What type of learning environment are you currently coaching in right now? As you read this, you might be in a remote learning environment, but that could change in the next 2-4 weeks. Depending on where you are in the country or world, you might be in a face-to-face learning environment.
All of these changes make it increasingly difficult to create consistent coaching cycles and you might even find yourself serving as tech support more than anything these days. Coaches, along with all other educators, have needed to adopt a strong sense of flexibility to support teachers through big periods of transitions. As you move forward, you need core tips and strategies you can rely in any learning environment and through any transitions.
In this post, I’m sharing my top 6 tips for coaching effectively in any learning environment. These are core tried and true tips you can add to your coaching toolbox to use now, as well as in the future.
Tip #1: Check-in with teachers by phone or text to provide encouragement
Teachers are busy, you’re busy as a coach, and whether you find yourself in a remote, blended, or in-person learning environment, face-to-face interaction can be difficult to come by. Teachers are overworked and overwhelmed. They are worried about the health and safety of themselves, their families, and their students. They are being asked to mimic the learning experiences of a normal school year in an environment that is beyond abnormal.
Any seasoned instructional coach will tell you that the first step to coaching is building relationships. Even in a normal educational environment, coaching does not begin with tools or instructional strategies, it begins with getting to know the teachers on a personal level and building a sense of trust and support. These relationships become increasingly more essential when learning environments are constantly changing.
At a time when teachers are worried about the health and safety of everyone around them, instructional coaches need to begin with concern for the health and safety of their teachers. Instructional coaches should set aside some time each morning to check in with the teachers on their campus(es) and provide some support or encouragement. This small gesture can remind teachers that they are not alone and that others are looking out for them in the same way they are looking out for their own loved ones.
Tip #2: Offer Tech Support as Appropriate
While tech support may not be in the instructional coach’s job description, this is an evident need in the current remote learning environment. In many cases, both students and teachers are being asked to use devices and programs they have never used before, often with little or no training. As an instructional coach, we have the opportunity to help both teachers and students navigate these new tools and unfamiliar domains. While some instructional coaches will read this and say, “but I’m not tech savvy” or “I don’t know how all the different tools and platforms work” – that is okay!
As an instructional coach, providing tech support is not necessarily about being tech savvy or having the IT knowledge and skills to be knowledgeable of all the different tools that are out there. Providing technical support as an instructional coach often means conducting research regarding a particular error message teachers keep running into or creating a screencast of how to login to the school’s digital resources. There are many times teachers will be using a digital tool and it just does not function the way they are anticipating. As an instructional coach, I can take the time to research what issues are happening so the teacher can continue their lesson and provide support to students.
Tip #3: Create a One-Stop-Shop of Resources
As instructional coaches become more knowledgeable and proficient with developing resources to share with teachers it is important to curate those resources into a one-stop-shop. There is a significant chance that a question one teacher has will later be asked by several other teachers; and more importantly, when you solve one teacher’s technical issue, several more will ask how to solve that issue as well. For these reasons, it is important for instructional coaches to organize any tip sheets, videos or links they have found into an easy-to-navigate resource for teachers. Some coaches like to use Google Classroom, while others post everything on a Google Site. Regardless of the platform you choose, it is important that this resource be easy to find and navigate. As teachers come to you seeking support, you can direct them back to your resources to find the answers they may need.
Tip #4: Ask to Be Invited as a Co-Teacher or Co-Host During an In-Person or Online Class
One of the benefits to being an instructional coach is the ability to visit multiple classrooms each day to understand and support teacher challenges. If you’re still in a remote learning environment, classroom visits can go virtual. Many instructional coaches have joined in a teacher’s Zoom, Webex or Google Meet lesson to understand what the virtual learning environment is like for both students and teachers. By participating in the video conference, coaches can not only observe what is going on, but they can also provide additional support as a co-teacher, a modeler, or even guest teach a lesson.
In addition to providing support during active lessons, instructional coaches can also provide support through a teacher’s virtual classroom space. Many schools have transitioned to a learning management system during this time – if they were not already using one before – in order to create a virtual classroom environment for students. Whether you are using Google Classroom, Canvas, Blackboard, Schoology or something else, ask teachers to add you to their class as an observer or a co-teacher. Becoming part of that virtual classroom environment will allow you to see how the teacher is organizing their class materials, what types of lessons or activities they are posting, as well as provide insight as to what tools or strategies to recommend.
Tip #5: Provide Feedback on Remote, Hybrid, or In-Person Learning Plans
This leads me to my next tip – providing feedback on learning plans. Because it may be difficult to observe certain instructional moves or challenges during a live classroom experience, understanding those challenges as they relate to the learning plans is essential for providing effective coaching feedback.
As an instructional coach, because much of the learning plan lives online, it is important to provide feedback on that plan. Coaches can discuss with teachers how they are providing feedback on various activities or lessons, how the teacher is helping students navigate the different resources they need to complete their work, and how teachers can provide practice and reassessment opportunities for students to continue progressing their skills. This would be similar to a coach sitting down with a teacher and discussing their lesson plans for the upcoming week. Good instructional practices remain good instructional practices throughout all learning environments.
By joining a teacher’s learning space, coaches can provide feedback to teachers asynchronously which is crucial during this time. Many teachers have been granted “other duties as assigned” and may be covering for sick colleagues during their regularly scheduled off periods. While it is important to have live discussion with teachers, much of this legwork can be completed prior to meeting with your teachers which can help streamline the coaching conversation.
Tip #6: Offer “virtual office hours” for anyone who wants to connect
Lastly, teachers often don’t know what they don’t know and questions can come up at any time. As an instructional coach, consider scheduling virtual office hours where teachers can connect with you for whatever questions or issues they may be having. Some teachers will pop in frequently, while others may have a quick question, but this availability goes a long way in reminding teachers that they have support even when teaching remotely.
While nothing about this school year is normal, there are still ways instructional coaches can adapt their practices to support teachers and students in all learning environments. As I often tell my teachers, anything you can do in a traditional face to face classroom can be done virtually if you are willing to think outside the box – the same goes for coaching. While your cycles may look different, your classroom visits are more infrequent, and your coaching conversations a bit more complex, good coaching strategies remain good coaching strategies even in a blended, remote and in-person learning environment. Providing support, resources, and feedback are still the most effective ways to provide coaching support to teachers, the ways in which this is done may just look a little different for now.
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.