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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

District Coaching Not an Option for You? What About Virtual Coaching?

By Peter DeWitt — September 23, 2018 5 min read
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Instructional coaching is a highly successful method used to help teachers improve in their craft. The misnomer is typically that instructional coaches only work with teachers who are struggling, or those teachers who are put on a performance plan by school leaders.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. Instructional coaches help any teacher who wants to improve, and that includes those high flying teachers who often have deep engagement with students already, but want to be able to dive even deeper.

Unfortunately, not all coaching programs are created equally. There are a variety of reasons why instructional coaching may not be as effective as it could be. For example:


  • There are districts where instructional coaches become the dumping ground for duties as assigned
  • Coaches are used as compliance officers in order to make sure every teacher paces at the same time
  • Coaches are overwhelmed with large caseloads
  • Other times, it has nothing to do with pacing or district initiatives, but instead it’s that the district doesn’t have coaching available to teachers because they lack funds to afford coaching positions.

And, perhaps there is another reason. Perhaps the teacher lacks the self-efficacy (Bandura) to work with someone within their school, or that the coach doesn’t have credibility. This doesn’t mean the coach is bad at coaching. It means that some coaches lack credibility in the eyes of the teacher, and credibility is an important element to a coaching-teacher relationship.

...and that is where virtual coaching comes into the picture.

Virtual Doesn’t Mean Impersonal
Virtual coaching, which was once something that seemed too loose, is now something that is on the rise as a viable coaching option. For example, one organization that offers virtual coaching is Better Lesson (Peter DeWitt is not affiliated with Better Lesson). According to Better Lesson, their coaching offers:


  • Customized Vision setting and launching point for specific instructional, mindset and cultural changes
  • Small Group Provides practical and actionable strategies in highly collaborative small groups
  • Focused on Personalized Implementation Plans Produces a “gameplan” for each participant to implement new strategies that align to their personal goals
  • Include Follow-Through Coaching Personalized sessions ensure the learning extends beyond the workshop

Virtual coaching offers teachers a personalized, district-political free, confidential experience where they can learn from another professional who has been vetted by the coaching organization, and approved for their experience in education.

Better Lesson’s website states that teachers,


  • Select from hundreds of curated strategies that align with the specific elements of practice they are focused on improving.
  • Gain insights on the ways other educators have implemented a strategy to determine how to best adapt it for their students.
  • Collect and share proof points of the strategy in action and the growth students made to create a cycle of data-driven decision making.
  • Reflect on progress and track professional growth.

For teachers who do not have access to coaching because their district cannot afford the position, or their district has a complicated coaching structure, this may work as a viable method of professional learning to help them improve.

Pitfalls to Beware Of with Virtual Coaching
There are some pitfalls to virtual coaching. One of the benefits of instructional coaching, given the time and availability of the instructional coach, is the idea of modeling and observing around the goal, which is usually a teaching strategy to increase student engagement.

In a typical instructional coaching relationship, a coach would model a lesson using the strategy for a teacher, and then when the teacher is ready to try the strategy, the coach would be there to observe the lesson and give feedback.

Unfortunately, not all instructional coaches have that opportunity because they often have big caseloads and lack the time to be able to observe the teachers they are working with. However, in virtual coaching, the modeling of lessons take place through watching a video, and there isn’t typically a coach to sit in and observe the lesson.

Another downside is the same downside that we would experience using any virtual tool. If we don’t consistently use it, we will not go as deep as we could. For example, Rosetta Stone is a highly popular method to learn a new language on-line. Users jump in feet first using Rosetta Stone, and then as time goes by those users slack off their efforts due to time commitments or the difficulty of the program. We only get out of a tool what we put into it.

In the End
Instructional coaching should not be complex. In coaching expert Jim Knight’s work, coaches and teachers work together is a confidential relationship around a goal that a teacher cares deeply about. They work through a cycle of evidence where they look at research around the chosen goal, model what that goal would look like when done successfully, and collect evidence to see that the goal is being met, and has a positive impact on students. It is highly successful, and as a former instructional coaching trainer for Knight, I have met countless coaches who work hard to help teachers have a strong impact.

Unfortunately, there are districts where coaching may be unavailable to teachers or the coaches have too large of a caseload to work individually with teachers. Virtual coaching may be a viable alternative. It is personalized and confidential, and can be a tool to help a teacher improve on a goal they care about in a confidential way they are comfortable with. However, like anything, we only get out of it, what we put into it.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (Corwin Press. 2016), School Climate: Leading with Collective Efficacy (Corwin Press. 2017), and Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership (Corwin Press. 2018). Connect with him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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