As even more of the world begins working remotely, instructional coaches are facilitating more coaching conversations from a distance. Having coaching conversations online or over the phone can be valuable for teachers when it’s impossible or inconvenient to be in the same room. And in some ways, a virtual conversation is very similar to a face-to-face coaching conversation. But in other ways it’s very different.

How virtual coaching conversations are the same as face-to-face coaching

The basics of good instructional coaching apply, no matter the situation in which it happens.

1. You still need to have a plan for the conversation.

You never know exactly the direction a coaching conversation will take, so it’s always good to have a plan. How do you want to begin? What specific goals do you have for the conversation? What are some specific topics you’d like to address? Jot down a few notes to yourself to outline how you’d like the conversation to go.

2. You still need to have some powerful coaching questions ready.

You’d like the teacher to do most of the talking, and being prepared with good coaching questions is a good way to make this happen. Review the Pocket Guide to Probing Questions or the GROW Model, and write down a few questions you’d like to ask.

What’s different about virtual or distance coaching

If you’re new to coaching by phone or video, these are important points to keep in mind.

1. It will work better if you can meet in person first.

Relationships are key in coaching, and while it’s not impossible to establish a relationship virtually, it’s much easier if you’ve met at least once face-to-face.

2. If you’ll be working with video, remember to share tech basics with the teacher in advance.

If your coaching session will utilize video, then in addition to a working computer and a link to the online meeting room, the three things that each of you need to make the “virtual” part of the meeting successful are a working microphone, a working video camera, and an internet connection with sufficient bandwidth.

Remember, most laptop computers have built-in mics and video cameras, but most desktop computers do not.

It’s also good to remember that some teachers have never participated in a video meeting before, so you may be troubleshooting tech issues before you get started; the more familiar you are with your platform, the better.

3. Taking notes off-camera (or unseen) is much less distracting for the teacher.

When meeting face-to-face, taking notes (even if you’re using pencil and paper rather than a laptop) can be a distraction for the teacher. But for a virtual conversation, since you’re going to be looking at your computer screen during the whole conversation anyway, typing notes feels much less distracting.

4. The more people you have on a virtual call, the more challenging it is to facilitate.

This is true for face-to-face coaching as well, but the challenges feel even bigger for virtual meetings. The first challenge is nearly always related to technical issues (for example, reminding participants to mute or unmute their microphones, turn their laptop volume up or down, etc.).

The second challenge has to do with shifting out of the role of “online lecturer.” This means being intentional about facilitating conversations between the participants of the distance coaching session.

While some people will readily engage productively with each other, many may feel uncomfortable doing so. Be ready with prompts that invite a specific person to comment on a thought or idea someone else has shared. This will get them used to having conversations with each other, and not just responding to you.

Virtual coaching is a powerful tool to have in your kit

Virtual coaching can take some getting used to, but it’s a great skill to develop. Once you get used to the ways in which it is similar to, and different from, face-to-face coaching, you’ll find it to be a valuable addition to your coaching toolkit.