If you’re anything like me, you’re a rule follower. I can’t help it, that’s just the way I was programmed. One of the things I love about being a Dynamic Learning Project Coach is I have a clear direction to follow in the ways in which I schedule coaching cycles and conduct coaching meetings. While some of you have been able to do this on your own, I wanted to address the rule followers in the room. You hereby have my permission as a fellow instructional coach, to go rogue. Now, if my credentials are not enough for you to feel comfortable throwing the Dynamic Learning Project coaching cycle out the window, I assure you I was given permission from Heather Dowd herself to let you know you may go rogue.
Though having a structure is a great benefit to being a Dynamic Learning Project coach, the other benefit of being part of this program is the network of support. Nearly all the leaders that have designed the Dynamic Learning Project and mentor coaches within the program have, or continue to be, classroom educators themselves. These leaders have been in your shoes so they understand the enormous amount of stress you are under. These leaders understand that, just as teachers do, we are sometimes forced to change our approach.
One of the greatest skills a teacher can possess is the ability to be flexible – we don’t lose that ability when we become instructional coaches. Coaches, like teachers, need to remain flexible and adapt their practices to suit the needs of their learners. In the case of COVID-19, flexibility will continue to be the greatest asset you can possess. Though I have two teachers request that I keep their cycle intact as much as possible, most of my teachers feel too overwhelmed for traditional coaching at this time. Some teachers will have different needs and requests, and as a coach you need to be able to be flexible and adapt along with them.
Now that you have permission to go rogue – seriously, please do – I wanted to share some adaptations you can make to your coaching cycle to better suit the needs of teachers during this time.
Tip #1: Host Webinars or Professional Development Trainings
Just because you aren’t meeting with teachers face-to-face anymore, doesn’t mean you can’t continue to help them grow. I am sure many of you have already taken advantage of video conferencing platforms to increase communication across your campus or district. You can use these video platforms to host webinars or professional development training for your teachers, and show them tools or tips that will help them engage in remote learning.
My district has hosted several webinars centered around the three main learning management systems available in our district. We had training for brand new users to help them get started, as well as training for high flyers in which we could show them the latest updates or hidden features. The purpose of these training sessions was to help teachers get up and running with remote learning and establish some level of continuity across the campuses and the district.
Hosting these webinars was another great way to connect with teachers and uncover issues or questions that may not have otherwise been addressed. You can discuss best practices for the tools you are using and troubleshoot any issues a teacher may have. It is also not uncommon for teachers to reach out to you at a later date asking for more tips and tricks that you may have, which is a great way to continue building relationships with your staff during this time.
Tip #3: Demo Slam
As instructional coaches, we all have our favorite tools that help make our lives easier. If you are unable to, or uncomfortable with hosting a training webinar, you can start small with a demo slam. Pick your favorite trick or tool and screencast yourself explaining or demonstrating why you love it so much. You can send that screencast to your staff letting them know that if they have questions about the tool or would like more training, they can set that up with you. Some teachers will be able to take your ideas and run with them on their own, but there may be some that need a little more support. Demo slams are a great way to show teachers the tools available to them, and allow them to continue adding tools to their own toolbox.
Tip #4: Check-In via Email
This one may seem like a duh, but I wanted to mention it anyway. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time these days in my email. Email is the text message of the professional world. What I love about doing email check-ins is that I can send emails and respond to emails at my leisure. This is great for teachers as well. We know that many have additional responsibilities while at home, so email is a good way to leave a quick note for a teacher and let them respond when they have a moment.
Now, what I don’t want you to do is send an email to everyone on your campus at once and get flooded by 500 replies. Every week I reach out to a handful of teachers – literally a handful – and just let them know I am checking in to see how they are doing. I ask if they are healthy and if there is anything I can assist them with at this time. Short and sweet is best. Even if the teacher’s don’t need any support at this time, keeping the lines of communication open will go a long way in maintaining the relationships you have already developed with your staff.
I also wanted to add a note about email for my type-A coaches out there – it is okay to walk away from your inbox with unread messages. Just because you have an email, that does not mean you need to respond to it at that exact moment. Remember, email is a great tool because it allows you to respond when convenient – it’s like that answer message when you call the doctor’s office. Make an appointment when you are available and call 911 for emergencies. If a teacher has an emergency, they need to contact their campus principal or your district help resource. Emails can wait.
Tip #5: Celebrate on Social Media
One thing people need during a time of crisis is to be reminded of all the good happening in the world. If you are like me, remembering to celebrate your teachers was something you struggled to find time to do while we were on campus. Take all of those celebrations you saved up and use this time to post them to social media. You can highlight awesome things teachers have done, or are currently doing to support their students. These celebrations don’t have to be just about instructional practices or technology tools teachers are using, you can celebrate your teachers with a shoutout of kind words. Many of you have worked with a teacher previously this year and you just want to remind them how awesome they are – share that with the world. Teachers, now more than ever, need to feel appreciated and supported. During this time we have the opportunity to share with the world how amazing and valuable our teachers are.
Tip #6: Start Planning for Next Year
Another way you can adapt your current coaching cycle during COVID-19 is to use this time to plan for next year. I have had a few teachers already reach out to me and say something along the lines of, “Now that I know how to do _____, maybe next year you can help me with ______.” As teachers continue to grow and learn new things during this time, it might spark an interest in seeking out future coaching opportunities. Maybe there are teachers who were reluctant to coaching the first time around, but after this situation have recognized a need for it in the future. Maybe this crisis has illuminated some gaps in teacher’s knowledge and understanding of key instructional tools, which you can leverage as areas to focus on with the campus once classes resume.
Personally, my district was supposed to have been using a learning management system for the last couple of years. Naturally, not everyone was and that was okay at the time, but COVID-19 quickly changed that. I have often joked that when I facilitate training next year I’m going to refer back to COVID for the importance of staying ahead of the curve – or at least staying within the ballpark. My goal is for my teachers to not feel as unprepared as they did when schools closed. I know that’s a pipe dream, but I think it’s possible.
Even though COVID-19 has disrupted our ability to adhere to the Dynamic Learning Project coaching cycle as it was originally designed, it does not stop us from using pieces of it to continue supporting professional growth. Take this time to go rogue, to adapt to your needs, and to support teachers in the way that is best for them. If you have the opportunity to go back to the coaching cycle structure, that is great, but if you can’t that is perfectly fine as well.
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.