writing workshop

Virtual Coaching Moves

Think about the best coaches you have had or know. On Super Bowl Sunday, a hologram of Vince Lombardi appeared at the beginning of the game. In our home, he is considered one of the best coaches in NFL history. We started to unpack what qualities made him exceptional. We came to the top three qualities:

  • He knew how to push his players but not to the point of breaking. He knew the strengths of his players and positioned them where they would succeed.
  • He made complicated ideas understandable.
  • He got his team to believe in being part of a team that was something bigger than themselves. 

I decided to unpack my coaching moves during distance learning. While it is clear I am not Vince Lombardi, I strive for the qualities mentioned above as an instructional coach. Lombardi, along with other great coaches, married these qualities with deliberate coaching techniques. Together, they are a great pair.

Coaching Techniques

 I learned about coaching techniques from staff developers at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Brooke Geller and Katie Clements. Below is a brief overview of three moves that circulate in my coaching repertoire. My colleague, Beth Moore wrote more on each of them in this post.

Each technique fulfills a different purpose. Knowing your colleagues’ needs will help make decisions on which approach is conducive for your colleague in your coaching cycle. For instance, my colleague, Jennifer Park wanted coaching on small group instruction. We decided to begin the coaching cycle with voice over then move into copy-cat. Currently, I am using whisper-in.

Virtual Voice-Over 

The purpose of a voice-over is to let teachers in on the teaching decisions you make. You make thinking explicit by pausing to say, “Teachers, you’ll notice I just rallied students,” or “Teachers, right now I am about to lead them into their first challenge.” Afterward, you return to teaching students and repeat. 

To employ this technique virtually, I have found two ways to work well. One, you can teach the whole class in the main room while the teacher observes. If you’re coaching into small groups like I am, you can bring students into the same breakout room as you and the teacher. You can also choose to send other students into individual breakout rooms and keep the small group in the main room. It is helpful to let students know when you are addressing the teacher versus addressing them. You can say, “Writers, I am talking to you. When I say your teacher’s name, I’m talking with your teacher.” 

From Voice-Over to Copy-Cat Virtually

After a week or so using voice-overs, Jennifer and I felt she was ready to practice. The copy-cat method is a reasonable next step because it is low-risk to teach simultaneously. 

Jennifer and I utilize this method for small group instruction.To do this virtually, we asked eight students who need to elaborate their all about books to stay in the main room and send the other students into their breakout rooms. 

Once students were situated, we began by dividing the eight students into two groups of four. I asked the four students she worked with to turn off videos and mics and continue writing while asking the four students I worked with to leave on their cameras and mics. I started the small group with a very brief explanation of why I called them there by saying, “I called you here today because I wanted to know what are some things you do to do your writing longer?” We provided a visual by presenting a chart by sharing a screen. Each student responded, and I gave a compliment. Next, I asked what one of these things you could do more is is, and I waited for each response. 

After the explanation, I asked them to look for places in their books to add more information. Additionally, I had them turn off their screens and mics. Next, I quickly summarized my moves to Jennifer and had her four students turn on screens and mics. Jennifer repeated the explanation and followed the same process. She then asked them to turn off their screens and mics while my group turned their screens back on to share a quick strategy. We repeated this process of taking a small group structure and delivering it bit by bit until students were sent off to work on their books individually. 

Virtual Whisper-In

After two weeks of copy-cat, we moved into the whisper-In technique. It is usually saved for the end of my coaching cycles because when the teacher employs the teaching moves she observed during voice-over, practiced with copy-cat, and is now ready to deliver it on her own. Additionally, it is when we have had time to build a trusting relationship.

In the classroom, I would be sitting next to Jennifer as she teaches the small group, whispering how much time she has left to teach, what she could say next, and or provide a visual. One way I am finding effective is using the chat-box feature. For instance, last week, as she taught a small group, I wrote in the chat-box, “Provide a visual of the strategies you are referring to.” Jennifer grabbed the chart with strategies we had used and shared her screen. Another way to whisper-in is by using hand gestures. To do this, I had to let her know beforehand what each gesture’s meaning would be. A thumbs up meant the small group was moving right along fine. A gentle swirling hand meant to speed up the time. And a warm smile meant how incredibly proud I was for her.

Relationships Matter

All these techniques would be moot if my number one goal were not to build trust with her. To build trust, I recognized her voice intonation strengths, created gorgeous visuals, and had a strong relationship with her students. My praises to her centered around her strengths, and my feedback focused on one thing to work toward. 

3 thoughts on “Virtual Coaching Moves

  1. This was so helpful Therapi! I love how you broke down the way you are coaching teachers and students remotely. I agree with Sally- your teachers are so lucky to have your support!


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