The rapidly changing nature of the world is having a dramatic impact on society, the workforce, and ultimately education. Just a few months ago, educators across the country were asked to uproot everything they knew about teaching and learning to transition to a new form of teaching amid a global pandemic. Though the dust has not yet settled, educators are becoming increasingly more equipped to handle teaching in this new environment. As instructional coaches, it is our obligation to support our teachers through this difficult time and ensure that students are still getting the education they deserve. As teacher’s roles have, and will continue, to change, so will the role of the instructional coach.
While some districts may be fortunate to return to face-to-face learning come fall, even those environments will likely be vastly different from what has been the norm for decades. Some districts are offering a blended model of learning, and still, others are opting for complete remote instruction. Regardless of which circumstance you find yourself in, there are instructional coaching strategies applicable in all settings.
Here are five tips for navigating blended and remote instructional coaching.
Tip #1: Relationships Still Matter
Whether you are coaching face-to-face, in a blended model, or completely online, there is one thing that will never change – relationships matter! Regardless of the context, it is important as an instructional coach to establish a relationship with each of the teachers you are coaching. While remote coaching may make this opportunity a little more difficult, it is imperative to find a way to speak with each teacher live. You can set up a Zoom meeting, socially distance at school, or connect on the phone if all else fails, but it is important to start with that human connection.
Once that initial connection is established, the relationship needs to continue to build throughout the coaching cycle. Now, more than ever, teachers are feeling anxious about returning to school. Teachers are scared for their health and the health of their family. Teachers are worried about their students and the learning they will be able to provide them. Teachers feel isolated and alone in their feelings and often cope in silence. As an instructional coach, I have often joked that a significant element of my job is providing therapy to teachers and allowing them to vent their feelings and frustrations – but that is no longer a joke, it has become a job requirement.
As you coach teachers throughout the school year, and especially this fall, it is important to not only provide technical and instructional support, but moral support as well. Check in with your teachers often, ask about how they are doing, and how things are going at home. Offer to counsel and support them in any way possible. Just as teachers often worry about their students beyond the school day, you will find yourself as a coach worrying about your teachers.
Whether you are coaching face-to-face, in a blended model, or remotely – a trusting relationship is going to be essential. Things may not go smoothly, things may fail miserably, and things may not work the first time. It is important to be available to support teachers when things go awry, it is important to have troubleshooting resources available for teachers, and it is important to be someone your teachers feel comfortable reaching out to.
While relationship building is important in traditional coaching environments, it is imperative in blended and remote coaching models. Without a relationship, it is highly unlikely teachers will prioritize coaching – especially in the context of this pandemic. Building relationships will not only help teachers be successful, but it will help prioritize coaching.
Tip #2: Include Both Synchronous and Asynchronous Support
While many schools are offering both virtual and face-to-face learning options, instructional coaches need to follow suit. One of the good things that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic – if you can find any good things – is the integration of both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Teachers have been saying for years that learning does not just occur in a classroom, and now is our chance to really prove that. In addition to broadening the scope of learning, teachers and schools are becoming more accepting of students learning at their own pace, on their own time.
It is no secret that teachers do not have much downtime throughout the course of a school day – that’s usually one of the reasons they avoid being coached at all costs. However, if coaches could provide both synchronous and asynchronous support to teachers, coaching not only becomes more accessible, but it also allows the coach to accommodate each teacher’s different needs. As an instructional coach, I encourage you to develop tutorials, handouts, or a collection of general tips that you can share with teachers. These instructional pieces should be easy for the teacher to understand and follow on their own, in addition to being accessible at any time.
In addition to offering support to teachers asynchronously, teachers can request help from coaches asynchronously as well. While some teachers may be teaching face-to-face, it might not be safe or comfortable to have additional bodies in the room for classroom visits. In this case, the teacher can record themselves facilitating a lesson and send that video to the coach to receive feedback. The coach can analyze the video and make notes or suggestions based on what they see, which would provide some talking points for the next coaching meeting.
Tip #3: Develop a Cadence
While flexibility will be the name of the game in 2020, it is still important for an instructional coach to develop a cadence for coaching. Typically coaching takes place in cycles and each cycle has a cadence for meetings and classroom visits. While meetings and classroom visits may look a little different this year, it is still important to develop some kind of coaching rhythm to keep yourself on track.
The first thing you should decide is whether or not you want to establish coaching cycles, how many, and for how long. Some coaches may want to stick to 8-week cycles, some may want to adapt them to 6 or 9 week grading periods, while others may want to rotate teachers by month. Once the length of the cycle has been determined, it must then be decided how many teachers will be coached. My word of advice – just because more teachers will need help during this time, that does not mean you have to serve them all at once. Decide what load is manageable for you, and enlist the help of some rockstar teachers when needed. Some teachers just need help setting up their Google Classroom, while others need more in-depth assistance. Determine what your teachers need and prioritize who gets your support.
Once you have determined how many teachers you will coach and for how long, the next step in the cadence is determining how to structure your weeks and your days. Depending on whether students are remote learning or face-to-face learning will have a significant impact on what you decide. Maybe one day a week is video conferencing with all of your teachers being coached, while another day is spent researching best practices and putting together resources. What is important is that you as a coach find and develop a cadence that works for you, and you stick to it!
Don’t be afraid to schedule things on your calendar to keep yourself accountable. In these uncertain times and unfamiliar environments, it is easy to get sidetracked and distracted from your goals.
Tip #4: Don’t Forget Pedagogy
While many teachers are celebrating digital learning opportunities, others are less than thrilled. As evidenced by the remote learning transition in the spring, many teachers went into survival mode and began posting worksheets online for students to complete at home. While this type of instruction was appropriate for initial crisis management, it has become increasingly important for teachers to rethink and redefine the ways they are approaching remote learning. As an instructional coach, it will be critical for you to keep pedagogy at the forefront. Many teachers will want to just post worksheets in Google Docs or have the students watch a YouTube video and answer some questions about it, but in these contexts that may not be the best facilitation of instruction.
As the environment changes, the instruction must change with it. It is important for teachers to engage their students just as they would in the classroom, despite the difficulties presented by distance. Some teachers will look for the latest and greatest tech gadget, and their students will end up playing with toys instead of learning the content. As the instructional coach, it is important to ensure that teachers are not throwing pedagogy out the window, especially in remote settings. Good teaching strategies will always remain good teaching strategies, and there is almost always a way to facilitate those same strategies remotely – you just might have to get creative.
At the end of the day, schools are asking students to return to learning because it has been deemed important, so we need to make sure we are providing a quality education for our kids. Don’t be afraid to hold teachers accountable and let them know when the pedagogy has been neglected, just be sure to have some suggestions prepared to provide support. Now, more than ever, your PLN (professional learning network) is going to be a great resource for new ideas, support, and growth.
Tip #5: Be Prepared for Anything
As previously mentioned, flexibility is the name of the game for 2020 and you must be prepared for ANYTHING! It is easy for me to sit here and prescribe suggestions or resources, but those may become obsolete in seconds depending on what happens with COVID-19 and government regulations. Teachers need to be prepared for face-to-face instruction, remote instruction, blended instruction, and for those environments to change at the drop of a hat. As instructional coaches, we need to be ready to support teachers in each of those environments as well as help them make the transitions between the platforms.
In addition to being ready for supporting teachers in all settings, you must also be prepared to perform job duties that are both new and familiar to you. Even though our job title is ‘instructional coach’ we all know that teachers are often asked to take on “other duties as assigned.” Do not be surprised if you get additional duties added to your plate, depending on your role in your school or district. These are uncertain times for everyone and school leaders are doing their best to provide the type of education students deserve. Teachers will be asked to wear many hats this year, and as coaches, we likely will too. No matter what gets thrown at you, it is important to be flexible, work to the best of your ability, and always keep a stash of chocolate around for emergencies.
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.