Coaching Chronicles: What’s Working During Distance Learning
One of the things I have heard the most throughout this time of COVID-19 is that teachers and coaches feel a sense of inadequacy. Defeat. Frustration. Hopelessness. Most of all, coaches feel a sense of overwhelm. In the transition to remote learning, instructional coaches – especially those with an emphasis on digital learning – have become the most sought after resources by teachers and administrators. While this is great for job security and satisfaction, it can feel incredibly isolating. Aside from these feelings, the other thing I have noticed is that many instructional coaches assume they are the only ones with these feelings. I am here to tell you that you are not alone. There are teachers and coaches everywhere who are feeling the same frustrations you are.
For this post, I wanted to do something a little different. I know I can sit here and tell you that you’re not alone, but what the heck do I know, right? I mean I’m just one person sitting in a room by myself typing on the computer – my viewpoint is limited to myself. For this post, I wanted to share someone else’s experience other than my own, so I reached out to a fellow Dynamic Learning Project Coach – Teresa Engler.
Teresa is an instructional coach in the McGuffey School District in Washington County, Pennsylvania. She was gracious enough to answer some questions for me about her experience during COVID-19, share what’s working for her and her teachers, as well as tips she has learned along the way.
Below you will find the questions I asked her, followed by her response; Teresa and I shared this exchange via email.
Megan Purcell: What has gone well during your transition to remote learning?
Teresa Engler: I’ve been able to field questions from my teachers instantly. When they need me, they send an email, they text, or they call, and I’m able to give them one on one coaching almost on demand. I’ve created personalized PD by using Loom or Screencastify to create tutorials and mini lessons on how to use specific apps or tools to help teachers troubleshoot issues they may be having. I hold office hours via Meet every morning, so I’m accessible to every teacher as they have questions or request help with their lessons. I actually feel like I am getting a lot accomplished by not having to travel in my car back and forth to each school. More quality time is devoted to working on researching a tool, setting up meetings with teachers, or coaching the teachers as they work through the remote learning process.
MP: What has been your greatest challenge during the transition to remote learning?
TE: Working from home has its own distractions. My husband is also working from home, so we are navigating around one another. I have a puppy who is also demanding my attention at times. It’s hard to be away from a physical work environment. I can’t just pop in to help a teacher or check in with how a lesson is proceeding. Sometimes you need that in person collaboration to work through the challenges. Holding meetings on Zoom and Meet are helpful, but they cannot replace the personalized meetings and the “ in the moment” classroom visits.
MP: What tools or resources are you finding most useful to you during this time?
TE: I love Loom. I’ve used it in the past, but I haven’t really appreciated how useful it is until now. I’ve been giving one to one instructions and tutorials to teachers by simply recording a quick Loom video. I send the teachers the links to the tutorials as they need them. I also cannot live without Google Classroom and Meet. I love that the office hours link is posted directly to Google classroom. No one has to search for it or ask me to send it. They just access it in the classroom. I’m also able to keep my resources organized by topic in Google Classroom. I post one or two tips a day and one or two tutorials a week directly to the Classroom stream.
MP: How are you setting boundaries for working from home?
TE: I have a schedule that I’ve shared with our teachers. Office hours are early in the morning and at the end of the day. This way, I am able to answer questions before teachers post lessons to their own classrooms each morning, and I’m available at the end of the day in case there were issues that need to be addressed before the next day. I’ve been offering #LunchOnLine PD sessions every Tuesday in order to keep offering meaningful remote learning opportunities for staff. The teachers are welcome to contact me via email or text before or after school, but there is an understanding that I may not respond until regular business hours the next day. Honestly, though, I feel like a doctor who is on call for my patients, and if someone is in a bind, I don’t mind helping, even if it is after hours. I don’t make it a habit, but as the coach, I feel a little bit of a responsibility to the teachers if they need me….now that we are all using some sort of remote working/learning schedule, I also have to be respectful of teachers and their time. They themselves may be working with helping their own children learn from home, there may be other adults in their homes working as well. The evening or the early morning may be the only time they have to contact me for help. Teachers can always make an appointment with me if they’d like to set up personalized coaching times.
MP: What is your favorite brain break or de-stressing activity?
TE: I take three breaks a day to walk my dog, to make a cup of tea, or to sit outside if the weather is nice.
MP: If you could give other coaches one piece of advice for navigating this challenging time, what would it be?
TE: No one is perfect and no one has a perfect way to handle the situation we are in. Do what is best for you. The one piece of advice is to make a schedule. In that schedule give yourself “me” time. Make sure you add a designated lunch break. Give yourself “normal” time at night to decompress. If you keep to a schedule, you’ll feel like you are maintaining control over your time during the day.
MP: Anything else you want to share?
TE: I try to look at all of the positives. My glass is always half full. That mad rush in the morning is gone. I love that I do not have to drive to work. I’m saving money on gas. I don’t stress over what I’m wearing or getting to work on time. I’m happy to connect with so many teachers right now. They all have access to me throughout the day, whereas before, I was scheduled in specific buildings every day and working with only a few teachers at a time. I love the on-demand personalized coaching I’m able to offer the teachers. I feel useful, almost like I am one of their lifelines. Everything is online now, so an instructional technology coach has a lot to offer in terms of helping teachers use tools in meaningful ways with remote lessons.
My hope is that this interview with Teresa has affirmed any feelings you have felt during this time. As I read through her responses, there were so many moments I was nodding in agreement or just thinking to myself, “YES!! I feel the EXACT same way!” I’ve said it before that instructional coaching can be lonely, especially if you are the only coach on your campus or in your district, but rest assured, coaches everywhere stand with you.
COVID-19 has been unexpected, it has been challenging and it has really pushed the limits of what we thought we were capable of. For every inadequacy, frustration or defeat, just remember that you are not alone. We are all navigating the same uncharted territory and we are all in this together. I’m sure you’ve heard that cliche more times than you’d like to count at this point, but the sentiment still stands. You are not alone.