Sherry St. Clair
Instructional Coaching During Remote Learning
Every child in every classroom in every school deserves to be taught by a highly effective teacher each year. And teachers need and deserve support as they strive to meet the learning needs of students. These days teachers are juggling more than ever and providing instructional coaching, whether remotely or face-to-face, can provide them with much needed support. My years of experience have taught me that instructional coaching succeeds when instructional leaders have a firm understanding of both the leadership and content skills needed to be effective in their roles. It’s a skillset that a refined coach truly embraces and understands. And while many schools will be returning to school virtually this year, the basics of great instructional leadership remain the same.
1. Listen to those you serve.
A listening tour remains an important step in setting up a plan for true instructional growth. A listening tour is a way for instructional leaders to hear from all stakeholders, understand the instructional system in place, and understand what support is needed for instructional growth at the school. Normally, I recommend setting up face-to-face meetings with stakeholders-teachers, business leaders, students, and parents. However, because of COVID-19, these meetings may need to take place virtually this year. The process remains the same-ensure a wide-range of individuals are included, set up meetings with groups to last 30-45 minutes, ask selected listening tour questions and then use this information to think about the school as a learning organization. Leaders cannot fully address what they don’t fully understand and a listening tour, whether conducted in-person or virtually, will provide a unique perspective to help instructional leaders make better-informed instructional decisions.
2. Spend time in classrooms analyzing instruction.
There’s something absolutely magical about stepping into a classroom, speaking to students about their learning, and reviewing the artifacts that demonstrate their learning. Just because school occurs in a virtual setting doesn’t take away from the importance "stepping into classrooms" and analyzing student learning. Still remain dedicated to popping into classrooms, whether it be face-to-face or remotely. It speaks volumes to both students and educators. When in those classrooms, ask yourself, “Who’s doing the majority of the work and thinking? At what level is that work and thinking?” Consider the level of student engagement and the reason for those levels of engagement.
3. Understand the importance of casting a vision for instructional improvement.
In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, leadership coach John C. Maxwell writes: “The truth is that nearly anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. … They see the whole trip in their minds before they leave the dock. They have a vision for their destination.” Effective instructional coaches understand the importance of helping a school and individual educators set a vision for their instruction in the future. In the virtual setting, vision casting may need to take place during virtual coaching sessions with teachers but the importance of them remains the same. A great instructional coach helps a teacher see potential within themselves that they may not be able to see on their own.
4. Start with a strength.
Too frequently, coaches will find their largest gap and want to start coaching there. However, effective instructional leaders are able to identify positive aspects of teaching and learning and use that as a starting point for coaching. Starting with a strength creates the conditions necessary to change people’s minds about change. When we emphasize what others are doing well already, people are motivated and more likely to believe they are capable of doing things better or doing other things well, too. Starting with a strength was important before COVID, but I think it’s even more important now. Teachers are juggling so much right now, much out of their control. Focusing on their strengths will do wonders to build relationships and let them know they are valued.
5. Motivation is critical.
Successful coaches understand the power of human motivation. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel H. Pink explains that people excel when intrinsically motivated. Effective coaches know the importance of taking time to understand what motivates educators to improve and what motivates students to exceed learning expectations. Get creative in a remote coaching setting. Send virtual thank you notes to teachers, offer to help them co-teach a remote class, send them an inspirational quote, set up remote social hours so teachers can unwind together, give them a shout-out on social media, etc.
6. Set up organizational structures.
Creating an environment where a school becomes a true learning organization doesn’t happen by accident. Organizational structures show respect for all those involved and allow trust to be formed. Instructional leaders must take the time to set up structures around the vision, goals, roles, and responsibilities, and the entire process for instructional coaching. Effective remote learning is new to many of us. As a coach, you can help teachers by setting up remote professional learning sessions with the teachers you serve. Allow different teachers opportunities to lead sessions based on their strengths. Topics could include engagement, technology, rigorous learning engagement.
Effective instructional coaching is a critical component of improving instruction in a school and something that must remain a focus during COVID-19. Offering compassionate and focused coaching provides an extra layer of support to educators in a time when so much is being added to their plates. As schools redefine coaching, my experience tells me they will see a greater impact on both adult and student learning.
How can I help you?
Please connect with me so we can learn about instructional coaching together.
Website: Reflective Learning, LLC
Facebook: Sherry St Clair