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Five Ways Leaders Can Support Teachers in a Virtual World

This blog series is aimed at helping educators with online school leadership in a time of uncertainty and challenge.

In just a few short weeks, the nature of school leadership has shifted dramatically in its scope, responsibility, and urgency. At CT3, we know the inherent value of being a No-Nonsense Nurturer leader, but what does it look like and sound like in a virtual world? The five ideas below highlight key moves leaders can make to demonstrate critical care and set high expectations for their staff as an imperative to ensure our teachers are doing the same for our students. Download a check-in template for school leaders.

  • Be the model.

We are all learners in this new and uncertain space. As a leader, make your own learning transparent and model the use of new technology platforms with staff. For example, if your district or school is adopting Zoom, do your due diligence of learning its benefits and features on your own or with your leadership team. When you hold your virtual staff meetings, model the use of Zoom tools that teachers can execute with kids. Set purpose for virtual learning, communicate norms for muting and sharing, initiate breakout rooms to support teacher brainstorming over key priorities, and use messaging to gather data on teacher responses and questions. As you model a growth mindset and engage in the tools you expect your teachers to use with their students, your staff will follow suit – and gather technical ideas and moves along the way!

  • Provide the right resources, and create space and time for teachers to explore and navigate them.

We are currently inundated in shared articles and resources lists for online learning. At the surface, this breadth of information is helpful; yet when it comes to the depth needed for effective planning and practice, sharing links via email is simply not enough. During virtual staff meetings, and after you model, create time and space for exploration and guided practice of new platforms and resources. Engage your leadership team in training ahead of time so they are ready to co-lead and support.

As teachers engage in said platforms, build libraries of exemplar videos so teachers can maintain and deepen their professional learning communities. Ask teachers to record lessons for self reflection or reflection with their coaches or team leads. Set up virtual “learning walks” for teachers to pair up and watch one another, then create time afterward to provide affirmation and feedback. Individual and collective reflection has always been critical for teacher development, and the virtual space offers creative opportunities to push this lever.

  • Walk your “Virtual Halls”.

As teachers start to dive in – whether in Zoom, Google Classroom, or some other virtual space – ensure you have a master schedule of their virtual teaching. Use this schedule to plan a visit to each of their sessions, each week. If lessons are recorded, schedule time to watch, review, and provide feedback.

Clarity over your new virtual master schedule allows you to walk your “virtual halls”. First, these virtual walk-throughs inform individual feedback – given through email, text, or call – during or after the lesson. Providing feedback allows you to operate in a “coaching culture” that is vital to teacher growth and student achievement – especially in a new virtual world. Your teachers will be seeking your affirmation, challenges, and ideas as they navigate this new space, and will experience both support and accountability as they see you are being present to them and maintaining high expectations.

Second, virtual walk-throughs provide more comprehensive trend data on what your teachers are both retaining and missing in their virtual learning journey. Trend analysis better directs your follow-up coaching and staff PD focus.

Third, virtual walk-throughs build relationships by sustaining your connection with your kids and supporting your teachers. If on Zoom, use the break-out room feature to support your teacher in facilitating discussion and collecting data. Use the raised hand feature to ask a question and extend the learning to build off your teacher’s key point. Your kids and families will love seeing you, and your teachers will feel supported and affirmed for your partnership in this new journey. This is what visibility looks like in a virtual world – so lean in!

  • Leverage whole-staff communication to highlight wins.

Whether it’s in a virtual meeting or in a weekly newsletter, your whole staff communication should reflect and accommodate this new reality. Maximize your communication to celebrate, shout-out, and lift up the right values and behaviors. Highlight teachers who are operating with a growth mindset in this new world, and provide space for your staff to do the same for one another. Share screenshots of strong instructional moves you see during your virtual walk-throughs. As the leader, it is your job to benchmark and communicate wins. As teachers see you doing this consistently, they will emulate the mindsets and behaviors you are lifting up, ask better questions about how to get there, and align their own priorities.

  • Do weekly or bi-weekly “weather checks” with each of your teachers.

Just like No-Nonsense Nurturer teachers do with their students, create space for “weather checks”. These provide uninterrupted and informal time to see how your teachers are feeling – personally and professionally. Schedule 15-30 min face-to-face calls with your staff, and try executing bi-weekly to start and weekly if possible.

Weather checks serve two critical purposes. First and foremost, they allow you access to your teachers’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions in this novel and scary time. As the leader, you may find yourself instinctually prioritizing kids and families’ needs above all else. This is what makes you a strong leader. Yet as you know, your teachers are your champions in serving your children. Like anyone else, educators are experiencing a range of emotions on a given day in the face of this global epidemic. Fear for the health of themselves, their families, and their students; grief around the impact of COVID-19 on our broader society; and uncertainty around financial stability are just a few of the feelings your staff may share with you when you take time to check in. Start your weather checks by demonstrating care and inquiring about them first; ask them how they are feeling and doing, and listen to understand and empathize if they choose to share. Notice how these weather checks also provide you an opportunity to think about and model your own self-care. As the leader, your sense of responsibility for your students is at an all-time high right now. Take time to pause and notice your own needs; honor your grief, stress and fear. You cannot be strong for your staff and kids without “putting on your mask first”.

If and when weather checks allow an opportunity after checking in personally, take time to understand what is working in virtual learning, what is getting in the way, and what ideas your teachers have to problem solve. Just like walking around your building and informally connecting with staff give you data on what they need to hear and see from you, weather checks can offer you an opportunity to notice trends that drive your follow-up – in PD, individual support, and in full-staff communication.

What is your advice to leader colleagues? Please share in the comments below in support of the education community.

By Meaghan Loftus, M.Ed., Associate, CT3

  • Kristyn Klei Borrero
    Posted at 14:49h, 02 April Reply

    Modeling during these difficult times is so very important. As leaders, if we stay grounded and positive for our teachers, they, in return will do the same for our students.

  • Kayla Robinson
    Posted at 17:45h, 03 April Reply

    Hi Kristyn, This blog is very timely for us in Tulsa. I have shared with my school leaders and challenged them to communicate with CT3 through this blog to tell you about what they are experiencing and how CT3 can respond with supports. You captured some great points for leaders to consider as we move to a total virtual learning environment where their leadership is important in new ways.

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