Being a No-Nonsense Nurturer Coach in a Virtual World
This blog series is aimed at helping educators in a time of challenge and opportunity.
Alex Price has been a trained Real Time Teacher Coach at Ashley Park PreK-8 School in Charlotte, NC for the last four years. In this Q&A, Alex reflects on how her role has changed as she supports her teachers virtually, and how she maintains her relationships and high expectations in a virtual world.
What did your typical coaching day look like prior to the onset of COVID-19 and its impact in Charlotte?
Prior to the onset of COVID-19, my typical coaching day consisted of planning meetings, co-teaching and modeling, in-the-moment feedback, RTTC (Real Time Teacher Coaching), and small groups. During planning meetings, my teachers and I would schedule what type of support they needed for the upcoming week based on their own reflections and their scholar data. During my school’s intervention time, I pulled data-driven small groups for third through eighth grade at least two times a week per grade level. Every week I ensured I was in my teachers’ rooms at least three to four times providing in-the-moment feedback, or jumping in to co-teach or model if appropriate.
My RTTC support was focused on my new teachers to ensure they were utilizing best practices in terms of instruction and management. We typically would follow the cycle of watching a video of the strategy and using the look-for guide to unpack where the teacher stood. I would then schedule a time to come model or co-teach the strategy with the teacher to gain more understanding, from there then we would follow the typical structure of baseline, pre-conference, coaching, and post-conference cycle.
How has your work as an RTTC changed? What hasn’t changed (that you thought might)?
In so many ways my work hasn’t changed – the platform has. I am still planning with each of my teachers weekly; we unpack the standards, backwards-plan from assessments, and script probing questions or hooks to engage our kids. We are still sorting exit tickets and other assessment data, and trying to identify common trends or misconceptions. I’m still co-teaching and modeling, and providing in-the-moment feedback to all of my teachers, but now in a virtual setting through Zoom.
The silver lining of this virtual adventure is seeing how seamlessly we can embed our pre-existing coaching priorities. Ensuring my teachers are still scanning and narrating, cold calling, and utilizing hand signals and online quiz platforms for 60-Second Check-ins has all seemed to click for my teachers and our scholars. In-the-moment feedback looks similar, too. I may interrupt or raise my hand on Zoom and guide with a probing question, or even send a quick push in the chat feature for my teacher to apply.
All of our scholars are used to seeing me do this in their brick and mortar classroom, so they are not surprised when I interact the same way in the virtual classroom. Even small groups have been able to be continued through utilizing break out rooms, as a result of my teachers being trained to respond to data in the moment. After a quick check for understanding, and often without my prompting, they are leveraging the same moves they would in the classroom. They are sorting students based on errors and needs, and giving me a group to work with that needs a bit more support before independent practice.
How do you maintain high expectations for your teachers and kids virtually?
The key with high expectations is to still be explicit with expectations and directions. Each of my teachers have refined how their classroom norms translate to the virtual setting, and defined what a consequence looks like. They are then taking these norms and practicing them in the virtual classroom prior to any instruction, just like they would in a brick and mortar setting. It all comes down to being present, monitoring, and asking questions. Our kids see and feel that, and respond to it very similarly to how they do in the classroom.
As a coach, I’m a co-teacher in all of my teachers’ virtual classes so I can see the quality, quantity, and alignment of instruction. I attend at least one of their virtual classes a week to get a sense for their strengths and areas of growth. When it comes to coaching high expectations of my teachers, I bring up any opportunities for growth in planning meetings; we unpack any roadblocks or mindsets that are getting in the way, and then practice the action step together. This also creates space for them to name their needs in order to meet high expectations. Sometimes this leads to me modeling for my less tech confident teachers, which allows them to see a skill in action, then ask questions and give feedback on what went well, and where I could refine my own practice.
How do you maintain and establish relationships virtually?
COMMUNICATION! I regularly check in with my teachers through texts, emails, gifs – all the things! I also ask what I can take off their plate, such as prepping some exit tickets to model alignment and rigor, or videotaping myself re-teaching a non-mastered skill for them to post. Relationships are also fostered by taking time at the start of our virtual classes and our virtual plannings to check in, and recognizing that we are all real people with so much going on outside of being a teacher. Being a relationship-oriented coach means recognizing this and then problem-solving what we can and can’t control to ensure we are showing up as our best versions of ourselves for our scholars.
What has surprised you most about teaching and coaching in a virtual world?
What has surprised my most is how similar it is, and how seamlessly the best practices and strategies myself and my teachers are trained in have translated into the virtual classroom. It has also been really eye opening to see scholars who have historically struggled be so authentically engaged in this new world of learning. I am honestly so humbled and so proud of my team; they are genuinely going above and beyond to support their scholars and ensure we are closing gaps and not widening them in this time of so many uncertainties.
What message or tips would you give an RTTC coach who is starting to adapt virtually?
Ask questions, be present, and model humility! Right now your teachers want to feel supported and heard, and less isolated in this transition. They want you to sit with them during planning and walk through how to use a new platform or how to create purposeful assignments in the virtual world. This is critical, and also don’t hesitate to keep pushing and asking about purpose. My job as a coach, regardless of virtual or brick and mortar, is to be my teachers’ sounding board and tag-team partner, and also their mirror.
A leader once said, “How dare I know something that could make your teaching better, and not tell them?” This belief hasn’t changed just because we now teach online! Just as my belief in modeling humility as a leader hasn’t changed, I am still growing daily as an educator and a coach. I would push all RTTC coaches out there to actually ask their teachers (not just to check a box or to fill out a survey) about the ways their support has been beneficial and in what ways they can better support. I learn from and am pushed daily by my teachers, just as I hope they would say they learn daily from and are pushed daily by me.
What message or tips would you give a teacher who is starting to adapt virtually?
Just start trying! Pick one platform or one program and try it. Rely on what you know as best practices such as aligned instruction, strong probing, and a gradual release model. The platform has changed, but the instruction and delivery hasn’t! You’ve got this; if you don’t, don’t hesitate to ask for help. When you engage in a live virtual class, I know it may initially seem scary, but seeing your scholars’ faces and them seeing yours will be the highlight of your day.
Interested in Real Time Teacher Coaching?
Interviewed by Meaghan Loftus, Associate, CT3