If you are an instructional coach, whether brand new or experienced, chances are you have been asking yourself, How do I coach virtually or remotely if I need to this school year? If so, know that you are not alone.
The upcoming school year is one we have never prepared for. Right now I know you are unsure of how the 2020-2021 school year will play out. Will you be coaching face-to-face? Will you be in your building, yet asked to coach virtually in order to limit contact? Or will you be coaching from afar because teachers are teaching remotely? So many unknowns. I feel your anxiousness. I see you attempting to prepare. And, I understand your fear. Sometimes I feel helpless – yet I want to assist you in any way I can! Now can be a perfect start of a recipe for change and innovation – for instructional coaching as well as the whole educational system.
Let’s stick to coaching right now! There are many definitions and models of instructional coaching, but at the center is the shoulder-to-shoulder partnership with teachers to improve student outcomes. Can we still be shoulder-to-shoulder from afar? My answer is YES!
Early in my career as a coach, I coached teachers and even instructional coaches on-site, yet being a connected educator for decades, I knew I could cast a wider net. I have now been coaching teachers and instructional coaches virtually for the past six years. For me, the tools, outcomes, and even the process are the same. Together we move through a cycle of co-planning to co-reflecting. We build lasting relationships and share hopes, dreams, struggles, and challenges – even if miles, states and countries apart.
I wish I had a crystal ball to share a clear vision for the upcoming school year – but none of us do. I’d like to offer three actionable tips to help get you started in your planning. The best part, these tips can be of value, whether you are coaching face-to-face or virtually. I will continue to share tips in upcoming posts. Overall, my advice is to keep things SIMPLE!
Tip #1 – CONNECT
Instructional coaching partnerships are built on a strong foundation of a trusting relationship. Now, more than ever, teachers need someone to partner with them, listen to them, and support them – even if that means virtually. Connecting with staff is critical. I read a tweet early today that reminded educators that everyone is a first-year teacher/administrator/coach this year. EVERYONE! No one has gone through a year like the one we are about to start. Here are a few ideas to get you started. My keywords here is EMPATHY and COMPASSION!
- A simple handwritten note – We are all on our computers a lot lately. Sending teachers a handwritten note via snail mail will bring a smile to their face! Continue this practice throughout the school year. Casually introduce yourself in the first note. Add a self-addressed stamped card so teachers could write you back. Let teachers know a few ways you can help them out as they prepare. If this is too costly, email can certainly be used. Strive to make the email more personal.
- Send a SHORT survey – Teachers are very anxious right now. I see it with all my teacher friends. (I know you share similar feelings.) Coaches need to be mindful not to create more anxiety. Be intentional with your survey. Keep surveys or other requests for information very simple. The responses will help you get a feel for what’s on teacher’s minds right now and the direction your coaching may take in the coming months. A few ideas include:
- What are your hopes/dreams for your students this year?
- What is something you want to learn how to do this year?
- How can I help you with your goals?
- What one word best describes how you are feeling right now about the start of the school year?
- Help staff get to know each other – We’ve all missed the connections with our colleagues. Find ways to have teachers get to know each other – virtually.
- Organize a virtual get together. Use a fun virtual team building activity. Nothing too heavy! Here are 35 ideas to get you started. A quick Google search for Virtual Team Builders will bring up many other resources. Aim to use something teachers could replicate with their students.
- As a coach, I loved picking up on teachers’ personalities by visiting their classrooms. The nuggets I found in their classrooms helped me later strike up conversations and build relationships. It helped me note the similarities we share. I learned about their families through pictures, their strengths, and the extraordinary talents they have. One virtual idea is to introduce staff to the Bitmoji classroom concept (if they aren’t familiar with it already). Create a slide of your own, showing your personality. Here is a little sample. You can learn more about the Bitmoji classroom/office idea in this previous post. The four sections below (all done in one Google Slide) say a little about me. I remember my students often thinking I lived at school. The same can hold for the adults if we only know them in the school setting. Knowing their personal passions will open doors to coaching partnerships.
Tip #2 – STAY ORGANIZED
Educators seem to constantly search for ways to stay organized. I have found keeping everything I need on my computer is ideal when virtually coaching teachers and instructional coaches. The Google Suite is my go-to, but you can certainly use any other cloud-based storage system.
I first set up a master Google folder with the resources I will need during virtual coaching calls. I think about all the general materials I’ll need at my fingertips during a call. Inside the main folder, I have subfolders. When the master is complete, I then copy for each coaching partnership. There are some items in the folders just for me to have at my fingertips and other items that I share with the coachee. Resources include but are not limited to:
- Coaching Logs
- Action Planning Template
- Reflective Question Starters
- Curriculum Resources
- Helpful Videos
- Assessment Templates
- Student Engagement Strategies
- Remote Learning Tools – Check out the Distance Learning Playbook developed this summer with educators from around the globe.
- Bitmoji Classroom Ideas (A new addition this year. Check out this blog post.)
I also use a paper planner and a fun notebook. I keep that simple as well. There are many planners on the market. There are many other ways to stay organized – and I find we all need systems that work for us. Chances are you have methods that have worked for you when coaching face-to-face. Think about what will work in a virtual setting. Will you need to revise anything?
Tip #3 – TOOLS TO CONSIDER
As I mentioned earlier, I try to keep things very simple. Besides using Google as described above, here are some tools I’ve found to be helpful.
- A Virtual Meeting platform – I typically use Zoom. Right now I only have the free version. 1:1 calls have unlimited time, while group calls are limited to 40 minutes. I’ve also used Google Meet, Skype, and FaceTime. I find it very important to have a Plan B – such as have the coachee’s phone number handy.
- A Video Coaching platform – One positive about last springs remote teaching, teachers got more use to seeing themselves on camera. This may have been an indirect bonus and a foot in the door to use video when coaching. I find it important to use a secure platform. I am a virtual coach for SIBME so that is the platform I use. There are others on the market. Most of the platforms allow teachers to upload videos to be shared between the coach and teacher as well as house resources.
- A few add-ons – This year I’ve expanded my set up to include a few new toys! My favorites include a ring light, a mic, and a webcam (I have this set). While none of these are really essential, I’ve found them to come in handy! I don’t always use them when on virtual coaching calls. I do use them whenever I’me doing some form of virtual professional development.
Chances are many of the tips above are not new in your world of instructional coaching. I know you’ve built relationships, developed organizational methods, and considered tools to use in your coaching. Use what you know about your craft when you need to move to a virtual setting.
This year the big picture is a bit blurry. Even if you can’t see the full big picture, you can still break your goals into bite-size pieces. I believe in you and want you to COACH with CONFIDENCE! Click here to submit a question or idea for possible upcoming blog posts or virtual training.
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