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Coaching in a Virtual Environment

Updated: Apr 27

Coaching teachers is an amazing job. It can also be one of the most difficult. We are leaders of teachers and we must be prepared to lead our teachers through the trenches no matter the circumstances. Even during this time, when teachers are looking to us for help and guidance, we will still fight the task of helping teachers understand that we come in peace. We are not here to evaluate, but instead to create an open dialogue of growth. Doing this in a brick-and-mortar setting allows people to rely on the unspoken cues of communication— body language, a smile, just simply being in the doorway when you are needed. Coaching in a virtual environment can look a little different, but it offers many advantages. You can do several things to make your virtual coaching sessions successful.


Be Prepared

Because teachers are not in their comfort zone, it is normal for them to be even more reluctant to receive coaching. Remember that teachers feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable with all of the changes they have been thrown into. Our job is to help them find things that motivate them so that they can embrace these changes. We can do this by asking them the right questions so teachers can evaluate their delivery and by modeling the practices we want them to adopt.


Asking the Right Questions

Asking questions is one of the most important parts of communication. We stress the importance of questioning to our teachers as a part of their daily instruction. As coaches we also have to use questioning to help move our teachers forward. It is important to identify what information you want to know. Plan your questions ahead of time; have them written down and next to you during the coaching session. Also, avoid asking questions with an embedded answer. Teachers can easily detect your opinion in these questions, if teachers disagree with your opinion, they may not be receptive to coaching in the future. Some sample questions that you might ask to help drive teachers forward include:


How would you rate the current lesson you are delivering?

What would you change about the lesson?

What was your most challenging moment?

What did you learn from your challenging moment?

What was your best moment in the lesson?

How can you create more moments like this?


When teachers can begin to reflect on their delivery and explain how they would like to improve, they develop their own motivation.


Modeling Practices

One of the benefits our current situation offers is the myriad of resources at our disposal. We can now coach teachers from our living room, while in our pajamas, and create valuable growth opportunities. Our goal as coaches is to bring teachers to a place where they will reflect on their learning and continue to grow in their craft. We should always be willing to do what we ask of others, and the perfect tools to do so are available to us. When providing virtual coaching, record the session, utilizing the tools and methods you are asking your teachers to use in their classrooms. Reflect on the session and take notes for your own development. Ask yourself the same questions you would ask your teachers. Showing your teachers that you are willing to do what you ask of them will help them to know that you understand what they are going through and you are there to support them.


Be Understanding Free Pass for Teachers

Some teachers just won’t be open to coaching right now. Teachers are doing the best they can juggling social isolation and teaching, which in itself goes against the core of who teachers are. They are learning how to teach in a virtual environment, dealing with how to take care of their families, and stressing about whether their students’ needs are being met. There may be a litany of other things going on that we are unaware of such as financial stress, sickness of loved ones, and taking care of loved ones, just to list a few. Teachers are doing all they can to handle all of this stress. It is OK if they just can’t handle coaching right now. Give them a break—this is the one time it is okay to give everybody a Free Pass. Just be there to help when they need it.


Free Pass for Yourself

Give yourself a break too! Taking care of yourself is so important. As coaches, we often take on the stress of others. We take things personally and we don’t take time to stop. We have to give ourselves a Free Pass right now too!


Work Smart

Dedicate time to the important things. Do not let things interrupt your productivity. Have a list of items you would like to accomplish each day and prioritize. Get done what needs to be done and leave the least important things for last.


Set your office hours and turn off your devices during your off-hours. Everyone is working at home on their own schedule and may reach out to you any time, day or night. This does not mean you have to respond at all hours. Remember it is OK to turn off your laptop and your phone. Don’t feel guilty because you are not working twenty-four hours a day.


Be the Calm

In a virtual environment, we have fewer opportunities for us to read the emotions of our peers which leaves us assuming how others are feeling. This is a risky thing to do. When we are stressed, it can appear as anger to others. Take time for yourself so you can be the calm others need you to be. Get the rest you need to decompress. Being rested and in the right frame of mind will allow you to be more patient and effective.


Understanding how to deal with change is an important part of being a leader. It is important that we are prepared to meet the needs of our teachers, even in a virtual setting. We can do this by continuing to motivate our teachers and encourage teachers to take care of themselves. Be their idea bank- model the techniques and tools you want teachers to use and ask questions to help them continue to grow. Just remember they are dealing with a lot, so give them a free pass when they need it. Do the same for yourself. Take care of yourself - you will need to be the calm in the storm they need you to be.

About your Authors:

Dr. Melissa K. Jackson,

Educator, Servant Leader, and Instructional Technology Innovator

Connect with @DrMKJackson

Tony Sanfillipo,

Director of Professional Development, Instructional Coaching

Connect with @TechSanfillipo