Student-Centered Coaching in a World of Digital Learning

Written by Joy Casey with Diane Sweeney and Leanna Harris

It’s hard to imagine the seismic shift we all felt when we moved to online learning due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Throughout the year, our middle school had been focused on providing feedback to students.  As the instructional coach, I had been busy leading professional learning and engaging in coaching cycles with this focus in mind. Just as teachers suddenly had to figure out how to deliver instruction remotely, I also faced the need to redefine my coaching role. Wondering how I could continue to support teachers and students in this new environment, I asked myself the following questions:

  1. How can I propel teacher and student learning forward when we aren’t together in the same physical space?
  2. How can we use student evidence to drive instruction if we aren’t teaching new material or giving grades?
  3. How can we use existing resources to elicit learning and give students meaningful feedback?
  4. How can I be a partner and collaborator in this work?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the answer was right in front of me. I would use the coaching moves that I always used, just in new ways. Along with our school principal, we decided that our school improvement plan wouldn’t need to change. We would stay the course.

Professional Learning Continues
To maintain our focus, we have continued our professional learning sessions each week via Zoom. During this time, I guide teachers as they dig into the instructional strategies in our school improvement plan and reflect on how to apply them when teaching online. This includes providing feedback to students as well as encouraging them to take ownership in how they are doing as learners.

Throughout the year our teachers have led student panels to get meaningful feedback from our learners. In the following video, I’m meeting with a team of teachers to plan how we will continue to gather feedback from students as they transition to online learning.

Focus on Equity Through Data Teams
We were also concerned that some students may fall through the cracks or not have access to online learning. These concerns around equity led us to wonder how we could use data teams to monitor student learning and adjust our strategies based on what we learn.

Just before school closed to in-person learning, the students had completed a districtwide common assessment. We used this data to identify their needs between now and the end of the year. We achieved this by guiding content teams to look closely at what questions the students answered correctly, what they missed, what were some common misconceptions, and other factors in their performance. This led us to establish a clearer vision for what students would need in the coming weeks. It also enabled us to determine how we would support all students to grow as learners… a cornerstone of equity.

Continue to Use the Moves for Student-Centered Coaching
If we hope to provide students with feedback, then it is crucial for teachers to design challenging and open-ended tasks that elicit thinking. Otherwise there won’t be much to give feedback about.  As a coach, it’s my job to guide teachers towards meaningful tasks and then co-plan lessons that will ensure that student learning is visible and that the opportunity to give feedback is possible. This can be challenging with the avalanche of resources that are being shared among teachers. Supporting them to discern the difference between time fillers and meaningful work is a key role for any coach to play.

I am working toward joining online classes to notice and name how students are demonstrating their learning, how they are engaging, and what kind of feedback would be the most beneficial. In this way I will be able to help teachers gather student evidence that guides our future co-planning sessions. This would include thinking aloud with teachers by having conversations about how to clarify misconceptions and move student learning forward. Since many lessons are being taught using video, it may make sense to micro-model a portion of the lesson so the teacher can learn strategies for engaging the students using the online learning platform.

In situations where students are working independently, or asynchronously, an option is to serve as a co-teacher in the online classroom. This presents the opportunity to read student responses and discuss next steps with the teacher during co-planning sessions. Since co-teaching is a powerful tool that impacts teacher and student growth, it would be a shame to not capitalize on this practice even though we are in an online environment.

In Closing
Not only have we held onto our goal of providing feedback to students, my position as instructional coach is being used as a key resource to do so. This has provided me with a clear focus and vision for the next several weeks. It’s also a relief to know that while I am working from home, I can still influence the teaching and learning that is happening in my school. Sure it means we have had to reflect on my role, do some out-of-the-box thinking, and take some risks, but it’s worth it if it means I can still make an impact on student learning.



Joy CaseyJoy Casey is an instructional coach with 27J Schools in Brighton, CO. Joy is a certified Student-Centered Coaching trainer with Diane Sweeney Consulting and Corwin.