As this COVID-19 crisis continues to develop worldwide, schools are relying on distance learning to continue providing educational experiences for their students. As an instructional coach, it is becoming increasingly important to stay connected with your teachers and campuses to provide the support needed during this time.
With all the virtual tools out there, it can be overwhelming for coaches – and especially new coaches – to know what is going to work best for their needs. Please be advised that this post is NOT my advocating for particular tools or resources, but rather sharing my experience with these different tools in the hopes of allowing you to choose the best option for yourself, your teachers and your campus.
Staying connected with teachers can be done in several ways, the most popular being text, email and video. Here are a few tools I have used as an instructional coach that may be worth looking into as you continue navigating this new territory. Though email is the most common, arguably simplest and most preferred method of contact, there are other scenarios in which text or video might be more appropriate. Here are a few tools that have become increasingly more popular for educators in the digital age.
Tool #1: GroupMe
GroupMe is a mobile group messaging app owned by Microsoft. GroupMe works by downloading the app or accessing the site from the web. The app is available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Windows 10, though a smartphone is not required to participate with GroupMe. Those who do not wish to use the app are able to use the web version, or send and receive messages via SMS. Accounts are created using your name, phone number and a password – you may also connect using your Facebook or Twitter account. When interacting with others in GroupMe, only your display name and photo are shared with others. Other members cannot see your phone number or other personal information, which is helpful if you do not want to be giving out your personal phone number.
When using GroupMe, users can keep in touch over Wi-Fi rather than using cellular data. This allows members to keep in contact with groups or individuals without fear of message fees or limits. GroupMe has the capability to send text messages, as well as share photos, videos, documents and web-links as well. The app also has features for creating polls and calendar events to share with other group members.
There are a few privacy and security features GroupMe can offer for educational purposes. For instance, on-screen notifications can be set up to pop up without content. Notifications can be turned off or muted for specific individuals or conversations. There is also no way to delete a GroupMe message after it is sent, the message can only be hidden from the current stream of conversation. There is the ability to archive conversations and export conversational data, so you can maintain a record of what has been shared or discussed. GroupMe allows you to connect with individuals or hold group conversations. Groups are limited to 500 members per group.
I have not used GroupMe to connect with the teachers I am coaching, but I frequently use GroupMe to connect with instructional coaches at other campuses as well as connect with my district team. This is a great way to quickly ask other coaches a question or get some advice without using SMS or email.
Tool #2: Remind
Remind, formerly known as Remind 101, is another group messaging app that can be used to stay in contact with teachers. Admittedly, my knowledge and experience with this app is limited because my district has curtailed our use of this tool. I was able to use Remind in a previous district and know that it remains a popular tool among educators.
Unlike GroupMe which is designed for use by anyone, Remind was designed to be used specifically by the K-12 school community. Remind offers real-time messaging to a group of users or an individual person. Messages can be sent to any phone, you do not need a smartphone or even internet to use Remind. Messages can be sent on the go using a laptop, mobile app or tablet as well, which allows for several ways to connect with others. Remind even has the capability to translate messages into more than 85 different languages, which can be a great tool for working with non-native speakers.
Because Remind was designed with the intention of being utilized by schools, the app has the ability to schedule when messages go out. There is also a feature to enable “office hours” which will determine when others are able to contact you. This feature could be very useful for instructional coaches as we need to remain connected, but not necessarily 24/7. This would allow you to schedule your availability and then not be disturbed when you are on personal time. Remind also offers the ability to see who has read your messages after they are sent, and you can turn off replies when you are done with a conversation.
Just like GroupMe, Remind allows you to share photos, PDF files and voice clips as part of your conversation. Remind also has the ability to access and share additional resources from Google, Microsoft and OneDrive and will even connect with external tools like FlipGrid, SignUpGenius and Survey Monkey. Similarly to GroupMe, Remind allows you to export or download the message history for record keeping purposes.
How to use GroupMe and Remind as an instructional coach: Set up a group with other instructional coaches so you can check in on each other and ask questions. Set up a group with the teachers you have been coaching as an easier way to communicate and allow teachers to communicate with each other. Send direct messages to individual teachers as a way to keep in touch, without giving out personal phone numbers and information. Share any tutorial videos, photos of screenshots or other helpful information directly through the messaging app to eliminate the need for email downloads.
Tool #3: Zoom
Zoom has been seemingly popular in the corporate world, but has made the jump to education as it is offering free services for schools during this time. Zoom is a remote conferencing system that combines video conferencing, online meetings, chat and mobile collaboration.
Zoom offers free video conferencing for up to 100 participants, with a 40-minute time limit on group meetings. Users can have this time limit lifted if they send in a request using a school email address. 1 on 1 meetings are also an option with this product, and include unlimited minutes. Zoom allows users to conduct polls, participate in chats during video conferences and provide non-verbal feedback while in a video conference. Participants can change the background image they are sitting in front of which is a good way to camouflage any messy workspaces. Zoom offers the ability to record video conferences as well as provide transcripts to those recordings. Zoom allows multiple participants to share their screen simultaneously as well as co-annotate on the screen being viewed.
Zoom meetings can be scheduled and started from Outlook or Gmail, though the first meeting may require a download of the Zoom host system.
One downside that Zoom is currently addressing is the issues with the privacy and security of user information. Zoom claims to be FERPA compliant, but there have been concerns about user data being shared with third-party companies. While this makes Zoom a less than ideal option when working with students or sharing sensitive information, it may still provide advantageous support to teachers working with instructional coaches.
Tool #4: Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts is a communication software product developed by Google and available as part of the G Suite. Hangouts allows conversations between two or more users that can be accessed online through Gmail, Google+ websites or mobile apps for Android and iOS.
Chat histories that take place via Hangouts are saved online which allows them to be synced between devices. Photos shared during conversations are automatically uploaded into a private Google+ album so users can access them at any time. Hangouts can be recorded and archived so you can revisit a conversation or lesson at a later time.
Tool #5: Google Hangouts Meet
Google Hangouts Meet is a video communication service developed by Google. Meet is one of two apps that will constitute the new version of Google Hangouts – the other being Google Hangouts Chat. At launch, Meet featured a web app, an Android App and an iOS app that allowed for video conferencing services for up to 30 participants. As Meet has developed, features have allowed G Suite basic users to host 100 members per call and G Suite Enterprise users to host up to 250 members per call.
Users can join Meet conferences from the web or using the Android or iOS app. There is also the ability to call into meetings with a dial-in number. Scheduled Meet conferences integrate with Google Calendar which allows for one-click meeting access. Meet, similarly to other video conferencing platforms, allows users to screen-share to present documents, spreadsheets or presentations. Meet also offers real-time closed captioning during conferences.
How to use Zoom, Google Hangouts and Google Meet as an instructional coach: Video conferencing is an essential tool for instructional coaches working remotely. In a typical coaching conversation, you are able to sit with your teachers as you research and explore solutions to various challenges. Remotely, however, that collaboration becomes more difficult. Video conferencing allows you to share your screen with the teacher you are coaching (or vice versa) so that you both can collaborate and problem solve at the same time. Video conferences also help with quick check-ins as it allows teachers to see your face in these difficult times.
Tool #6: Google Voice
Google Voice is a telephone service that provides voice, text messaging, call forwarding and voicemail services for Google account customers. Google Voice is a way for users to continue using their personal cell phone for work purposes without giving out their personal information. Google Voice provides a US telephone number, chosen by the user from available numbers in selected area codes. Calls to this number are forwarded to the user’s chosen device. Users may also place outbound calls from any of the devices linked to the Google Voice number. Google Voice even offers PC-to-phone calling and PC-to-phone texting using Google Talk from the web.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, these are a few of the tools that seem to be most popular at the start up of the virtual teaching movement. Each of these tools are ones that I have used before, which is why I chose to share them. If you have other tools that are helping you connect with teachers during this time, please be sure to share them with your PLN and with EdTechTeam on Twitter! Feel free to tag me @Ms_MeganEDU with any tips, tricks or questions.
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.