4 Key Mindsets for Coaching Remotely

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Coaching and leading remotely is a new challenge for most instructional coaches, and it requires a shift in the way we think and carry out our daily routines. Stephanie Affinito, literacy education professor at the University at Albany in New York, is back with some of her must-have attributes of ICs working remotely.

🍿 Only have a few minutes? Watch Stephanie talk about the major takeaways from her article. Then come back later to read the full thing!


s the events of the world swirl around us, our lives are changing every day in small and big ways. There are the challenges of social distancing, changing schedules, working—and teaching—from home, and unexpected roles and responsibilities. At first I tried to keep to the same schedule, coach the same content, and preserve the same learning activities as before, but "simply" shift it all online. That didn't work.

Over the past few weeks, I've realized that we can't make a direct shift from in-person coaching to virtual coaching—nor would we want to. Instructional coaching has always required us to be responsive to the teachers and students we work with.

In the current climate, we need to shift our coaching to fit our new ways of working, and that means we need to shift our mindsets for coaching as well. Below are four key mindsets I've found best support my work as I coach and lead online.

1) Flexibility

I've learned that furiously working to preserve normalcy during these times is futile because the world is no longer as we know it. Each day brings a new set of circumstances and emotions to grapple with—from the mundane to the world-changing—and we likely have little control over any of them.

Instead, we must embrace flexibility in all aspects of our work: our daily schedules, the ways we collaborate with teachers, how we share new content, and the techniques we use to coach virtually. Being more flexible is easier said than done, especially during a time of crisis. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Start your day by setting an intention, not a schedule: think about what you want to get done and then decide the best course of action for how to do it.
  • Be realistic about the work you can accomplish: write down all of the things you want to accomplish in a given day, then circle the three essential tasks and start there. Even if the rest of the list doesn't get checked off, you can rest easy knowing that you did the tasks that mattered most.
  • Give yourself a break: we can't think flexibly when we're stressed and rushed. Take deep breaths, change your scenery, or go for brief walks in the day to clear your head and gain new perspective.
  • Change your expectations: rather than worry about how your routine might be disrupted, wonder about how it might change positively. Work to find pockets of positivity in "plan b." We wouldn't have these opportunities to think outside the box, to better personalize our coaching, and to let teachers' voices and choices guide their learning without this pandemic experience. And we just might find that these new ways of coaching can lead the way for more authentic learning experiences when we emerge on the other side.

2) Innovation

We are teaching and coaching under such unprecedented circumstances that we have to we get to (not have to!) coach and lead in ways we have never tried before. Grade-level meetings can shift online through video conferencing tools like Zoom, coaching conversations can come alive in Voxer, professional learning becomes self-paced and personalized through choice boards, and connections can be strengthened through social media.

  • Privilege pedagogy over technology: first think about what you want to accomplish and then choose the tools to help you get there. Your purpose for coaching should drive the choices you make to include digital tools and technology, not the other way around.
  • Focus on community and connection: use technology to sustain teachers' learning communities, not just create documents to prove that we're working from home. Provide spaces for teachers to come together with each other for support as they try new ways of teaching and learning. When we feel connected together, we think and work differently.

3) Organization

While working from home, we may or may not have the necessary spaces and supplies to coach well remotely, but both are essential to our success! You don't need a fancy home office, all you need is a small space to call your own—even if that space is portable. It's important to organize the surroundings we have and set ourselves up for successful coaching from home.

  • Choose your workspace: it might be an office, a corner of a room, the dining room table or even a portable tote. Gather your supplies—your digital devices, books and curriculum materials, notebooks, writing utensils and more—and keep them close to hand.
  • Organize your digital files: instructional coaches work with multiple curricula, assessment plans and teacher resources so working from home makes it even more important to organize them. Consider creating Google Drive folders to organize your coaching materials, even color coding them if you wish.
  • Live by your calendar and daily lists: we might not be thinking too far ahead ourselves right now, but our calendar and note-taking apps can help us feel more in control. Plan your day on your calendar, just as you would if you were in school, and create daily intentions to keep you focused.

4) Enthusiasm

Instructional coaches often have deep reserves of enthusiasm to support teachers and cheer them on from the sidelines. So how do we maintain this enthusiasm when our own is probably waning from time to time?

  • Start each day with a positive intention: think about the work ahead and vow to find at least one bright spot as you move through your day.
  • Make your environment a positive one: tape inspirational quotes to the side of your computer, leave sticky notes of encouragement on the wall, print graphics and memes that brighten your spirit and insert them into picture frames. Bring in nature, if you can: small air plants and succulents can brighten even the tiniest spaces.
  • Find a fellow coach for support: reach out to the other coaches in your district or connect on social media instead. Browse hashtags like #LiteracyCoaching, #educoach, #instructionalcoach, or #PD4uandMe.

Final note

While nothing can truly prepare us for coaching during a global pandemic, there are steps we can take and mind-shifts we can make to tackle the work ahead. The lessons we learn each day open up new possibilities for coaching when we return to school, a gift to appreciate as we search for gratitude in these challenging times.

Watch Stephanie's video overview

HubSpot Video

About our Guest Blogger

Stephanie Affinito is a Staff Associate in the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning at the University at Albany in New York. She has a deep love of literacy coaching and supporting teachers' learning through technology. Stephanie creates spaces for authentic teacher learning that build expertise, spark professional curiosity, and foster intentional reflection to re-imagine teaching and learning for students.

Additionally, she presents regularly at state and national conferences on literacy coaching, teacher collaboration and supporting teachers' reading, writing, and learning through innovative technology.

Be sure to check out her recently published book with Heinemann Publishing, Literacy Coaching: Teaching and Learning with Digital Tools and Technology.

Illustration by Ouch.pics.

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