeting, courtesy can be demonstrated by silencing your phone, closing your computer, and giving your full attention to the teacher you are coaching. In virtual conferences, it is still important to silence your phone and limit any other distractions. Turn off the TV, find a quiet area, and put away anything that isn’t directly related to the conversation at hand. Another way to show courtesy in virtual meetings is to mute yourself when you are not speaking, and limiting any background noises. A general rule of thumb to consider is, if you wouldn’t do it during a face-to-face meeting, don’t do it during a virtual meeting. This includes having side conversations, checking email and social media, or walking away from the conversation.
In addition to general courtesies, it is important to speak clearly and maintain eye contact during virtual conferences. Because you are not sitting in the same room with the teacher, your body language and tone may not be as clear through video as it is when sitting together. Though technology is an incredible tool, it cannot replace the atmosphere of a natural conversation. When video conferencing, you want to be sure to speak more clearly and perhaps more slowly so the technology can pick up as much of your voice and tonal subtleties as possible. You also want to make sure that you maintain eye contact with your audience, and don’t spend your entire video conference watching the video stream of yourself. If possible, try to hide your personal video feed or position your feed near your camera so that you are always maintaining eye contact with your audience. Though you may be paying close attention to your teacher, if you are looking somewhere other than the camera they could assume that you are not giving them your full attention.
Though this may seem silly, a crucial element to video conferencing etiquette is to dress appropriately. Note that not all clothing will appear the same on camera as it appears in person. Stripes and intricate patterns may produce a “glowing” effect on camera which can be distracting to the audience. You don’t necessarily need to be dressed to the nines, but put on something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to go out in public wearing. One benefit of video conferencing is that you control what is in the frame, so leave on your sweatpants and slippers if that makes you more comfortable. No one will ever know.
The last, and arguably most important piece of virtual conference etiquette is to consider and control your environment. You want to make sure meetings are happening in a private or semi-private location so that you do not have unannounced visitors interrupt your meeting. Though some visitors may be welcomed, like the family dog, others may not be appropriate. To avoid any embarrassing intrusions, try to find a space that is secluded. You also want to make sure that you are aware of your background and what appears on camera. If you don’t want your teachers to see that pile of dirty dishes or the unfolded laundry piled up in a chair, consider moving to a different location or completing these tasks before you meet. Controlling the environment allows you to maintain an appropriate level of professionalism, while also keeping the teacher-coach confidentiality intact.
Tip #2: Have an Agenda
Just like face-to-face coaching meetings, it is important to have an agenda for video conferences. It may be important to share this agenda with teachers beforehand, or develop a shared document between the two of you to keep track of everything that needs to be discussed. Because you are not sitting in the same room, it is easier for the conversation to lull. During video conferences, there are so many additional distractions that face-to-face meetings do not typically have. It is easier to ‘zone out’ during a video conference, because you feel a literal barrier (the computer screen) between you and the teacher you are talking to. Having an agenda will help keep the conversation focused to maximize the time you are spending together. An agenda will also help you as the coach prepare resources for your teachers ahead of time, as well as allow the teacher to prepare any questions they may have for you during the conference.
Tip #3: Share Your Screen
One of the most difficult elements of virtual conferences is the inability to walk teachers through the use of digital tools, side by side. As an instructional coach, we often help teachers learn about new tools by sitting with them, showing them where to click, and helping them develop lessons and activities with that tool. In a virtual conference, it becomes more difficult to collaborate because you aren’t necessarily seeing what the teacher is seeing. This is why sharing your screen is an essential tool to virtual coaching.
Recently, I was on the phone with one of my teachers and they were having an issue with a Google Form. I kept asking if they saw a particular icon to click on, and they just weren’t finding it. After an extended conversation, we realized that we were not looking at the same thing. Once we both got on the same page, the conversation was able to run smoothly, but having the ability to share your screen is a huge benefit in problem solving and working cooperatively with your teachers. Most video conferencing platforms will have a button within the video conference to engage this feature. What is great about screen sharing, is anyone can share their screen so you and your teacher can take turns showing what you’re looking at based on the needs of the conversation.
Tip #4: Smile and Have Fun!
Last, but certainly not least, just smile, be yourself and have fun. These are the same teachers you have been working with all year. You have already done the legwork to build a relationship with them, this is just about maintaining that relationship. There will likely be a natural awkwardness in your first few video conferences, but I promise that your teachers do not care if you are in your sweatpants, and they don’t care what your hair looks like. In times of crisis, teachers just need their support system. I had a teacher FaceTime call me the other day just so she could see and hear a real person. Video conferencing is about your connection with the teacher and helping them through these times as best you can.
Need more video conferencing support? Learn how to use Google Meet in 1 hour from an experienced trainer in our live, interactive Distance Learning Design Sessions.
Megan Purcell is a Digital Learning Specialist and Certified Dynamic Learning Project coach in Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD located in Carrollton, TX. She enjoys working with teachers to help them elevate their teaching through the use of impactful technology tools and strategies. Megan holds a masters degree in Educational Technology, which she earned overseas at the National University of Ireland in Galway, in addition to being a certified Microsoft Innovative Educator and Apple Teacher. She is a former high school English teacher who loves learning, technology, and helping make life easier for her teachers. She believes that every student should have access to current technology in order to develop 21st century skills necessary for participating in a global society.