Feeling Non-Essential? Read This.

by Stephanie, May 04, 2020

I’m settling into my new normal of COVID-19: rise early, spend hours in front of my computer on Zoom sessions, help my own children with their school work and come up for air in between. Some days are good….and some days are not.

On the good days, I marvel at the innovation these new circumstances have given rise to: using technology in new and meaningful ways to connect with students, focusing on what matters most rather than fitting everything in and coming together as a profession to support each other’s efforts.

On the not-so-good days, I stare at my computer screen and wonder what I actually did all day to impact teacher and student learning. I was busy, but was I helpful? I checked off items on my to-do list, but were they impactful? And I know I’m not alone. I’ve had countless conversations with instructional coaches and leaders who are grappling with the same unsettling thought of feeling non-essential.

Shifting to online, virtual and remote coaching can leave us floundering as we rewrite our job descriptions and figure out how to support teachers and students in new ways. On the not-so-good days, we may feel lost and unproductive since we are no longer working with teachers and students in person, something that defined our work in the past. And the relationships we worked so hard to build may feel strained as we all simply try to keep our heads above water.

Yes, our work has temporarily shifted. But yes, we are still greatly needed. In fact, I’d argue we are needed more than ever. If coaches support teachers as they make instructional changes and respond to students’ varied needs, then the world has handed us the perfect opportunity to for authentic coaching.

But if you not feeling very essential right now, I understand. I also have a few ideas to help change that mindset:

First, challenge your assumption that you are non-essential. Think back to your coaching position before schools were closed and list the coaching roles that made you feel worthy, important and valued. Then, think about how you might preserve the essence of those roles in digital and virtual ways. If your coaching space used to be a safe haven where teachers could drop in for advice and resources, create a simple website or Padlet wall that curates resources you’ve vetted to save teachers time and energy in finding themselves.

Then, think about your teachers. The supports you provided before COVID-19 will no longer work in the same ways. The world is different, teachers’ positions are different and the ways we interact with each other are different. Therefore, our coaching must be different too. So, listen to your teachers. Survey them about how they are feeling and what they need next. Reach out through personal emails or phone calls to see how you can help. And respond accordingly, even if it means shifting from your old ways of coaching or pushes you squarely out of your coaching comfort zone.

Above all, focus on community. Social distancing fuels the isolation we may already feel, disconnecting us even more from the learning community we previously formed with teachers. But we can control that by checking with teachers regularly. I’d avoid the mass email and instead, choose a number of teachers to personally email and check in with each day. Create a simple rotation calendar to ensure you check in with each teacher throughout the week, just as you might if coaching on site. And offer online coaching hours. If you have a set time where you are available for drop-in conversation or questions, teachers will come to rely on that time slot and make use of it when they need you. Send out a morning reminder with a light-hearted invitation and no set agenda, just an offer to help. But if they don’t check in, do not take it personally…they are just trying to stay afloat.

Continue your coaching from afar. Just because you are not physically present in classrooms doesn’t mean you can’t coach teachers virtually. More than ever, teachers need a helpful hand as they completely rethink how they provide instruction to students and this is where you can get hands-on in digital classrooms. Depending on how your school has structured digital learning, you can try these virtual coaching moves:
  • Offer support during synchronous learning sessions. You can support the technology, lead break-out groups or man the chat box to help the teacher focus on his or her instruction.
  • Model digital instruction. Just as you might model a lesson in the classroom, you can model digital lessons too. Model a digital mini-lesson for reading or writing workshop or lead students through an interactive presentation instead. Then, provide support so teachers can do the same.
  • Create on-demand screencasts for teachers and/or students. Create ‘easy buttons’ for how to use digital tools and technologies or provide concrete examples for how those tools might be used for remote instruction.
Create a rhythm to your day. While balance may be elusive, we can create new routines and rituals to provide a sense of normalcy to our circumstances. Start your day with morning drop-in office hours, record a lunch time read aloud for teachers to pass along to students (following fair use and copyright guidelines), send afternoon emails to teachers to check in and create resources or lead grade level meetings to wrap up your day. Choose your own tasks and times and try to find a new coaching rhythm that works for you.

We are all feeling a bit unsettled right now, wondering if we are doing enough or doing it right. But we are doing the best we can with what we have and that’s enough. Stay committed to learning from each new experience, rather than wallowing in our anxiety around them. If the best antidote for anxiety is action, then any action we take reminds us we have something to offer others. And that can make all the difference in the world.



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