May 6, 2020

Instructional Coaching in the Virtual World

Emily Kirsch and Nick Spiegler
A student talks to a teacher through a laptop

Instructional Coaching in the Virtual World

Everyone's got their morning routine, right? Sometimes it’s a cup of coffee with the news, pouring dry cereal onto your daughter’s high chair tray, or a new-found passion for the free workouts offered by the Peloton app. Routines are important, especially these days when we are trying to find the smallest semblance of “normal.” But what comes next—that's the tricky part. That’s the moment when coaches must kick it into high gear, opening their email inboxes to officially start the day.

The Day Begins with the Calendar

Some of us find that this happens as early as 6:45 a.m., when we begin to settle into our work-from-home “office” (i.e., the desk we’ve had since we were nine years old, the kitchen table, or whatever flat space our partner isn’t using to also work from home). Opening our Google Calendar, we take stock of the day ahead, noting any moments where we can stand up from our makeshift workspace to stretch. These open calendar blocks tend to remain open only for an hour or so, at which point they will become filled with session times for our teachers in need.

Requests begin flooding in around 7:30 a.m. from teachers, school leaders, fellow coaches, family, and friends—anyone who is trying to navigate this virtual world. It is in our nature as coaches to support everyone as best we can, so the blocks fill up quickly. Prior to going virtual, our days would typically consist of traveling to one specific school to hold one-on-one sessions with teachers, model the integration of a new strategy or EdTech tool, co-teach, or provide large-scale workshops. Flexibility was important, but in our current virtual world of instructional coaching, it has become a necessity.

The Hat Rack

You see, our makeshift workspaces don’t just include computers, notebooks, and pens; they must also house a proverbial hat rack for the vast number of “hats” we change into throughout the course of a day. For much like those on the other side of our screens, we play multiple roles. On any given day, coaches will don the “hat” of instructional coach, IT specialist, thought partner, compassionate listener, and guide, just to name a few. Throughout each session, we must actively listen and respond to the needs of the teacher at that given moment, while remaining focused on shared goals. Frequently this means switching hats mid-session, beginning with, “How are you doing, really?” followed by, “Let’s analyze the student responses of your latest ELA assignment and go over those app features again.” This code-switching allows us to build strong relationships with our teachers, giving them a safe space to try new things—things that may seem insurmountable at first.

Feelings of uncertainty often surface during our sessions, because the transition to remote learning didn’t happen overnight. Each school continues to take the necessary steps to support their students. These steps look different depending on the community they serve, but include: deploying textbooks or technology, informing parents of opportunities for internet access, designating times and places to pick up free school lunches, and supporting teachers in translating their best practices into the virtual world.

The Path Toward Educational Revolution

Education is complex. It involves multiple stakeholders—children, parents, teachers, school leaders, members of the community—who have various needs. The shift toward remote learning has magnified the disparities among students, as further explored by Dena Simmons, educator and activist, in her articleWhy COVID-19 Is Our Equity Check.” The need to address inequities around access to relevant and meaningful learning for all students has become a frequent topic of conversation.

As instructional coaches, we are lucky enough to play a role in what is sure to be an educational revolution. While supporting schools through the many phases of this transition, we are seeing tremendous growth and innovation from students, teachers, and school leaders alike. Communities are developing out of necessity for collaboration, sparking what we all hope to be lasting, meaningful change in education. There is no going back to where we were before remote learning. There is only a continuation on the path toward learning that is trauma-informed, culturally responsive, and utilizes relevant pedagogy by leveraging technology.

We can’t wait.

A special thank you to my Educate LLC colleague Nick Spiegler for helping me brainstorm ideas for this blog post.