Virtual Coaching: Better than Face-to-Face Coaching?
By Melody Deemer
When Allyson Burnett, SIBME’s Director of Virtual Coaching, asked if I’d like to be a virtual coach, I was intrigued, but cautious.
“How many teachers would you like to take on?” she asked.
“Let’s start with one,” I said. “And see how this goes.”
I had in mind the many face-to-face coaching experiences I’d taken on, with varying degrees of success.
- The proud, but embarrassed young teacher, unwilling to admit she needed help, but terrified at the prospect of failure.
- The disdainful older teacher.
- The administrator who wanted the situation “fixed” with no clear idea of what that meant.
- The “too many cooks” syndrome, in which I and fellow coaches and resource teachers overwhelmed our struggling colleague with too much help.
Would virtual coaching offer the same challenges? I decided to give it a try.
Why Virtual Coaching Works
And I’m so glad I made the decision to take the first leap. Virtual coaching bypasses many of the problems inherent in the face-to-face model. First, virtual coaching provides confidentiality. Using the SIBME model, I hold a video conference with my coachee once a week for about 45 minutes. She has recorded herself working on a predetermined goal, and has looked at resources that I’ve sent related to the goal. We discuss progress that is evident on the video, and talk over information in the resources. Then we set a new goal together and the next week of the cycle begins. If my coachee wishes, she can work hard at improvement while keeping the coaching advice private. This reduces the chance that she’ll be embarrassed within the school community by the perception that she is “needy” and requiring support. No one’s walking in and out of the classroom with a clipboard or a laptop. She can certainly reach out to others in the school community if she chooses to, but confidentiality is an option not so easily available with face-to-face coaching.
Additionally, because the coaching takes place remotely, and because the teacher I’m coaching sees my credentials and experiences—but not my own daily challenges—she tends to place a high degree of confidence in the advice I give her. The amount of time we’ve spent in the “storming” and “norming” stages, in which she might question whether I really have any knowledge or authority, is nearly gone. As a virtual coach, I may have an equal amount of respect as a face-to-face coach would, but I believe I have more trust, and this is critical for a productive working relationship.
Trust and Relationships
In the face-to-face model, I’ve also often encountered a lack of trust between the administrator and the teacher with me as the coach, caught in the middle. One teacher was sure that every time I stepped into the administrator’s office, we were discussing her progress. But in the SIBME model of virtual coaching, I make a weekly coaching report to my SIBME supervisor, and copy the teacher and her administrator. The administrator sees exactly what the teacher sees, and nothing more. And more importantly, my coachee knows it.
The reality of the classroom
The coachee is afforded respect in another way, too. In a recent coaching session about how to teach writing, I provided the teacher with rubrics, student anchor papers, and videos of students doing peer coaching. She sent me videos of herself teaching a writing lesson, and students’ peer conferences. We looked at her students’ writing together. Collaboratively, we talked about strengths in her writing instruction, and I provided suggestions. We discussed the next steps for her instruction, and for her students in their writing development. But in the end, I couldn’t be in her classroom. I couldn’t hover or be tempted to take control of the writing process. She had to do that herself, and as a reflective, growing professional, she should do that herself. She told me that other teachers are starting to ask her for advice on how to grade their students’ writing.
Getting to the point
Finally, there is the question of focus. The Sibme model sets the coachee up for success by asking the administrator to identify 2-3 improvement goals that are clearly communicated among the teacher, the administrator, and the coach. Because these goals are so focused, and the time period is short and intense (6 weeks for SIBME), the teacher can start to see improvement quickly. In just a few weeks, a struggling teacher can begin to experience increased feelings of control, success, and self-efficacy. The teacher I worked with expressed positive feelings about using rubrics, and about her students’ first experiences with peer conferencing—the goals that we had been working on.
I’m still new to virtual coaching, and I know that not all teachers may be as open as was my coachee. Still, I’m hopeful that this technology will provide our profession with a way to nurture new teachers with respect, focus, trust, and confidentiality, while bypassing some of the pitfalls of face-to-face coaching. I’ve been involved in many professional development programs over the years. Virtual coaching holds real promise.
Melody is certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards as an Early/Middle Childhood Literacy Specialist. As a Maryland Master Teacher, she has traveled around the state assisting her colleagues in using the Common Core State Standards in the classroom. She has received, and subsequently provided, professional development in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) as well as numerous reading intervention programs. Melody is certified as a reading specialist and as an ESL teacher by the state of Maryland, and devoted 15 years of her career to instructional support and to reading intervention in Title 1 schools. Ms. Deemer earned her degree at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Towson University and is currently a fifth grade teacher.