By Courtney Groskin and Violet Christensen
It has been a year to remember—teachers have had to adjust on the fly to a radical shift in instruction while students faced dramatic lifestyle changes, many at a critical juncture in their development. But let’s leverage the power of the “pause” and take a moment to think of the growth that occurred during the pandemic. Students have become more independent and better-equipped problem solvers, educators have built invaluable skill sets while showing resilience, and coaches have become pillars of support both virtually and in their buildings.
So, in the spirit of possibility, we share five (future-worthy) ways the pandemic has galvanized instructional coaching:
1. Virtual Video Coaching
More than a year ago, asking educators to submit a video clip of their classroom teaching brought anxiety. Now, many teachers are more accustomed to capturing video because of hybrid and virtual instruction. It has become a part of their daily routine.
Edthena, an online coaching platform, elevated our teachers’ instructional practices. The tool allows educators to upload videos and have a coaching conversation inside a safe, password-protected environment with their mentor or coach. While Edthena was part of our school’s coaching process before the pandemic, it has become indispensable in our all-virtual learning environment. If you don’t have access to Edthena, you can always record a class via Zoom and have a follow-up virtual coaching conversation.
2. Building Rapport in Digital Spaces
Similarly, the practice of developing rapport in digital spaces, an essential skill for instructional coaches, has become vital. Building relationships over video was challenging for us at first, but with stronger connections we were able to grow our coaching practice. Since we no longer had to factor commuting to various school sites, video coaching allowed us more time to perform our jobs well.
We are now laser-focused on facial expression, tone, and other small cues that build rapport with coachees during our live video conferencing session via Webex or Zoom. Having the classroom video recorded allows teachers to see themselves as others see them and actively participate in the reflection about what happened within a particular lesson. As coaches, we spend less time convincing teachers of what we saw and, instead, spend more time unpacking instructional practices and cultivating relationships.
3. Winning with Whiteboards
Another major challenge we faced this year was collaborating with students and colleagues in different spaces, while keeping engagement and rigor high. Our school turned to Jamboard, a collaborative whiteboard tool integrated into Google Suite, to strategically reflect with others. For most of the year, we held our professional development sessions via video conferencing. While educators were occasionally in the building physically, due to distancing protocols, we still used video conferencing.
We also created an Inter-District Coaching Collaborative where coaches could come together to reflect, refine, and elevate their practices. Our Jamboard became a “celebration station,” where coaches posted their win of the month in the same digital space. It has been uplifting to be a part of these celebrations.
Jamboard also works to enhance one-to-one coaching experiences. We’ve used it to reflect on our coaching progression over this year by having educators and coaches collaboratively list all the goals they worked on together. The coachee was able to sort all the concepts into things that he felt were mastered, being worked on, or were new skills to attain. We could then work on a visual reflection board together in real-time. These collaborative practices have assisted in deepening the level of interdependence within our teams and coaching relationships.
4. Self-care Is a Must-Do, Not a Nice-to-Have
Self-care is not just a trendy word; the concept is truly vital for us to be able to sustain the work we are doing as educators and coaches. To do our best work, we must promote the best versions of ourselves and allow the time to shut down and invest in self-care. When we do, we bring renewed energy to our jobs and have the mental capacity to dive into more intentional self-reflective teaching and learning practices.
Christian Van Nieuwerburgh, a professor of positive psychology and recent guest of the C3: Connecting, Coaches, Cognition podcast, talked about “how important it is for educators to be intentional about taking care of their well-being during this time.” As he noted, “It’s not indulgent to look after our own psychological well-being—it’s our professional responsibility.”
This year, our teachers and coaches have doubled down on self-care. Many have downloaded and used the Calm app, which provides free meditations, calming music, and masterclasses (as well as a premium subscription option). We have also encouraged one another to get in touch with nature by doing something as simple as opening the window for a nice breeze, taking a walk to the mailbox to step away for a moment, or planning a long hike to decompress. We even had a counselor create a self-care bingo board for educators to complete over winter break—educators participated in journaling, exercising, closing screens, recuperating sleep, and doing something creative.
5. Coaching Teams vs Teachers
The biggest tool that has nothing to do with technology, blended learning, or other programs is the good-old power of a team. “Sometimes the greatest PD is the teacher down the hall,” wrote Brian Aspinall, best-selling author and three-time TEDx speaker, on Twitter.
Throughout the pandemic, the teams that have thrived are the ones who came together, innovated together, and adapted together. We saw teams who met all day every Friday (a planning day) to prepare for the week; teams who divided and conquered to make the workload more manageable; and teams who arranged times at 9:00 p.m. after the kids went to bed, met for early morning planning sessions, or worked over lunch to make sure they were calibrated for the week. As coaches, we really tried to focus on what went well during the week: true success came from building on the wins rather than what was not working in a lesson.
No matter the model, these teams came together to answer the question, “What do students need from us right now?” We found more answers as a team than we ever could have individually.
Whether it’s leveraging video chat, using digital tools to support communication, or setting aside time for self-care, we need to stay mindful of how we can embed successful pandemic practices into the fiber of our coaching repertoire.
Courtney Groskin and Violet Christensen are learning coaches at St. Vrain Valley Schools in Longmont, Colorado, and hosts of the podcast C3:Connecting Coaches Cognition.