The last two years have been mentally and emotionally exhausting for everyone in education. As I work with leadership teams, many are struggling to engage their teachers in professional learning this year. Schools invested money in purchasing devices and improving access to reliable internet to meet the demands of the pandemic, and leadership teams want to keep the momentum going. They are excited about the potential of leveraging this technology to create more dynamic, differentiated, and student-centered learning experiences.
Unfortunately, substitute teacher shortages combined with teacher fatigue are presenting challenges when it comes to offering and engaging teachers in professional learning. Often these all-staff training sessions present strategies and models generally, but they do not support individual teachers in adapting these strategies and models for their specific grade level, subject area, or student population. Given the challenges of engaging teachers in professional development this year, I suggest leveraging the coaches on your campus and in your district to offer a more personalized approach to professional learning. Just as with students, every teacher is unique. They have different interests, challenges, strengths, needs, and learning preferences. A coach can more effectively meet teachers where they are at in a coaching session or series of sessions as compared to an all-staff training.
When I train coaches supporting teachers in the shift to blended learning, I share my blended learning coaching cycle, which I wrote about in Power Up Blended Learning. Coaches benefit from having a clear structure and resources to guide their interactions with teachers.
Each step in the coaching cycle serves a specific purpose. Ideally, coaching will be sustained over time, allowing the coach to move through this cycle with each teacher; however, time constraints may make it necessary to focus on two or three stages of the cycle or transfer parts of the process online. Below is an overview of the benefit of each step of the coaching cycle.
Initial Conversation and Goal Setting
Coaching at its core is about relationships. If the teacher does not trust the coach or feel comfortable taking risks, the coaching sessions will not be positive or productive. It is critical to start with a conversation to build trust and establish rapport. I share a specific strategy called the dialogic interview to break down walls and immediately connect with teachers. I also ask teachers to articulate a goal they want to work toward in our sessions, so they have agency over the process.
Initial Observation and Debrief
The initial observation helps the coach understand where a teacher is beginning their learning journey. The goal of this initial observation is to be a mirror, not a judge. The coach must understand how the teacher is currently designing and facilitating learning. That way, they can ensure that the lesson they develop in the next stage of the coaching cycle is within the teacher’s zone of possibility. It is essential to “think big and start small” when onboarding a teacher to a new blended learning model.
Co-lesson design is the stage of the coaching cycle when the coach works in collaboration with the teacher to design a blended lesson they can immediately use. When the coach and the teacher engage in this design work together, the coach can offer concrete suggestions to help teachers identify potential barriers and eliminate them by prioritizing differentiation, student agency, and student control over the pace of learning.
Real-time coaching transforms the lesson into a learning opportunity for the teacher. It also sends a powerful message to students that everyone on campus is learning, experimenting, and improving. Real-time coaching also presents coaches with an opportunity to provide feedback on the lesson. Feedback is easier to give when coaches are using a blended learning rubric.
Co-teaching and Model Lessons
Co-teaching and facilitating model lessons allows the coach to support implementation or model strategies that the teacher wants to see in action before trying themselves. This stage in the coaching cycle can help teachers develop higher levels of self-efficacy or confidence in their ability to facilitate a lesson or employ a specific strategy on their own.
Document, Reflect, and Revisit Goals
The final stage of the blended learning coaching cycle prioritizes reflection. The coach can help teachers document parts of their lesson (e.g., video recordings) to review and reflect on, analyze data, or examine artifacts of student learning to identify what worked well and what might need to be modified or reimagined.
Blended Learning Coaching Course
I’ve created a 10-week course that includes the following 10 modules to support coaches in developing their coaching skill set and blended learning knowledge.
Each cohort is limited to the first 100 people to register. This course will be offered 3-4 times each year. It includes two 120-minute synchronous sessions in Weeks 3 and 6. In addition, participants will have access to a Google Classroom where they can participate in discussions paired with each module. I encourage teams of coaches on a campus or in a district to register for the same cohort so they can collaborate and create resources together.
This course will provide coaches, TOSAs, administrators, and mentors with a clear path, or coaching cycle, they can use to support teachers and maximize the impact of coaching. In addition, this course will help coaches develop a higher-level understanding of blended learning, so they feel confident coaching teachers in designing and facilitating learning to combine active, engaged learning online and offline.
The pandemic pushed teachers out of their comfort zones. Despite the challenges, there was significant growth. Coaches are critical to maintaining that momentum, so teachers do not abandon strategies, models, or technology tools in favor of what is comfortable or familiar. Given the high levels of teacher fatigue around professional learning right now, leveraging coaches to provide embedded and personalized support for teachers may be the most effective way to support teachers right now.
You can explore the course content here. To request a quote for your coaching team, please complete this form.