As schools were closed all over the country in response to the Coronavirus outbreak, educators quickly transitioned to a world of virtual teaching and coaching. Coaches in education have become lifelines of support for teachers as they help write lesson plans, find engaging activities, and create schedules that can work for teachers teaching from home and students learning at home.
Many coaches are asking, “How can I be an effective coach in this new virtual environment?” When thinking about what makes a powerful coach, remember the mindsets of a coach and how important they are to successful partnerships. Here are six powerful coaching mindsets that will help us to do our jobs well and make teachers feel supported.
1. Love the Truth
The truth is we have never faced a situation like this before. And different people are responding to this drastic change in different ways. As coaches, we must love the truth more than the way we feel. There is my truth, your truth, and then there is THE truth. This is a time to be as objective as possible. What are the facts? We know that we can really only control what we are offering to our students in terms of quality learning activities, resources, and access to teachers through phone calls, zoom meetings, Canvas, Google Classroom or other learning platforms. We can look at what students are doing in response to these activities and make our best judgments about what learning is taking place. It’s important to have factual conversations with teachers about what they can control right now and what has to be let go. We don’t know the home situation of every child, so there has to be a search for each person’s reality so that we can meet the needs of teachers and students in the best way possible. Respect each person’s truth and move them toward hope.
2. Empathy Mindset
The coaching mindset of empathy will be strongly needed at this time. It’s easy to be judgmental when people are reacting in a way that doesn’t match our reaction. It’s important to remember that we are humans first and educators second. Take time to check in and see how people are doing. You will gain a lot of information about your teacher’s state of mind and family situation which can help you to decide the best coaching stance, how to guide the conversation, and what goals are reasonable to achieve. Allow teachers time to vent or meltdown, but then encourage them to focus on what we CAN do. Everyone has a different “work from home” situation. Some teachers have small children at home and must be the caregiver and teacher to their own children as well as their students. Some teachers may be sheltering in place alone and dealing with a feeling of isolation. We may not know each person’s feelings about their particular quarantine situation, but we can practice empathy knowing we are all dealing with a new reality, and our emotional responses may come in waves. We are all learning to navigate this world of online learning together. Create space and patience for your learners to grow.
3. Growth Mindset
Meet teachers where they are. Just like in classrooms, teachers are at different levels of their own professional development. And now, things may have flipped. New teachers who needed more support before may be crushing the digital learning environment. Veteran teachers may be much more insecure and need more support depending on their level of comfort with the technology. Keep in mind that we can all learn the skills needed to be successful virtual educators. Encourage your teachers who may be feeling a little inadequate. Let them know that you are there to support them and their students will be ok.
4. Partnership Mindset
If there were ever a time to make teachers feel valued and supported as equals, that time is now. When we face a challenge, we can accomplish so much more through collaboration. As a coach, you don’t have to have all the answers. It’s more important to be able to listen to concerns, find possible solutions to share, and be there to talk through the issues teachers are having. These may be issues with technology, content, or individual students. Encourage teachers to share and visit one another’s virtual classrooms. Facilitate virtual PLCs so teachers can share successes and dilemmas that can be brainstormed by the group. This is a time for collaboration if there ever was one. Let your teachers know you are in this together and you are their partner working to help them feel successful.
5. Curiosity Mindset
Stay curious as we move through this time of new ways of thinking about school. You will come across new ideas, digital learning tools, new ways to collaborate and new ways to reach students. Be open to those ideas shared by others and be willing to share your own revelations. It is important to still plan a structure for your conversation while remaining curious. Tools like the GROW model or Pocket Guide to Probing Questions can be useful to plan conversations around a specific topic or goal, keeping in mind what teachers are dealing with right now. True curiosity leads to new discoveries.
6. Value of Powerful Teaching and Learning
Now is a good time to ask ourselves, “What is powerful teaching and learning?” What is it we really want students to be doing during their time of learning from home? It is different from the regular school day. We can’t simply transfer the school schedule to the home environment. We have to think about the key concepts and tasks that will lead students to deeper understandings. How can we pique students’ curiosities about our content and make learning not feel like a drudgery of meaningless busywork? As coaches, we may also have to support the technology. Virtual school won’t work if teachers don’t know how to use the tools. Be clear about what your district is requiring and support teachers on the use of the technology. This can also be a shared responsibility. Pair up teachers who can teach each other the ins and outs of Canvas or Google Classroom. Create a “Tips and Tricks” cheat sheet for those less familiar with the platform. Research online learning tools that may be new and different, but very beneficial during this time, like flipgrid, google voice, or quizlet live. Now is a time when powerful teaching and learning takes center stage for all of us; coaches, teachers, and students alike.
We are forging a new path in the world of education. There will be some rough spots, but also beautiful moments of awakening. We don’t know what new discoveries made during this strange time may lead to more powerful teaching and learning in the future. So remember, If things don’t go as planned, extend grace to yourself, your teachers, and their students. We are all doing the best we can and we will come out on the other side stronger, together.