June 2020

June 15, 2020 - 7 minutes read

Coaching Tip of the Month

We must stop regarding unpleasant or unexpected things as interruptions of real life. The truth is that interruptions are real life” (C. S. Lewis).

I think CS Lewis was right on the money with this quote…certainly our current situation has opened our minds, souls, and eyes to living in a time that was totally unexpected. Yet, what should have caught us most by surprise: transferring our learning to a completely virtual platform, recognizing that some students do not have access to technology, understanding that teaching and learning is fluid and must change to accommodate distance learning, or that we shut the school doors and some schools were successful immediately and some succumbed to overload and frustration?

It is true… we were unprepared to guide or engage teachers and students in navigating the distance learning environment. We, as well as other districts around the globe, hit the ground running by implementing emergency teaching and learning. We prepared packets for students that included review materials, enhancement materials, or enrichment materials but we didn’t really organize into groups of educators who could collaborate within and across the states to create instructional plans that could support new learning in a virtual setting. We were all busy trying to figure out what tools to use or how to adapt our current curriculum to digital learning. But what really mattered – equal access to technology in homes with adult supervision and support – was not highlighted…we didn’t know if students had access to the technology they needed, had the skills they needed to navigate the technology so they could access new learning, or were in an environment with someone to help them. Enter the digital divide and educational inequities. We are caught between a rock and hard place… drive forward yet that leaves some students behind. (Remember, “No Child Left Behind”?) But, the students were not the only ones to be technologically challenged; some teachers were novices at using technology as well. How could they be expected to integrate technology tools into their classroom instruction if they were deficit in those skills?

Like instructional coaching, implementing a fair and just plan during the Covid 19 crisis is not cookie cutter. The plan must include what Jim Knight calls “The Partnership Principles” with generous opportunities for choice, voice, equity, practice, reciprocity, dialogue, and reflection in the work for students, teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators. While I do not usually advocate for the menu approach, each child’s experiences are different during this time and all depend on environment, opportunity, parental support, access, needs, and a host of other factors impacting results. What is necessary and applicable varies both within and across schools.

Instructional coaches and their instructional mentors have been instrumental in helping teachers move their practice forward. They help teachers become more flexible in thinking about what’s important for their students to know, understand, and apply as they focus on student and teacher needs. Once this happens, instructional coaches tailor their support to the individual teachers. That’s where the one-on-one planning (think “before”) becomes so important. This planning is targeted, specific, timely, and sustainable which leads to the reflection (think “after”), i.e., what have I learned about my students that will guide my practice? Where and how support was provided changed, but the intent and the outcomes of the support stayed the same. Instructional coaches continued to provide multiple opportunities for teachers to collectively problem-solve, collaborate, connect, and communicate throughout the remote learning setting. That flexibility reminded the coaches to think outside of the box and to synthesize what they learned about engagement, participation, and motivation from the teachers with whom they work. They encouraged teachers to not only think about topics to “cover” but to think about providing feedback to students in ways that encouraged deeper thinking and promoted change.

Yes, coaches help teachers use a variety of tools to involve their students, but remote learning is much more than the tools used. Remote learning also means that coaches need to help teachers recognize the social-emotional element of online learning and how they can help build resilience and adaptability in situations neither students nor teachers can control. It’s about understanding the trauma created from the pandemic and how to cope with the unknown.

I know we have all learned lessons from the pandemic. How do we ensure that our learnings carry over to the future? How do we use what we have learned?

Instructional coaches must continue to help teachers in several ways:

  1. Plan lessons that focus on student collaboration, document sharing, and co-editing opportunities;
  2. Schedule regular chat groups and video meetings where possible;
  3. Promote self-paced learning so students can move forward at their own pace and make decisions based on their learning needs;
  4. Ask about connectivity issues and hardware needs; share this information appropriately.
  5. Share coping strategies for teachers and students;
  6. Recognize teacher and student needs; address these needs in one-on-one conversations.
  7. Encourage coach collaboration and shared learning;
  8. Discuss promising practices for distance learning;
  9. Build teacher agency and capacity through virtual professional learning sessions;
  10. Adapt and adopt where possible and recognize learning is social so be social albeit virtually!

While we may not know if attendance in the next school year will be virtual, bricks and mortar, or blended, think about the silver lining in this pandemic and “go for the gold!”