3 coaching tips to support newly-virtual teachers

In the wake of COVID-19, the shift to distanced teaching and learning has been hard for many educators and students alike. This is, after all, new and unprecedented times for all involved.

So how can coaches and instructional leaders support teachers as they navigate this new way of teaching during extraordinary circumstances? The same way they always have: through high-quality professional development.

Now, arguably more than ever, professional development is imperative to support the success of virtual teachers. It is important for coaches to reflect on both where teachers want and need help. This could range from providing tactical to philosophical advice to simply being a sounding board for teachers as they acknowledge their emotions during this time.

As schools move to a virtual coaching process, which will rely heavily on the use of video, these tips will help coaches best support their newly-virtual teachers during this time.

Reframe coaching for this moment. While the identity of a coach remains the same during this time, it is important for coaches to rethink what supports they can provide that will be most beneficial for teachers in this particular moment. As the frontline coach and support system, coaches should think about what teachers need to be a well-started beginner at distanced teaching, meaning what core training or background do they need to be successful. Focusing on this takes distanced teaching from a potentially ambiguous problem to something manageable for teachers and coaches to tackle.

Coaches should also ask themselves and their virtual teachers, “What is truly new?” This will likely be the use of technology, the structure of the day, and how learning is being facilitated. But, this question will likely reveal that much of what teachers already know can be adapted to meet the new context. Understanding that they are not starting from the very beginning, will help teachers feel like less is changing and less is on their to-do list during this time.

Be practice-focused. Coaches can be tactically moving forward by finding specific pedagogical moves that can be presented in context with content and combined with academic language. This is what coaching usually is and shouldn’t be any different in this new setting.

It is important for coaches to be targeted and precise in how they are guiding teachers. Some good strategies for facilitating this can be found in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion 2.0. The University of Michigan’s TeachingWorks also provides practical, tactical-thinking, and research-based practices that answer the question of what teachers need to be well-started beginners.

Define “good” online learning. Teaching and learning are very different in the distanced setting, yet in many ways, it’s very much the same. The same learning expectations for students, for example, are still in place.

District leaders and coaches need to think about what good online learning looks like – both for students and teachers. This answer is going to vary district by district and school by school, and will likely depend on the technologies being used, the types and frequency of interactions, and if learning is taking place synchronously or asynchronously. But, having a baseline of effective online teaching and learning is important.

For educators who may need some more guidance on making the shift to distanced learning, the California Department of Education created a helpful and detailed guide so educators don’t have to start from scratch. While not a holy grail, many of these practices will help teachers as they transition to online delivery of instruction.

As always, coaches need to help teachers determine what success looks like and then provide the supports and professional development needed to ensure they are being successful. The above tips, in combination with implementing other tactical and technology-enabled coaching best practices, will help ensure this success in whatever the setting may be.