Relationships between teachers and ICs have never been more pertinent than they are right now while working from a distance. Amber Van Den Berg, instructional coach with Westfield Washington Schools in Indiana, relays a handful of her go-to techniques to support both students and educators in remote learning environments. 💻
🍿 Only have a few minutes? Watch Amber talk about the major takeaways from her article. Then come back later to read the full thing!
020 will be a year to remember! Every school and district was forced to wrap their heads around virtual learning without any warning, bringing about one of the biggest changes in education to date. No matter how far along your school was with regard to e-learning, 1:1 devices, or innovative technological tools, virtual learning took on a whole new meaning for students, educators, and parents. All of us had to fail forward in the ongoing journey to support student learning.
Whether you're starting the new school year remotely, or might face extended periods of virtual learning again in the future, it's imperative that everyone is prepared. Instructional coaches are no exception; we, too, need to model a positive attitude and a commitment to supporting our teachers and students in remote learning environments. Below are four tips to help you do so!
Create opportunities for connection
Encourage creative collaboration
The feeling of isolation can set in very quickly when learning virtually. Instructional coaches need to encourage teachers to continue collaborating between grade level or content area teams.
Even if students aren't in the building, they still deserve a curriculum that's strong and aligned. To accomplish that, teachers need to collaborate! It often helps teachers to have a fresh set of eyes or someone to pose reflective questions about how to build a cohesive unit that not only meets state standards but also meets the desired learning outcomes.
Coaches also need to encourage teachers to get creative about ways they can get students collaborating. Many students benefit from collaborating with their peers whether that be video conferencing, commenting on each other's work, or sharing videos.
Attend a classroom community circle
Often virtual learning can make instructional coaches feel disconnected from the students in their building. If that's the case for you, consider asking classroom teachers to invite you along to any virtual community circles or classroom events. Seeing the faces of the students that normally fill the rooms and hallways is often reinvigorating for both the teacher and coach.
Plan with teachers
Facilitate team meetings
Instructional coaches can help facilitate the process of unit and lesson planning with teams of teachers. They often have the luxury of being in and out of many classrooms and can provide a team of teachers with a fresh perspective from ideas to maximize student engagement, to ways to build a sense of community in the virtual classroom.
Virtual learning requires teachers to think differently about how they ask students to show their learning and growth. Instructional coaches play an instrumental role in helping teachers create or modify assessments. Using tools like Flipgrid or Edulastic, or the comment feature in Google Docs, allows students to show their learning in ways that aren't just multiple choice assessments.
It's helpful to create a Week at a Glance to communicate assessments across a building or grade level, like the one below. It helps ensure that students know how to use the variety of tools for formative or summative assessments and is particularly useful if your students see more than one teacher.
Find time to work 1:1 with your teachers
Sometimes team and group planning can be overwhelming for teachers. Maybe they're new to the content or grade level, need additional "think time," or are new to teaching.
Whatever the case, making sure you're available for one-on-one teacher planning is crucial! This can be done via Zoom, a phone call, a text thread, or an in-person meeting with them—if it's safe. No matter the avenue you take, teachers will benefit from you processing their ideas with them.
Just as teachers often provide virtual office hours for students, instructional coaches can do the same for teachers. Making yourself available for an hour to troubleshoot issues, time for Q&A, or simply time to bond with colleagues—teachers need social emotional learning too!—helps your teachers feel supported.
Pro tip: Consider hosting your virtual office hours at different days and times so that as many teachers as possible can take advantage of your schedule.
Discover and share new tools
When learning shifts online, it's necessary to find new or different resources to support student learning. It might mean finding resources to place on a Padlet, creating digital anchor charts, or previewing potential video links for students to watch. Coaches can also help identify innovative tools for teams to deliver content differently or provide students with alternative ways to show their learning. Helping vet resources, research new innovative tools to use, or starting templates helps teachers feel confident in providing quality instruction and practice for students.
Model the use of video
Using video apps like Loom, Screencastify, or Smore allow you to conduct mini-lessons of new content for the entire class, small groups, or individual students. Not only can instructional coaches provide feedback to teachers on the length, visuals, and learning outcomes of taped lessons, they can also join in the fun of taping lessons for students. At a minimum, coaches can create videos of generic lessons to send to teachers to model the process or creation of these visuals.
Reflect and celebrate
Instructional coaches can help teachers capitalize on what is working well by asking reflective questions. Posing deeply reflective questions to individual teachers or teams not only helps build self-confidence, but also helps us reach our number one goal of providing quality instruction that promotes student learning.
Here are a few of my go-to examples:
- How do we use what we know now to improve for the next school year?
- What's working well for students? How do we know?
- How are we delivering content? Is that proving to be beneficial for students? How do we know? Are we varying how we deliver content to meet all the different learners?
- How are we asking students to show their learning? What other opportunities could we provide for students to show their thinking and learning?
Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate! It seems simple, but when we're not in the school building, the little celebrations we do seem to disappear.
If teachers videotape lessons, celebrate them being vulnerable! If teachers find a new collaborative tool for students, celebrate them thinking outside the box! When teachers share how students improved during a unit of study, celebrate the student successes with them!
There has never been a better time for instructional coaches to model lifelong learning, vulnerability, and innovative thinking. The teachers and students we support are counting on us to partner with them in order to build their confidence and help them grow.
Whether your district is 100% in-person, a hybrid approach, or virtual, I encourage you to continually find ways to connect, facilitate, create, or celebrate with your staff and students!
Watch Amber's video overview
About our Guest Blogger
Amber Van Den Berg is an instructional coach in the Westfield Washington School District in Indiana. She's spent the last 8 years in different coaching roles. Prior to that, she taught 7 years in middle school Language Arts, Literature, and Public Speaking.
Amber's favorite parts of her job are collaborating with teachers and celebrating student successes. Besides her passion for modeling lifelong learning, she spends her free time teaching fitness classes and going with her husband to watch their two children play travel sports.
Be sure to follow Amber on Twitter @AmberVDB_IC!