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October 27, 2020

How Virtual Coaching Has Helped My New Teachers Improve

As a retired special education professor and consultant for 40+ years in Connecticut schools, I have relied on conventional classroom observations, private feedback meetings, and conversations with administrators to improve educators’ competence and professional development. While classroom recordings were occasionally available to generate problem solving ideas, the practice was often underutilized when coaching approximately 1,300 PK-12th grade educators.

When the coronavirus pandemic closed Connecticut schools in early spring, my coaching assignments were radically altered. From March to May of 2020, I provided virtual coaching to a group of beginning secondary teachers representing Connecticut’s Alternate Route to Certification program, which caters to prospective candidates seeking a one-year training. Each teacher was completing their certification practicum in a variety of districts, both suburban and urban. In response to the coronavirus situation, these individuals adopted distance learning procedures, a completely new experience with minimal preparation or guidance. Whether business, English, math, science, or technology, all lessons were recorded. Through video I communicated with each teacher on four separate occasions to analyze their overall performance on a formalized state evaluation rubric.  

Though older and inexperienced, these educators’ skills required extensive coaching to achieve their respective school’s new expectations for a remote teaching environment, particularly in communities with persistent student struggles. Transferring curricula scope and sequence from conventional instruction to distance learning proved a major challenge throughout their placements. Redesigning lesson content to incorporate technology was initially difficult, especially complementing students’ diverse learning requirements. Utilizing Google Slides, Schoology, and Nearpod, among others, required familiarity and expertise. Middle school accommodations, in general, mandated a greater variety of visual aids, learning packets, and applied projects to sustain student participation. High school instruction emphasized reading, creative writing, and analysis of material to achieve results.

Relying on virtual coaching was a novel experience for myself, as decades of coaching involved in-person observations and discussion. Having access to recorded lessons throughout the four evaluations was extremely beneficial to assist these trainees’ skill development. I always concentrated on their differentiated lesson modifications, assessment procedures, and interpersonal bonding with students. Subtle adjustments in time management, pacing, and engagement activities required experimentation, as evident by examining videos during the six–week period. Without video recordings, identifying areas of progress and future improvement goals would be too subjective.

Another related area of frustration involved students’ absenteeism during scheduled lesson time blocks. Their reliable participation and commitment were disrupted by a combination of internet availability, parental investment, and students’ accountability. Reviewing the virtual classroom footage revealed the interaction of instructional practices, engagement procedures, and teacher – student compatibility on attendance. By analyzing segments of videos, chunking lesson components into smaller tasks, using self-evaluation rubrics, and applying group reinforcement, by example, frequently improved students’ receptiveness and performance.  

In addition to these benefits, virtual coaching incidentally helped these new teachers understand stressors associated with mastering their craft. Anticipating daily challenges, adjusting instructional methods, and accommodating students’ unique requirements created psychological discomfort across the group. This unanticipated dilemma impacted everyone, regardless of age or background. While pre-service preparation rarely explores this reality, recorded lessons exposed this vulnerability when students’ apathy or resistance interrupted learning. A noticeable increase in teachers’ bodily tension, negative facial expressions, and composure were evident during these exchanges. Though typically unrecognized, virtual classroom footage revealed a consistent pattern of reactions that demanded remediation. Discussions centered on proactive recommendations to express positive emotions and calming responses, a task for these non-traditional educators.

While initially awkward, these interactions became quite natural, offering a non- threatening exchange that focused on teachers’ personal awareness and demeanor. Each teacher’s personality, emotional temperament, and style were evident using this format, which was validated by their reactions to students’ social-emotional issues. Whether benign or overt, smiling, sensitivity, frustration, and rigidity, among others, were recognizable reactions. An awareness of students’ neediness and sense of isolation with distance learning was enhanced by noting their different verbal and affective exchanges that interrupted instruction, including distractibility and anxiety. Highlighting these moments further illustrates the neutrality of video to sensitize teachers’ alertness and cue possible action. This self-reflection proved an invaluable outcome for a potential long-term career, especially teaching emerging adolescents.  

Overall, virtual coaching is an enriching, video-based environment to examine educators’ preparation for a career in education. It provides a legitimate format to offer constructive dialogue and recommendations with minimal resistance, a necessity in today’s constantly evolving profession.

Learn how educators are regularly receiving effective instructional feedback by clicking here.

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