By Ebony Flott and Courtney Simpson
With many schools closed for the rest of the academic year, instructional coaches and other leaders have wondered how to support teachers remotely. In an April 23rd webinar hosted by Learning Forward, Ebony Flott and Courtney Simpson, instructional coaches in Gwinnett (Georgia) County Public Schools, explained how they are offering virtual coaching support to individuals and teams of teachers. In this post, they share a slide they created summarizing their support options and write about what each type of support looks like in their district.
During the first week of school closures this spring, we led our regularly scheduled Collaborative Learning Team meetings via Zoom. As we were reflecting after that first meeting, Courtney said to Ebony, “I want our teachers to know that we’re still available to support them during this challenging time.” Suspecting that sometimes teachers don’t reach out to coaches for help because they don’t know what kind of support they can ask for, Ebony suggested brainstorming a list of ways teachers could work virtually with an instructional coach.Here are six ways to work virtually with your instructional coaches. Click To Tweet
We came up with the list seen here and presented it as a slide at the next day’s meetings with teachers. We suggested six types of support, which include several roles of an instructional coach such as resource provider, curriculum and instructional specialist, and classroom supporter. This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it meant to replace coaching cycles. But it provides entry points and encouragement for teachers to reach out and get the support they need.
Provide resources for all subject areas: We dedicated two Collaborative Learning Team meetings to sharing resources for digital learning. Prior to those meetings, we spent time sifting through the abundance of available resources and then paring the list down to just a few so as not to overwhelm teachers. In the meetings, we explored various ways the resources could be used to support the teaching and learning of state standards. We included vetted resources for all subject areas and invited teachers to reach out to us with requests for additional materials to support specific standards.
Provide feedback on videos, activities, and other resources before they are uploaded and shared with students: When providing feedback on videos and activities teachers are considering, we look for a few things. We make sure there is an ease in accessibility for students. That means that students can complete tasks across multiple devices such as cell phones, tablets, and computers. We also look for evidence of differentiation. Is there read-aloud capability built-in for students whose first language is not English and students with special needs? Can students respond in multiple ways such as using Flipgrid to record a video response or a video note to record an oral response? Are the learning target and teaching points explicitly stated? And last but certainly not least: Do the activities actually align to our standards?
Consult with support staff on differentiating tasks for Digital Learning Days: During Digital Learning Days, our classroom teachers are joined by the ESOL and gifted teachers who support their grade levels for joint professional learning. This has allowed us to partner with instructional support staff to devise plans for differentiating digital learning and providing individualized instruction. Teachers select the content they want to teach, and then we work together to explore digital platforms that support the processes they want to use or the products they want students to create. Examples include a science lesson on electrical circuits with video and audio support for English learners and multimedia poster boards created by gifted learners after researching the presidential election process.
Assist with pre-recorded videos for lessons: When assisting with prerecorded lessons or videos, we try to model lessons just like we would if we were in the classroom, following the “I-do, we-do, you-do” method of gradual release we always use. We may model actions such as stopping in the “we do” section of the lesson and asking for a verbal response from the students, even though the video isn’t live and there won’t be any students to respond. We continue modeling how to encourage students to do turn-and-talk, perhaps doing so with a sibling, parent, or toy since they do not have immediate access to classmates. We also make sure to address the intent of our county standards.
Co-plan and co-teach lessons: The sudden and complete switch to digital learning came with a steep learning curve for many of our teachers. To promote positive risk-taking and help scaffold the transition to online teaching, we partnered with teachers to co-plan synchronous and asynchronous lessons and to co-teach synchronous lessons using platforms like Zoom and Google Meet.
Presenting these six options for coaching did exactly what we hoped it would do. Teachers began reaching out immediately once they were aware of the ways they could partner with us virtually. Teachers have utilized every type of support offered on the slide, although the types they request tend to vary from one grade level to another.
Our priority is to be just as accessible to teachers virtually as we were within the walls of school buildings. That kind of support is essential to ensure that students are still receiving the same level of academic rigor and consistent, high-quality feedback they need to learn and thrive. We’re gratified to see that teachers are implementing quality lessons with technology, and that students are engaged and continuing to learn in the midst of this crisis. We can confidently say that we’ve been able to meet the challenges of teaching and learning online, and we’ve done it by working together.
Ebony Flott (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Courtney Simpson (Courtney.Simpson@gcpsk12.org) are instructional coaches in Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia. They presented about this work during the webinar Learning from coaches: Supporting educators in a virtual world, which Learning Forward hosted on April 23rd, 2020. You can listen to the recording of the webinar and download supplemental materials for that webinar and others in our series of COVID-19 support webinars here.