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Instructional coaching that is Swift, Consistent, Strategic – and Virtual

Struggling Teachers need Coaching that is Swift, Consistent, Strategic—and Virtual

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After working with a struggling teacher, I always walk away with the same thought and the same question. My thought? I appreciate the value and power of personalized instructional coaching. My question? I wonder why, from the first signs of trouble, help wasn’t provided more swiftly, consistently, or strategically to the teacher.

The First Signs of Trouble

Because student behavior tends to be at its best at the beginning of the school year, teachers who will ultimately struggle may actually seem to have a smooth first week—maybe even two. But soon after, if not before, the unmistakable signs of a teacher in trouble become obvious…obvious to the veteran teachers in the surrounding rooms and to the administrators walking the halls. The building decision-makers soon agree. The teacher needs help.

What happens next depends on resources and human kindness. If the school has resources, an instructional specialist, for example, she is deployed to work with the teacher. Absent that, a kind veteran teacher will usually step in. Though well intentioned, neither may actually have any coaching experience and neither may actually have the time to provide the support that is necessary—since supporting this teacher is not their primary responsibility. The result? The struggling teacher is given a laundry list of problems to fix without the support or follow-up needed to actually fix them. More time passes, the problems become more concerning, and those who provided the laundry list make statements to the concerned (or alarmed) administrators like I told her what to do to fix this—I guess she just didn’t listen.

If the school can provide (or even find) additional support, that’s when an outside coach is usually called—someone like me—and by then, it is late in October or early in November. And by then, it is almost too late!

Expectation vs. Reality

I understand that schools cannot afford to have someone on staff whose only job is to coach and help struggling teachers. After all, there is an expectation by the school that they are interviewing then choosing to hire teachers who are certified and qualified to teach. But the reality is that a certain number of teachers will struggle when put into the complex and demanding environment of their own classroom—in spite of how well they did in student teaching or how well they did on their certification tests.

Prepare Now for Next August

I once heard that the best way to solve a problem is to predict it—and then prepare for it. One of the best ways to prepare for the teacher who will struggle in August is by learning more now about a fairly new service that is designed and equipped to help.

Virtual Instructional Coaching – a New Approach

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Virtual instructional coaching is a relatively new and ideal approach for the short-term and intense support that a new or struggling teachers needs. So, what is virtual coaching?

Virtual coaching pairs a struggling teacher with an experienced instructional coach. These two work together, virtually, in a coaching cycle—typically lasting 6 weeks. Successful virtual coaching generally uses a hybrid approach and includes:

  • Web-based or phone conferences
  • Reviews of teacher submitted five to ten minute videos related to the established goals
  • Sharing of relevant research-based resources
  • Weekly coaching reports

Hired and Retained

Preparing for the start of school involves more than making sure teachers are hired. It also means making sure that teachers are retained. Be prepared to provide struggling teachers with the support they need when they need it. Consider hiring great coaches who know how to coach—virtually!

Allyson Burnett is the Director of Virtual Coaching for Sibme—Seeing is Believing Me. She can be contacted

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