Who would have thought that we would still be teaching in the midst of a pandemic? At the beginning of this school year, public school districts had to make important decisions about how to approach this school year. How would they keep students safe? How would they continue to engage students in learning? And, how would they support teachers in the process?
At St. Vrain Valley Schools in Longmont, Colorado, we acknowledge we are teaching in a pandemic, yet we still need to move students forward and continue to help them grow. This is a delicate balance, especially as teachers are dealing with the stresses of a changing landscape and the desire to find their footing with new instructional challenges.
Prior to and particularly now during the pandemic, coaching has been a vital support in helping educators find balance and maintain the pace they are working. It has also given them adequate time and space to think and process the learning that is occurring in their classroom every day.
Looking toward the rest of this school year and beyond, the following three coaching practices will continue to go a long way in supporting the ongoing success and well-being of teachers.
When we step back and think about the major shifts in educators’ practice during the pandemic, one thing that stands out the most is the normalization of video. Teachers never got into education to become YouTube sensations, but they sure have risen to the challenge!
Due to COVID and distance learning, many educators jumped in and began creating digital content for their students so they could continue learning. If teachers were not creating flipped videos, they were meeting with students live via video platforms such as Webex and Zoom.
You might ask, how does this all relate to coaching? More than a year ago when we would ask educators to submit a video clip of their classroom or teaching, it brought up a lot of angst or trepidation. But, now teachers are more than willing to capture video – it has become a part of their everyday life. This is where the tool Edthena has become invaluable in helping elevate our educators’ practice.
Edthena is a platform that allows educators to upload videos of their teaching practice, then have a coaching conversation inside a safe, password-protected environment with their mentor or coach. The simple act of reviewing their instruction and seeing the data of what happened in that moment of instruction leads to shifts and tweaks to enhance teaching and learning in the very next lesson.
Another major shift during the pandemic is how students or colleagues collaborate in different spaces while working to keep engagement and rigor high. Jamboard, the collaborative whiteboard tool integrated in the Google Suite, is a powerful answer.
We have been using Jamboard to “jam out” with educators for strategic reflection in various ways ever since we found this gem. We have an Inter-District Coaching Collaborative where coaches are able to come together to reflect, refine, and elevate their practices. We utilize Jamboard in the form of a Celebration Station where coaches are able to post their “win of the month” at the same time in the same digital space.
It is tremendous to watch the positivity roll in from all of the coaches simultaneously and see how their celebrations build on one another. The power of celebrating the positive can take educators a long way and it’s important to be intentional about it.
Jamboard also works one-to-one to enhance coaching experiences. We use it to reflect back on our coaching progression over the year. In this use, an educator and coach list all the items they worked on together on digital stickies. The coach sorts all the concepts into categories: what’s been mastered, what’s being worked on, and what are new skills. The two then partner in a visual reflection board in live time and discuss progress.
These collaborative practices really assist in deepening the level of interdependence within a team or a coaching relationship.
Self-care is not just a trendy word, it is truly vital for educators to be able to sustain the work they are doing. This has become evidently clear as we are in the middle of an ultra-marathon when it comes to teaching.
Many educators push off self-care, although it is a transformative experience and should be prioritized, both now and post pandemic. Think of the innovation that could happen in education if we continue to make self-care a priority. We could have educators who have balance, energy, and clear cognition.
The greatest lesson from the pandemic might be that we have to start with ourselves. Christian Van Nieuwerburgh, professor of positive psychology and recent guest of the C3: Connecting Coaches, Cognition podcast, talks about “how important it is for educators to be intentional about taking care of their wellbeing during this time. It’s not indulgent to look after our own psychological wellbeing–it’s our professional responsibility.”
Some of our favorite self-care tools and strategies include using Calm, which is an awesome app that provides meditations, calming music, and master classes; as well as getting in touch with nature in any way, whether that be opening the window for a nice breeze, taking a walk to the mailbox to step away for a moment, or planning a long hike to decompress.
One of the biggest aspects of self-care and mindfulness is that it is not a one-size-fits-all model. It is something that takes dedication and time, and something we always emphasize in our coaching.
The pandemic has taught us about leaning in, rumbling with new challenges, and continuously pressing forward to meet the needs of teachers and students alike. Whether it’s leveraging video coaching, using digital tools, or setting aside time for self -are, all of these best practices focus on the need for human connection. This is the important thing to hold on to and continue to always prioritize.
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