Cassandra Williams, owner of Educational Innovation 360°, reflects on how her coaching practice has changed since the start of the pandemic, allowing for greater flexibility and support for educators’ mental health.
orking to meet the needs of my teachers has always been my goal. Prior to the pandemic, our conversations started off with pre-planning, each teacher bringing the lesson they will teach. Next, I'd observe the classroom in person, and teachers would share their reflections before our debrief. Lastly, I’d use data to provide feedback, and together we'd work on one or two skills. But then the pandemic hit.
Our classes have moved online, and teachers are working longer hours. Teachers have always worn multiple hats, but now they're burnt out and having breakdowns. As a coach, what do you do when teachers are crying during debriefs? Do you continue on as before or start to explore alternative approaches?
While school leaders might hand out sheets like Self-Care for Educators from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, I knew that I had to provide more than just a handout as a coach.
Using the GROWTH model, we review the teacher's goal and identify the resources that exist in reality. Then, we decide on the options that we can actually pursue. Together we select a task that's going to happen and work to create a habit that will stick. This is a process I've used many times to ensure teachers continue their goal of lifelong learning.
How my coaching cycle has changed
I now coach teachers in a non-invasive, non-traditional way. Teachers come to me with various needs, and I support them in any way I can. I still anchor my work within a coaching cycle, but, there are some changes.
While my data is always shared with teachers and observations are monthly, not every teacher pre-plans a lesson. My observations are typically online, and depending on time, the debrief may look different; it might be via email, video, timestamped notes, or Whatsapp.
A great list of things to keep in mind for your coaching cycles!
A fresh approach to debriefs
My debrief sessions now always happen online. I've also embraced asynchronous learning, so if we can't find time to meet virtually, I'll record my feedback and send it to them via WhatsApp or email!
If we're meeting on a video call, I make sure I break my session up and ask about their challenges, feelings, and if they feel supported. I'll then ask about their lesson, looking away from the screen at times, but I always pay attention to my body language to ensure I am open to conversation. Every session, I show excitement to see them and share their strengths. I love to show data and the next steps using a visual, but sometimes the situation takes a turn. If I see they are overwhelmed or about to tear up, I pause and just listen.
Bonus: Check out this short video of a debrief I had with Emily, a teacher who works hard and continues to grow through the pandemic.
Helping people change is at the heart of our profession as coaches, and it's been a challenge over the last couple of years, with teacher training and mental health a major focus through the pandemic. I have started following the American Psychological Association, which shares findings and research on how the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of teachers and children. I love my teachers, and now I am learning new skills to help them thrive.
About our Guest Blogger
Cassandra Williams is a strong advocate for revolutionizing systems. She currently works as a professor in the College of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) where her research focuses on coaching teachers to accelerate student achievement.
Cassandra and her team often explore video as a learning tool for success in the classroom. She is the owner of Educational Innovation 360° and the designer of the eInstructional Coaching System.