Coaching in Quarantine

April 30, 2020

With little notice, teachers were launched into the unfamiliar territory of remote teaching. When school buildings closed, teachers left their classrooms and separated from their students. They went home to search for ways to continue the school year, for an undetermined amount of time.

In a coaching program, if the focus has been on “improvement,” I imagine teachers will be anxious about engaging in coaching during the school closure. In fact, teachers will likely feel coaching would be a burden added to their plates, not a value added to their lives. 

Coaching programs that focus on learning, however, will have an advantage for a seamless transition during a school closure. This approach builds confidence and encourages taking risks. There is no other time like the present, when teachers are having to be bold and courageous.

For the past fifteen years, I have worked alongside hundreds of teachers with a myriad of backgrounds and classrooms as an instructional coach. Our partnership emphasizes learning, so I find coaching in quarantine is similar to coaching before the quarantine.

WHAT IS THE SAME? 

A cycle of inquiry model grounded in teacher-centric learning -- with flexible coaching methods that concentrate on needs -- is not dependent on location. The model can be implemented during a quarantine because the coaching method propels teaching forward, for greater gains in student learning, based on a teacher’s needs. 

WHAT IS NEEDED? 

During a crisis, coaches need to be extraordinarily vigilant with empathetic listening in conversations with teachers to uncover priorities. To find clarity, coaches need to have more conversations with teachers that acknowledge their present reality to provide a sense of security. Coaches need to understand the teacher’s perspective and listen without preconceived ideas on how to rescue teaching. Teachers yearn to be understood. When coaches support thoughtful deliberation, authentic solutions will emerge. Engaging in reflective practice cultivates self-directed behaviors. 

WHAT DO WE KNOW? 

We know many teachers are exhausted, disorientated and conflicted. We know teachers left behind materials in their classrooms. We know teachers immediately turned to social media to crowdsource resources and are suffering from information overload. We know teachers rushed to protect their students by organizing the delivery of meals and school materials and they constantly worry about them. We know teachers are relentless and creative. We know the strength of teachers is unlimited.

WHAT ARE THE ASSETS? 

Coaches should be masters at excavating individual and collective strengths. By leveraging assets, challenges decrease, and efficacy increases. When under pressure, it is not unusual for teachers to feel insecure about their teaching skills and struggle to recognize what is necessary. Coaches can find the strengths teachers think they have lost. This is an opportunity for powerful practices to ignite synergy at a time when weariness is prevailing. Like teachers with students, coaches need to know their teachers

WHERE ARE TEACHERS AT? 

Undoubtedly, the pandemic is causing trauma to personal and professional lives that is difficult to gauge. Veteran teachers are feeling like novices, new teachers are feeling dejected and all teachers are fragile. So, how do we start coaching in quarantine?

WHERE TO BEGIN? 

Coaching is demanding and coaches need the fortitude for the emotional pressures and be prepared for the messiness of the process. If the virus has overwhelmed a coach’s life, seeking immediate support from a coach and/or health professional is essential. Compassion fatigue will be a greater strain than ever before, therefore self-care has to be practiced routinely. Conversations cannot be reduced or replaced; however physical distance makes arranging access to teachers complicated. To the greatest extent possible, being available for teachers is imperative

HOW TO CONNECT? 

Everyone’s schedules are busy. If coaches grumble about their calendars being full, teachers won’t access them because it signals that they don’t have any time to spare. Coaching in quarantine means keeping in touch with teachers daily. In the digital world, we need to make our presence known in a multitude of ways, from voice, video or text. This signals that you are available and care.

HOW DO WE CARE? 

Social-emotional learning for teachers is the heart of coaching. And, it goes without saying that during this school closure it is necessary. We need to celebrate the unexpected successes and simple joys of teaching. Teaching in quarantine is a traumatic event and our coaching traits will matter.

WHAT ARE COACHING TRAITS?

  • Promoting teacher agency in service of student learning. 
  • Knowing teacher development
  • Leading through active listening and curiosity.
  • Demonstrating knowledge of coaching and andragogy.
  • Engaging in reflective practice.

Ironically, we have learned more about teaching during this school closure and separation from students than at another other time in recent history. It is not a surprise that teachers took matters into their own hands to continue school virtually. Teachers broke records for creating global professional learning communities. Teachers from different levels, latitudes and languages collaborated online to share relevant materials and tools with meaningful strategies while talking about teaching and learning. Undoubtedly, every teacher engaged in more learning during this unprecedented time than they have at any other time during their career. COVID-19 created the conditions for the possibilities of teacher-centric learning to emerge and expand. We discovered teaching doesn’t flourish without learning.

Written by Teresa Lien