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Coaching through Challenges

My mind is racing as I prepare for a possible Coronavirus outbreak in my area. I know I’m prepared in my own home. My thoughts right now go to the teachers and administrators who are scrambling to figure out distance learning opportunities as schools begin to close. Several states (as of this writing) have already closed all public schools. It is only a matter of time before others follow suit. I feel the anxiety and fear of the teachers who are still in session, like in my own state. I wish there was more I could do – at times, I feel helpless. I know this blog post only touches the surface, but I hope by sharing resources I have come across helps in some small way.

If you are an instructional coach you may be feeling caught in the middle. This probably isn’t the time you will be enrolling teachers into coaching cycles – but it is a time to build upon your relationships with teachers. Teachers are scrambling right now – between keeping classrooms germ free, teaching students (if they are still in school) and planning for possible upcoming distance learning opportunities – if schools are trying to figure out how to count missed days as calendar days or just provide students learning opportunities while out of school. Students can enroll at to continue their studies at home.

One of the best compliments I ever got as a coach was that I never lost the TEACHER in me. I was told that I knew when to push and when to pull back. If I was coaching in schools today, this would be a time I would definitely pull back from the regular coaching cycle work – yet leave it on the table for those that needed that reflection time. My suggestions right now … Draw on your own years in the classroom and have a sense of empathy for what teachers (and administrators) are going through at this time. Spend time helping teachers in the classroom, provide some guidance around distance learning and try to be a constant source of hope and positivity. In my experience as a coach I saw teachers open up to coaching opportunities once they experienced my empathy to any challenge they were experiencing.

This post will only touch the surface of coaching through challenges. The aim is to provide some ideas on the aspect of helping teachers prepare for distance learning – if that is something teachers are responsible for. The intent is to keep the conversation going. If you have ideas I don’t mention, please mention in the comment section or Tweet using the hashtag #educoach. I want to be mindful that not all schools and students have the capabilities of connectivity during this time. Schools may not be 1:1 and therefore not have devices to issue to students to take home. Students may not have wifi at home, though I’ve read many companies are starting to offer free access for the time being to those that need it. We can’t just think of distance learning as something we do with online resources. This would be a great disservice to those who do not have this ability.

My apologies up front for the length of this post. As I wrote I kept seeing other helpful resources. Hopefully I’ve set them up in an easy to come back to format. This pandemic situation were are living in changes by the minute.

Some Non-Tech Ideas

I will start with some non-tech ideas because I don’t want them to get lost in the tech ideas that may seem more exciting. Some of these ideas go back to when I was in the classroom during pre internet days. If a student was going to be out of school for an extended amount of time either due to illness or travel, I would try to provide learning opportunities.


If you are still in school, perhaps you can think of ways to send students home with BOOKS or other reading material. Unfortunately so many students do not have books of their own at home to read. I had an extensive classroom library. When students would happen to leave for an extended amount of time, I have them take 5+ books with them. Some frowned on this practice as they feared I would not get the books back. That was the furthest thing from my mind. I purchased the books (with my own money) FOR the kids. Now I know – sending a class of 20+ kids home with 5 or more books is a lot. But in the long run – if it provides them with some reading material, so be it.

Books could also be in the form of text books. Assigning work without connectivity will be a little harder to monitor. I certainly wouldn’t want teachers grading a ton of work once kids return. In the case of no connectivity perhaps you can have students work at their own pace and when students return have some form of formative assessment to determine where to start back with students.

* A disclaimer thought – This Coronavirus is a bit different. I do wonder about disinfecting books on their return. I’d have to do a little more research on that. I’ve read the coronavirus can live on a surface for 2 to 3 days. Just mentioning this as a precaution.


I used a lot of spiral notebooks as a classroom teacher – but any paper would work. Students could be encouraged to WRITE! I used a reader/writer workshop approach – so I’d extend that and encourage students to keep up on their writing pieces as well as respond to what they were reading in written form. Again, I wouldn’t sit and “grade” everything when they returned. I’d find ways to have students share their work with others. They could do book talks on the books they read to entice others to read them. They could form small groups to share works of writing in progress for revision and editing. I’d continue to extend my individual conferencing with students to learn about their writing while they were at home. This would help me assess where they are are and how to continue once back at school.

Passion Projects

This is a time to draw upon student interests! Being confined to home can cause cabin fever – but when we engage in things that excite us, time flies. Passion projects allow students to get in that sense of flow! A quick search on Passion Projects or Genius Hour will yield some ideas to share with teachers. Here is one resources from Vicki Davis (aka CoolCatTeacher).

Another type of Passion Project could be encouraging students to be CREATIVE at home. Here are some possibilities:

  1. Maker spaces are popular in schools. Here is a 3 weeks of Maker Stations that could be used at home.
  2. If students have Legos at home, check out this 30 day Lego calendar.
  3.  Check out the 4-H #InspireKidstoDo Activity Guide to find 60 hands-on learning activity ideas! Download here!

Teachers can encourage students to learn new things or create resources on something they know well. A lot of times students need resources to study, but if they don’t have they can also share things they are already passionate about. We need to encourage them to use resources at home. This isn’t a time to go out and buy things! Encourage them to be ready to share their Passion Project with classmates when they return to school – but do not expect or grade. We have no control over students actually doing school work at home. The fact that they do not accomplish a suggested activity should NOT affect any grade! Many will have other responsibilities such as caring for siblings, etc…

Encourage a Daily Schedule

There have been many daily schedule ideas shared in FaceBook groups and on Twitter. I’ve found this FB group (mentioned again below) to be very informative. Parents will appreciate some ideas here. Schedules do not just have to be sit down work. Encourage students to get outside and play, create and explore! Here are a few daily schedule ideas shared.

  1. Here is an At Home Learning Schedule shared by a Mr. Malone, a school principal. Recommended for upper elementary and middle school. (Share by Charlie Peterson in the Amazing Educational Resources FaceBook Group)
  2. Here is an example of a Choice Board. This one was developed for 3rd grade, but it can give you ideas for your own or how to help teachers develop if you are a coach or administrator. Follow the directions to make a copy to edit for yourself. (created by Janita Sullivan and shared in the Educator Temporary School Closure for Online Learning Facebook Group.) And this one is similar for grades 1 – 5. (Note: Some items listed do require connectivity. If students do not have wifi and devices at home, the choice boards could be adapted with non tech choice.)
  3. Here is another possible daily schedule. Adapt to fit your own students. The link will force you to make your own copy and you can adapt. (Shared by TeachinginRoom6 in the Educator Temporary School Closure for Online Learning Facebook Group)

Instructional coaches – this list could go on and on. Use as a springboard to help teachers with their own plans.

Check Ins with Students

I know calling students at home may seem daunting – but if teachers are being compensated for their time home with “work from home” expectations, perhaps they can set up a schedule for check in with students. This would depend on phone capabilities. If the only phone is with parents and they are at work, this would be difficult. But a short 10 to 15 minute phone call with a few students each day could help to see how they are doing and what they happen to be working on. This would be much easier at the elementary level. Perhaps at the MS and HS level grade level teams could divide up the class rather than checking in with everyone on their content area roster. A tech type options to check ins could be similar to this Google Form. Again, frequent check ins are merely a suggestion and I know they will not work for everyone. If time is being counted as an extended break, then by all means take that break. If check ins are not possible that is just fine.

Tech Ideas

If students do have connectivity – distance learning can be a lot easier. There are many companies that are offering their platforms for free. Here are two documents with ideas. The lists keep growing. I am grateful for the outpouring of generosity!

  1. Amazing Educational Resources – Document #1
  2. Amazing Educational Resources – Document #2

In addition this FaceBook group has been set up. I just joined and have already gained many new ideas! In all my years of being a connected educator one thing remains constant – Educators are the most giving group I know!

Both documents (and the FB group) are FULL of ideas. The lists may be a bit overwhelming to teachers who haven’t explored the idea of distance learning before. Coaches can help by sorting through the ideas to see what may be doable for the teachers at their schools.

I know some coaches are offering professional learning opportunities for teachers around the idea of distance learning. If possible perhaps small sessions can be set up through the day. Some options – before and after school or Lunch and Learns. If schedules allow even getting creative with schedules to cover classrooms for rotating hours during the school day. If possible, I encourage you to keep groups small so you could actually have hands-on opportunities for teachers to create what they need to for distance learning. I’ve even heard of some schools doing late starts/early outs right now for students so teachers can prepare for distance learning. The key is finding time to support teachers. Please do not add one more expectation to their list without the support. Our teachers NEED our support now more than ever! Coaches can be a lifeline here!

Choose an Online Platform

The key here is to KEEP it SIMPLE. Choose one! This can act as a hub for other teaching and learning opportunities. Some possibilities include Canvas (free options for teachers), Google Classroom (offering free trials at this time), Schoolology (basic package is free), Edmodo (check out their distance learning toolkit, Moodle (has a free option for 50 students), to name a few. Once you have a hub you can branch out with discussion boards, virtual meetings, etc…

Virtual Meetings

As a virtual coach to teachers and instructional coaches, I know first hand the power in meeting with groups and individuals virtually. I have found that we can get so much accomplished! The same can hold true with students. If you happen to still be in school and plan to virtual meetings (and/or an online platform mentioned above), I highly encourage you to practice them with students while you have them. When I was a coach, we were just starting out with Skyping other classrooms. The best advice I received was to Skype with the classroom across the hall before venturing out in the world. It helped me and the classroom teacher learn the technology. (I once had the opportunity to Skype with Jon Gordon – an author I and a 1st grade teacher admired greatly. We certainly didn’t want to fumble around and not know how to use the technology!) The same holds true with students and teachers right now if meeting virtually and using online platforms. Everything is new to them. Practicing how to navigate can be a valued use of time.

One of my favorite virtual meeting platforms is Zoom. The good news – they are offering teachers/schools the opportunity to use Zoom for free during this Coronavirus time we are living in.

Of course there are other options. As an instructional coach, teacher leader, or administrator – helping your teachers find the options that work for them is essential. Less is more. Help them my limiting the playing field so they do not become so overwhelmed.

If virtual meetings with a full class or small groups is new to the teachers they may need help in setting up simple norms for students as well as how to handle the session or follow up discussion starters in forum spaces. Many teachers may have taken online coursework themselves. Discussions with each other on what worked for them and what did not can help them build ideas for students.

Coaches could also offer to facilitate virtual meetings for groups of teachers to collaborate work through ideas – if the expectation of the district is to continue school in a distance format.

Watch for Free Offerings

There are so many free offerings out there that have either always been free or are opening up free options at this time. Helping teachers incorporate the ideas in their online lessons will be valuable. The outpouring of resources through social media has been heartwarming.

  1. Virtual Tours – I know I’ll be using these even with my 90 year old dad as we spend time at home. The link provided shares 12 virtual tours. A quick Google search will provide even more options.
  2. If students happen to have Netflix (not free) here is a list of 150+ Educational Shows streaming. There are an abundance of Free options on YouTube as well.
  3. StoryLine Online has  FREE children’s literacy resource featuring the world’s best storytellers reading books aloud. Each video includes an activity guide with lessons for K-5 students to do at home.
  4. Teachers have been Flipping their classrooms for many years. Draw upon their expertise. Here is an example of some math lessons created by Alex Lochoff that have been created using EdPuzzle.
  5. Utilize free lessons that have been created. Some options include Share My Lesson and Newsela.
  6. Here is a list of free resources created by Vicki Davis (aka CoolCatTeacher)
  7. This document provides a lot of ideas to think about from schedules to resources! (credit Adrienne Favor)
  8. Here is a Collaborative List of FREE Information Literacy / Technology Integration Lessons. This is ever changing!
  9. Great Minds will be daily recorded lessons in Grades K–12 of Eureka Math®, K–8 of Wit & Wisdom®, and 3–5 of PhD Science® starting on March 18.
  10. TED talks are aways a great choice. Here is a list of TEDed Talks divided in various content areas. Theses may be applicable to older students (and even teachers to watch while at home).
  11. Here is a list of 18 Best Podcasts for Kids in Elementary, Middle, and High School provided by We are Teachers.
  12. Brain Pop has some great ideas for families to explore!
  13. Jarrett J. Krosoczka—author & illustrator will be providing free webcasts weekday at at 2pm ET for at least the next few weeks.
  14. Classrooms love Go Noodle. Kids can use at home, too. They are going to need activity. Adults will need the activity, as well! Go ahead – DANCE!

This list could go on and on. Rather than overwhelm, I’ll leave you with these for now. I will update as I see fit – probably in the form of another post. I encourage you to search social media such as Twitter and Facebook groups. There are so many people offering ideas. I’ve been a connected educator for a very long time (as I recently shared here with Jim Knight). Educators have always shared resources, but in times of challenge – like now – they have been extremely helpful. Take the time to build a strong PLN!

A final note

I know I have only touched the surface here! Please share your ideas in the comment section or on Twitter with the hashtag #educoach. Together we can learn, grow and get through this challenging time. We are living through a situation we never could have dreamed of. It is new territory for us all. As a former 4th grade teacher, this FB post brought a chuckle. I received any stories with this type of flow. Now we are living it. Please take time to take care of yourself.

I realize for some schools were closed before you had a chance to prepare. For other, this time off will count more as an extended break with a lengthened school year. We have to give our selves permission that we can’t control everything for our students while schools are closed. I offer these ideas if you are expected to create some form of distance learning. As I’ve stated before – keep things simple. I certainly do not expect you to use all the ideas listed here. They are compiled as a springboard to your own ideas. Only you know your teachers, students, and family needs as well as district expectations. Instructional coaches may be able to help teachers sort through ideas and provide assistance if their coaching obligations have slowed down.

The best thing we can do is support each other – even while keeping our social distance. Find things to do at home that bring you JOY. For me that will include praying, reading, writing, working on more virtual training options for instructional coaches, spending time with my dad, watching movies, getting out in the yard (once it warms up again in Iowa), cooking, crafting and crocheting, putting puzzles together, working out in my home gym and much more. Rather than become anxious I am putting self care FIRST. And as Mr. Roger once said,

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,'” he said. “To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

Mr. Rogers

Instructional Coaches – Be the Helpers!

As a coach you have invested a lot of time and money into learning how to coach. Virtual coaching can help you get the highest return on that investment! 

My goal is for your to COACH with CONFIDENCE! 

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