Sunday, July 5, 2020

Virtual Coaching, the same as it ever was

This past three months, the last three months of the 2019-2020 school year for us in upstate New York (and throughout much of the world), has been unprecedented for schooling, for education and for learning. That is what we have heard for the last three months... it's unprecedented, that's unprecedented.... you get the picture.

Being a Technology Integrator Specialist, edtech coach, I wondered how it would look for me.
  • Could I maintain my relationships with teachers virtually?
  • Would I be able to identify and troubleshoot issues teachers were having and then support them as they move through these challenges?
  • What about new teachers that I never worked with before the closure? Could I create those initial critical relationships that build trust virtually?
These were all of the questions that popped into my mind.
As it were, the answer ended up being a resounding YES!

Virtual Coaching, although certainly different from 'face to face' coaching in the logistical sense turns out to be exactly the same in the relationship realm.
Relationships Matter
We all know it boils down to relationships and trust. What I found out is that when you treat teachers with respect, these relationships can and do get built virtually.  Here are my big takeaways from coaching virtually:
  • Listen and reflect: Start every virtual meeting with time to find out how they are doing. Show that you can and do listen and allow them to reflect on what they are going through. Also take some time to find out how they teach, how did they engage students prior to this moment. What worked in the classroom? (think procedures and routines) What would you like to try? It is key to establish a starting point, and by listening this often begins about that starting point.
  • Let them know you understand. In this specific scenario, it was important to let teachers know that none of us signed up for this. We are basically doing the best job we can for our students. We all are in a vulnerable situation that no one knows all the answers, but the fact that we are asking the questions makes us truly courageous.  To quote Brene Brown: 

  • Start where they are. Once you have listened and gotten to know them (content they teach, how they engaged students before the closure) then develop a plan together. This plan should start with something that is familiar. If they had a morning message every morning for students to engage with, continue that virtually.
  • Once you have an idea of a plan: chunk it. Start with one step that they can take to make them feel confident. Start simple, but go for a big win to get the trust and confidence rolling. This step often includes them sharing their screen with you so you can talk them through how to do something. Ending the meeting with one thing accomplished, or on its way to being accomplished will go a long way.
  • I'm here for you. It may not be easy, but I'll be there to support you throughout it all. Admit that this might be challenging, but that support is here, and my goal is to provide that support throughout. Always end with 'we are in this together', 'You are doing a great job, and you can do this'.
  • Make plans moving forward. Before leaving that first virtual meeting (and sequential ones) repeat what you will be following up with and what they will be doing and if possible set up another meeting. I often followed up a meeting with an email providing needed links or step by step tutorials as needed. If a follow-up meeting isn't planned then make a note to send a quick email out to them to see how things are going.

So, turns out Virtual Coaching was 'the same as it ever was'... (to quote a famous Talking Heads' song)
It comes down to listening, respect, trust, and celebrating together along the way.
It also totally comes back to not being the expert, but rather teammates...being 'in this together'. I learned something from every teacher I worked with this past school year. Every. Teacher. Some I knew before the closure, some I met through Zoom meetings, some I met with every week, some I only met once but continued coaching through email. All of them made me a better coach and educator. Many of them I hope to one day go out to coffee with, I think we'd have a lot to talk about and a few laughs.
But, until then, virtually will need to be where we meet and learn, and I'm ok with that because we are in this together... and we are stronger together.

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