Virtual Coaching – Benefits and Basics

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Marcia_RockHave you ever found yourself challenged in the classroom — wishing you could turn to someone immediately for a guiding hand or an encouraging word? As a practicing teacher, I did. In part, that’s why I worked collaboratively to research and develop virtual coaching.

In our October EL article, The Power of Virtual Coaching, we describe the approach, as well as the research supporting it. With what we call “bug-in-ear technology,” an instructional leader located remotely observes a teacher’s lesson and then offers discreet feedback heard only by the teacher.

Here, briefly, is how it works:

Beforehand, the teacher and coach install the recommended off-the-shelf technology components. Next, the teacher shares the instructional plan. Then, the two decide on a time and date. To begin the session, the coach establishes contact with the teacher through the computer. After exchanging warm greetings, the lesson starts. While the teacher teaches, the coach provides running commentary, using four different types of feedback: encouraging, instructing, questioning, and correcting. Throughout, the coach adjusts the amount, flow, and timing of feedback, according not only to the teacher’s instruction, but also the students’ responsiveness. When the lesson concludes, the two engage in an abbreviated debriefing and jointly establish a few guiding goals. A longer debriefing is scheduled later only if necessary. After the session, the coach arranges the next online session. It’s really that simple.

Intuitively, side-by-side coaching seems easier, so why bother?

First, virtual coaching provides job-embedded support in real time when teachers need it most. Second, it promotes authentic opportunities for shared leadership, joint decision-making, and collaborative problem solving. I have learned as much or more than the teachers I coach. Third, not only is virtual coaching less intrusive, but also it may be more effective than traditional support. Why? Immediate feedback trumps delayed feedback. Fourth, virtual coaching eliminates the barriers of time and distance. One obvious benefit is reduced travel cost. Less apparent, however, may be opportunities for bridging the research-to-practice gap and improving student achievement. Finally, virtual coaching motivates educators — inspiring excellence and promoting accountability, while decreasing isolation.

These are my thoughts. Now I would like to hear yours. What are your questions about virtual coaching?

Post submitted by Marcia Rock, associate professor in the Department of Specialized Education Services, University of North Carolina, Greensboro.