Professional Development

Online Teacher-Coaching Services on the Rise

By Elisha McNeil — February 19, 2016 1 min read
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To help hone their skills and improve their classroom practice, a growing number of teachers are getting help from virtual-coaching services, according to a story in the Hechinger Report this week.

More startups and education nonprofits are developing professional-development programs that combine face-to-face interaction and online training, both for new teachers struggling with classroom management and veteran teachers looking to provoke deeper thinking from students. From the piece:

Nothing in Linda Liptrap's teacher training prepared her for the pencil onslaught. In 2013, as a novice math teacher at Callaghan Elementary in rural Covington, Virginia, Liptrap was plagued by student requests to sharpen pencils, use the bathroom and other picayune interruptions. "'They were penciling me to death,' Liptrap said. Lessons stalled. Test scores suffered. Callaghan's principal tried a novel solution to rescue her harried teacher—a virtual coach. A startup called EdConnective matched Liptrap with a veteran teacher in another state trained as an instructional coach."

According to the article, Liptrap and her coach at EdConnective observed and analyzed videos of her teaching, came up with personalized teaching strategies, and then reviewed videos of Liptrap implementing those strategies in the classroom over the course of six weeks. The training ultimately helped Liptrap reduce the interruptions that had plagued her teaching.

Lauren Vargas, an EdConnective virtual coach, describes the private coaching sessions as “very proactive and very action-orientated.”

For example, if a teacher wants to give clearer and more concise directions to students, Vargas will play back (or read back) the directions the teacher gave in a previous class. Then, she'll have the teacher practice a new approach "in their teacher voice" until the teacher gets the hang of it, and she'll follow up in the next session to see how it went in front of actual students."

Schools and principals are turning to online coaching because often they simply do not have the time or money to have coaches on staff, Hechinger columnist, Chris Berdik, writes. On the other hand, virtual instructional coaches can help from anywhere and at any time, promising teachers more feedback, personalized action plans, and follow-up—three aspects The Hechinger Report notes as often missing from teacher PD.

EdConnective is far from the only program offering virtual coaching and online professional development. The article mentions TNTP, a nonprofit teacher-training and advocacy group that offers virtual coaching in addition to providing in-school services and programs, and Teaching Channel, which offers a subscription service that enables mentors and teachers to hold online discussions and analyze teaching videos.

The Hechinger Report notes that there is little hard data that supports the notion that virtual coaching can improve student achievement, but that there are two independent studies underway by Teaching Channel Teams to be finished in three years.

More on professional development and teacher training:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.