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Opinion Blog

Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Instructional Coaching During the Coronavirus Crisis

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 27, 2020 14 min read
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(This is the ninth post in a multipart series. You can see Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here, Part Four here, Part Five here, Part Six here, Part Seven here, and Part Eight here.)

The new question of the week is:

How can we best support students when we teach online?

In Part One, David Sherrin, Lorie Barber, Janelle Henderson, and Cathleen Beachboard contributed their experiences.

In Part Two, Amy Roediger, Dr. PJ Caposey, Michael Silverstone, and Jeremy Hyler shared their reflections.

In Part Three, Matthew Johnson, Joseph Jones, T.J. Vari, Deb Blaz, and Cindi Rigsbee offered their ideas.

In Part Four, Nick Fotopoulos, Helen Vassiliou, Cornelia Okraski, and Sam Olbes discussed specifically how they were teaching their ELL classes online.

In Part Five, Maurice McDavid, Holly Spinelli, Ashley Wallace, and Kristen Koppers talked about what they were trying to do with their classes.

In Part Six, we revisited teaching English-language learners, with commentaries from Sarah Said, Sandra Mings Lamar, and Linda Heafey.

In Part Seven, Sara Cooper and Susan Scott used their very recent experience to write about what to do—and what not to do—when transitioning to online classes.

In Part Eight, Elizabeth Stein, Alexsandra López, Christine Kellogg, Mirna Jope, and Ceci Gomez-Galvez shared advice for those who are working with students with unique needs.

I have also written about my own online-learning plans, and you can listen to a 10-minute podcast conversation I had with several contributors to this series.

Today’s post highlights contributions from Amy Sandvold, Jackie Haus Hoggins, Danielle Macias, and Dawn Mitchell who, among other things, explore what this crisis means for educators who work as instructional coaches.

“How are YOU doing?”

Amy Sandvold is a teacher in Iowa/instructional coach with over 25 years in education. She is co-author of the bestselling books, The Passion Driven Classroom and The Fundamentals of Literacy Coaching. You can follow her on Facebook: Teacher in Iowa Twitter: @TeacherinIowa or Blog.

Jackie Haus Hoggins is an accomplished life coach and mediator with over 30 years of experience and clients all over the globe. She was also a college and secondary administrator for over 20 years. She is a co-founder of Healing Heroes in the Heartland, a nonprofit clinic and organization specializing in holistic PTSD treatment and healing:

Teachers are used to being flexible. We adapt and change based on what our data tells us our students need next. We go with the flow with daily schedule changes, meetings, and lesson planning. But the coronavirus pandemic has pushed teachers to an entirely new level of adaptability.

How can instructional coaches support their teachers in ways that go beyond analyzing data and lesson-plan feedback? Literally overnight, teachers had to be more than flexible. It could be argued that teachers were thrown into “survival mode,” charged with getting ready to support at-home learning (if allowed), and set up shop at home, while worrying about their own families and personal needs. Teachers need a whole new level of support as they balance everything .How can we help them as they check in with students and their families? Recently, Amy asked her social-media followers, “How are YOU Doing?” Here are some themes teachers shared in response:

  • How to take care of their own families and balance working from home

  • Concern for the social-emotional condition of their students

  • Are they overwhelming their families with information?

As follow-up, life coach Jackie Hoggins offers the following suggestions that instructional coaches can pass along and mirror in their ongoing conversations with teachers the next several weeks:

First and foremost, ask yourself how am I doing? Answer yourself out loud in front of a mirror or find a trusted friend, colleague, or family member to listen to your response. Key word is “trusted.”

Everyone needs a safe place to download at this critical time. There is so much uncertainty, and no one has the playbook or manual. This is uncharted territory only written about in a novel or shown on the big screen. Honestly, no one really believed we would be living this nightmare in real life. Now we are here.

“Here” looks very different to everyone, especially teachers. Most teachers entered this profession to care for children in a variety of ways. Some teachers realize that the children they serve are better off at school than in their homes.This group is very traumatized because of the abrupt orders to close schools.

Some teachers personally needed a break, and this abrupt school closure was a blessing. Others are in a variety of places and may even change hourly.

The best strategy is just to “tell the truth” on yourself. The answer is always the optimum way to shift your status if you are unsatisfied with it. Remember what you resist, persists. If you declare you are OK and you are not OK, you will continue to not be OK until you tell the truth. Remarkably, the minute you say exactly how you are, you can shift to another status.

This is critical for teachers because to care for your students, you have to be operating as your “best self.” You have to focus on your own self-care before caring for others. A teachers list of “others” can be long and extensive. It can include family members, family pets (which are the best unconditional love ever), neighbors, students, parents, grandparents, colleagues, administrators, vendors, coaches, student-teachers, mentors, the list goes on.

So first ask, “How am I really doing?” Then, “Do I need to alter my current status?” If no, then what are my top three priorities right now? If yes, then contact your trusted listener (this can be by phone if it is necessary to maintain social distance and DOWNLOAD). Once you download your worries and concerns, ask yourself again, “How are you doing?” Do you need quiet time to recharge? Do you need people to recharge? You are no value to others if you are not doing well.

Be gentle with yourself and others. These are uncertain times with lots of triggers. Scarcity of resources, scarcity of funds, heck scarcity of toilet paper! There are lots of unknowns and lots of views on how it should all be handled. How can you comfort others if you are freaking out inside? Acknowledge you are freaking out. If you are, ... that is the magic button to shift yourself to a new status.

What are you doing for yourself? What are you doing for others? What is someone doing for you—this is the opportunity to be grateful. Grateful to be safe. Grateful to be a teacher. Grateful to have one extra roll of toilet paper.

As instructional coaches, what seems to be working is supporting the social-emotional needs of teachers. When teachers feel supported socially and emotionally, they are much better equipped to have the energy to support their students.

Here are some strategies instructional coaches can implement to support their teachers:

  • Share or create a teaching Facebook group or Page where you share positive and humorous messages and share hobbies. Amy’s Teacher in Iowa Facebook page is dedicated to the very purpose of supporting teachers emotionally

  • Avoid overconnecting: Keep emails to a minimum. Teachers are already receiving emails from their administrator, human resources, and parents.

  • When you do communicate, keep it short and simple. Lengthy emails are overwhelming.

  • Collaborate with your administrative team to send unified messages

  • Meet up virtually just to say “hi” using Zoom or other platforms

We ask our students how they are doing, but what about teachers? The instructional learning-at-home tasks and mandates vary from state to state, but there is one thing that teachers share in common: They are stressed out and worried as they take on balancing their own lives while serving their students from home. Instructional coaches can best support their teachers by being the person asking, “How are YOU doing?”

Technology can bring us together

Danielle Macias is an innovative learning coach in the Alpine school district and former English teacher who currently serves as a Utah Teacher Fellow and board member of Utah Coalition for Educational Technology:

My 6-year-old daughter’s friend lives next door. The past three years of tea parties, walking to Sunday school together, and blanket forts have been reduced to occasional sightings due to the effects of COVID-19. While at work, my husband sent me a picture of our daughter who had joined forces with her friend to break off a piece of our wooden fence in order to communicate with each other. When asked about the broken fence, our daughter said, “Coronavirus can’t hurt friendships.”

In an unexpected way, social distancing has transformed the way we communicate in education, as well. Ready or not, educators must find ways to bring down the fences that prevent us from teaching in the 21st century. One of the fences that was broken down this week in my role as an innovative learning coach was the hesitance from educators to ask for help.

On my side of the fence, I expected teachers to immediately accept me as their innovative learning coach because I had benefited from mentoring in the past. However, I had forgotten how my own mentor had been with me through my vulnerable moments, which strengthened our relationship before she mentored me. I realize now that coaches need to be just as relentless in seeking opportunities to be vulnerable with teachers as we are relentless when attempting to coach them.

Fortunately, this week, teachers let me in on their side of the fence during their most vulnerable moments. Many teachers are parents who are currently balancing homeschooling their own children with creating content from scratch for their students. Emotions ran high as they tried their best to learn how to use new tools while also applying best practices for online learning. Sometimes the best communication I offered was listening.

Furthermore, teachers trusted me to guide them in a process I have never been a part of myself, and now I feel like I know my teachers better than when I tried to force coaching on them face to face. Communication with my teachers went from limited interactions to daily emails, screencasting videos, Google Hangouts, and even face-to-face coaching. Best of all, teachers began to use these modes of communications with their own students in their online instruction.

Another way we changed communication in our school was through a Canvas LMS courses I created for teachers, which included discussion boards where teachers could interact with each other and share how they were implementing technology in online teaching. In this online community, teachers shared successes and innovative practices with each other. Teachers from different content areas who had limited in-person communication collaborated for the first time, and our faculty truly learned from one another. Another discussion board focused on nurturing the culture and friendships we created at school, and only one rule applied: Content must be lighthearted. Teachers shared Gerry Brooks videos, Tweets on the realities of homeschooling, and even I dared to share a self-made meme.

I do not know if I am doing this online teaching right, but I do know that even though social distancing may have limited our ability to interact in person, it has proven that technology can bring us together in innovative ways.

To first-year teachers: Fight the fear and be the good

Dawn Mitchell serves in instructional services in Spartanburg District 6, South Carolina, where she leads the induction and mentoring program as well as provides professional development in literacy and in project- based learning. Dawn is also an adjunct instructor at Furman University, where she currently serves as a university supervisor and teacher mentor. Connect with Dawn on twitter @dawnjmitchell:

This year has been full of new experiences for each of you. In August, you experienced your first day as a public school teacher. In September, you had your first parent-teacher conferences. In October, you finalized grades and prepared your first report cards. From figuring out field trips and your classroom management to teaching split-block lunch and communicating with parents, you have risen to every new challenge you have faced this year. While today also begins a new challenge of figuring out how to do what we do to support students growth academically, socially, emotionally, physically, etc., in a remote environment, I am confident that we can figure it out together.

In times of uncertainty, fear can be a driving force. It can make us focus on what we can’t do, rather than what we can do. It can prevent us from being productive and can put us in a place of panic. It can place us in self-protective mode rather than our service to others. While these are typical first responses for all of us when faced with a new challenge, it may not be the best responses. I want to challenge you in these coming days to think about what we can do during this time of remote learning.

1. We can give ourselves grace and we can pass that grace to our students, to their parents, to our neighbors, to our community. We are going to do the best we can with the time and the resources we have to provide excellent, standards-based, and student-driven instruction in an online format. For many of us, this will be our first experience doing this. Like all teaching experiences, when we know better, we will do better.

2. We can consider students’ social/emotional needs during this time. Many of them are devastated about their spring sports, concerts, performances being canceled. They’ve worked hard all year for their season only to find out their games and events have been canceled. Many are as stressed as you are about figuring out online learning and are worried about midterms and exams. Many are home alone or home babysitting younger siblings and are going to have to navigate not just online learning but on-your-own living while their parents are at work. Consider ways we can reach out and check on them, provide encouragement and support, and/or to be a listening ear to their worries and disappointments.

3. We can use the time we have been given between preparing effective online-learning experiences and checking in on students to consider our role as public servants. I read online this weekend that health-care professionals and educators are two of the most important professions to our country’s success and stability. We already know this, but we have a unique opportunity during these next two weeks to make the most of this opportunity to showcase your talents as teachers and to serve our students. Take time to check in on an elderly neighbor or a single mom that lives near you. Send an encouraging email or a phone call. It will be tough, but teaching has never been easy.

Thanks to Danielle, Amy, Jackie, and Dawn for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first eight years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. The list doesn’t include ones from this current year, but you can find those by clicking on the “answers” category found in the sidebar.

This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts

Race & Gender Challenges

Classroom-Management Advice

Best Ways to Begin the School Year

Best Ways to End the School Year

Implementing the Common Core

Student Motivation & Social-Emotional Learning

Teaching Social Studies

Cooperative & Collaborative Learning

Using Tech in the Classroom

Parent Engagement in Schools

Teaching English-Language Learners

Reading Instruction

Writing Instruction

Education Policy Issues


Differentiating Instruction

Math Instruction

Science Instruction

Advice for New Teachers

Author Interviews

Entering the Teaching Profession

The Inclusive Classroom

Learning & the Brain

Administrator Leadership

Teacher Leadership

Relationships in Schools

Professional Development

Instructional Strategies

Best of Classroom Q&A

Professional Collaboration

Classroom Organization

Mistakes in Education

Project-Based Learning

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

Look for Part 10

in a day or two ...

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo 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.