Coaching During a Pandemic: Virtual & In-Person Coaching Tips for First Years

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Being a first year IC can be daunting, especially when starting your journey remotely. Sarah Bahn, Teaching and Learning Coach in Bolingbrook, IL, reflects on how she built relationships with teachers from a distance and how they laid the groundwork for supporting them face-to-face.


I

was hired as a Teaching and Learning Coach in June of 2020, after interviewing via Zoom in traditional style: wearing a blazer and sweatpants. We were under the "Stay at Home" order, but all conversations were about returning to school in-person in the fall. Unfortunately, when August rolled around, it was decided that we would start the school year remotely, which is exactly how all new ICs want to begin their journey—just kidding!

Read on to learn about my experience starting as a new IC remotely, and a few things I picked up along the way.

4 tips for remote coaching

Flexibility is key

In August 2020, teachers really had one focus at the forefront of their minds: survival. They were working on transferring all of the curricular materials into a virtual resource, getting comfortable with the ins and outs of Zoom, and figuring out how to build a welcoming classroom environment virtually—all while simultaneously taking care of their own families!

After prepping all summer with ideas for building relationships and establishing myself as a reliable resource in-person, I had to adapt quickly. I remember sitting in our staff meetings at my dining table, writing down a list of staff members, what they taught, and adding notes about each of them as they unmuted and shared something about themselves. I kept track of how many sections we had at each grade level, how long teachers had been at our school, who had kids, and what shows they liked (e.g., Schitt's Creek). Basically, anything I could use to make a connection and build a relationship!

Be seen as a peer

Although most teachers chose to work from home in the beginning of the year—myself included—there were a select few who chose to work in the building. In fact, these teachers who worked from the building ordered out for lunch every Wednesday while socially distancing and eating together in the lounge. I saw this as an opportunity to continue to build relationships and connect with teachers on a more personal level.

When I met teachers via Zoom, we were only together for specific meetings with agendas; we did not have the opportunity to have in-the-moment conversations to get to know one another. These Wednesday lunches became that time for me. I learned more about teachers' home lives, interests, and likes, and they also got to know me. They began to see me as a colleague, opening the door for coaching opportunities.

Keep an ear low to the ground

My first coaching assignment was to provide PD on new curricular resources our district was implementing. I worked with the other coach in my building to create our Google Slides presentation and built in opportunities for teachers to discuss in breakout rooms.

I joined the PLCs of the grade levels with whom I worked and just listened. I listened to how teachers were feeling, for coaching opportunities, or any nuggets of information I could use to support them in the future. Quickly, I realized that many teachers were struggling with how to support their students in using technology, so I joined some of their classes and walked the students through Zoom, what the different icons meant, and how they could use this tool to support their learning. Other teachers ran into issues because they didn't know what the technology looked like from a student's perspective. For these, I borrowed a student tablet from our library, logged into their Zoom meetings, and shared my screen so they could see. We took screenshots and created presentations to share with students as well. That was an "easy win" with teachers and helped me establish myself as a reliable resource.

Get in the trenches for resources

While researching my coaching role, I learned that coaches should avoid being used solely as a resource provider to be most effective. But, from my experience listening during the grade level PLCs, I learned that acting as a resource facilitator is all right (if not encouraged!), especially when coaching during such crazy times. For example, when our teachers were forced to recreate everything from scratch and learn new systems and curricula, it was daunting. I decided at that moment that being a resource provider would best support the teachers. So I created Seesaw activities for the lessons they were to teach when they first started the curriculum to give them a head start. In addition, I created digital schedules where they could insert their own links if they chose to use them.

Transitioning to in-person

Students and staff returned to in-person learning in January 2021, and I could not have been more excited! Although I was anxious about being around a lot of people for the first time in almost ten months, I was looking forward to working alongside teachers to support students.

Because of all of the work I did in the Fall and Winter to meet teachers and get to know them as educators, I could quickly transition my role from primarily a resource provider to a partner/collaborator. In fact, I had four full coaching cycles up and running, with other teachers reaching out to me, asking questions, and looking for support!

Although things were going well, I never stopped prioritizing relationship-building. In fact, I baked homemade cookies for each teacher as they started their first day with kids in-person—we phased students in by grade level—and I wrote handwritten notes to teachers "just because."

Additionally, I sent surveys asking for feedback to improve my practice and learn more about supporting the teachers. I learned what worked well for the teacher, what they felt had the most significant impact on student learning, and any challenges or missed opportunities from our work together.

I learned that many teachers had been struggling with the virtual setting and the lack of connection with some students. This knowledge helped me emphasize the progress students were making based on evidence we collected, which in turn helped reassure the teachers that they were making a real difference—even when it was hard to see at first glance.

Final note

The 2020-21 school year was like no other, but I am so grateful for the experience; I can honestly say that I've learned and grown more as an educator this past school year than in my previous eight. First, of course, I was challenged to adjust to the "new normal," as everyone else was whilst learning a new role, in a new school, and within a new district. Quickly, however, I learned that to best meet the needs of teachers and their students, you must first get to know them as an individual—that's something I will continue to carry with me throughout my career.

Coaching is my passion, I can't wait to continue my career learning side-by-side with the teachers, sparking "aha" moments, and witnessing the growth of those around me as they impact future learners.


About our Guest Blogger

Sarah Bahn is a Teaching and Learning Coach in Valley View School District 365U in Bolingbrook, Illinois. Prior to coaching, she successfully served as a classroom teacher (kindergarten, first-, and second-grade), and a K-5 reading special over eight years.

Sarah completed her undergraduate degree in elementary education at Eastern Illinois University while competing as a D-I athlete on the soccer field. She later earned her reading specialist master's degree from National Louis University. Additionally, Sarah has an English as a Second Language endorsement which compliments her work as an instructional leader.

Although Sarah has always been passionate about teaching, her new role as an instructional coach has provided her with a new energy and fervor for education. Sarah believes that coaching is for all teachers and is most impactful when it is student-centered and data-driven. In addition, she understands that building relationships is critical to this work, which is evident in how Sarah collaborates with teachers.

Be sure to follow Sarah on Twitter @mrs_bahn.

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