Tools and Resources

Coaching through the COVID-19 Crisis

Four suggestions for how to structure virtual instructional coaching

It is an understatement to say that the last few weeks have been challenging. The rhythm and certainty of our lives have evaporated, and we really have no idea of when we’ll get back to “normal.” 

Educators and schools have shown great resilience and ingenuity. Teachers have always been my heroes, and the recent weeks have reaffirmed how important they are to our entire society. Educators have figured out how to keep feeding their students who lack regular access to food. They have shifted learning in their classrooms to learning via devices and school pick-ups in a matter of days. They never planned to be teaching this way a month ago.

In this time of massive upheaval, the instructional coach’s role has become even more vital. However, for many of us, our coaching methods have been forced to radically change. Learning how to coach from home will be an iterative process of successes and failures, but I have a few pieces of advice based on some successes.

Befriend Video

I have been using Google Meet extensively this week to have conversations with teachers, administrators, and other coaches. This is a great overview of Google Meet if you’re new to the platform.C oaches are usually “people” people, and we thrive off discussions that are life-giving — the ones that make us excited for what we can accomplish with students and colleagues. Coaches know the value of good listening skills and good questions, but something gets lost when we can’t hear one another’s voices and see one another’s faces. 

Although some teachers were unsure about using video at first, it has been such a positive experience. We have had great sessions where we have been able to create materials and routines that would best serve their students during this time. Google Meet has a screen-sharing feature that has helped bring clarity to our discussions as we have collaborated on lessons, solved technology issues, and explored resources. But most importantly, we are connecting in deeper ways. We are learning more about each other as people as our kids, pets, or spouses join our coaching conversations. We learn who is alone at home, too. A friendly face and productive conversation can be incredibly motivating in this type of work, while also being an excellent way to boost one another’s mental health.

Turn “Workshops” into “Meet-Ups”

I have started hosting professional learning sessions that I’ve been calling “meet-ups.” The response has been great so far. A “meet-up” is essentially an hour-long Google Meet focused on one topic. For example, I hosted a Google Meet on the digital platform Newsela yesterday.

I invite teachers by sending out a Google Form. The form lets me know who plans to attend and invites teachers to submit a question that they have about the topic. I then schedule a Google Meet from my Google Calendar. When I add an event to the calendar, I click, “Add conferencing” — which gives a hyperlink for the Google Meet conference that is shared with participating teachers.

I then prepare specific content based on the questions that the teachers submitted. For each meet-up, I also invite one of our district’s digital learning coaches as well, so we can have their insights into teachers’ questions. Overall, the sessions have two elements: a “how-to” for technical questions and a discussion element where everyone can share their needs and ideas. Meet-ups are very informal and have an authentic feel. They are messy, carrying none of the “airs” of formal professional learning. In all honesty, these no-frills sessions are what we need right now. The collaborative nature of meet-ups also honors all participants’ expertise and ideas in a short-term learning community.

Co-Plan Routine Assignments

Depending on the district, this period of virtual instruction may be considered continued learning, supplemental learning, or enrichment — depending on state or school guidelines. Regardless of how the work “counts” for students, we are learning that we must be targeted with our assignments and reduce the scope of our originally planned curriculum. Some students have parent support at home, but many do not–their parents are working outside the home or don’t have capacity to support virtual instruction.  Some students may have become de facto child care providers for younger siblings.

Coaches can help support teacher planning by helping teachers think through some routine assignments that students can learn and complete over and over again. Students will feel more confident in their transition to virtual learning if they can learn just a few routines. For example, I collaborated with an English Language Arts teacher last week. With my support, she decided to map out each week with four assignments. One of the assignments will be new material that is scaffolded with a clear sequence of directions. However, the other three assignments will all be recurring routines. Students will complete an Achieve the Core mini-assessment each week via Edcite. Students will record their score on the mini-assessment (yes, Edcite will score it!) and review the questions that were incorrect. Students will submit a reflection that focuses on what they learned from reviewing the correct answers. The quality of the reflections will be what is assessed by the teacher. Students will also complete a regular vocabulary activity each week. Lastly, students will engage in self-selected reading each week, and then they will share a response to their reading in a Flipgrid video each Friday!

Take One Day at a Time

I am still figuring this all out. These are just a few of the early successes I’m having in this period of virtual coaching. I think what’s most important for all educators, parents, and students is that we are going to make mistakes, and each day we are all learning how to make the most of this historic time that is so greatly impacting our lives.

I’d love to hear from other instructional coaches in our community about the successes they are having! Please leave a comment when you have ideas to share.

5 thoughts on “Coaching through the COVID-19 Crisis

  1. Hi Kenny,

    Great suggestions!

    Would it be possible to switch the settings on your Google Form link so that we can see the actual form? When I click on it I get a message that I don’t have access because I’m not in your org.

    Thank you, Kenny!


    Frank T.

  2. Thanks so much for this– we’re on Week 5 of remote learning, and just discovered we will not be returning to school for the rest of the year. As a brand new coach this year, I started in November and barely had 3 months to establish routines and relationships before all this happened. This will be a great tool as we navigate the next few months.

  3. This was encouraging to read, thank you! Yes, I do thrive on those constant conversations with teachers to direct our action steps. Not having that feedback has been tricky, but your article encouraged me to see that my new version of coaching is actually going well and is found to be productive.
    Something to add, that I’ve found helpful is just producing lessons for teachers. A normal part of my job is modeling instructional practices then building goals from those models.
    Right now the teachers I work with are feeling the weight of all the planning. When I can team up with grade levels to record some of the video minilessons for them I’m achieving some important things.
    1. Gratitude and trust from the teachers, knowing that I am there to support them and help carry the load.
    2. Coaching through modeling because the minilesson I filmed is giving teachers a guide to follow when making their own video lessons.
    3. Our students and families will be viewing these lessons in their homes. They will see my face and it strengthens that relationship, reminding them that my job has purpose and I still care for them from afar.

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About the Author: Kenny McKee (@kennycmckee) is a high school literacy coach for Buncombe County Schools in Asheville, NC. He is co-authoring an upcoming ASCD book with Kathy Perret (@KathyPerret) on coaching through barriers.