I had been contemplating, planning, brainstorming how I would work with teachers in a virtual setting. I have no interest in replicating the oppressive structures of in person schooling but thinking hard about how to replicate those two minute conversations in the hallways. The “do you have a minute?” the “wanna see something cool?” the “can you stop by my second period class?” When we don’t have the proximity to say those hushed vulnerable questions. So on Sunday when I composed an email sharing what a coach does, my schedule, a link to Calendly, and the coaching request form with the message of clear desire to support teachers and be near students, I wasn’t sure if my email was too much or going to get lost. I hit send, then closed my laptop. 

The following morning I found I had three events added to my calendar from teachers. 

And a text

Then on Wednesday another text

I was so excited to be invited to a class, especially this one.

Going to the class was such a new experience as a coach. I don’t often see the fruits of my labor – sometimes the seeds, sometimes the buds. The conversations, the Professional Development, the suggestions, the resource creation and co-creation – I don’t often see what happens with it. Mainly because it diffuses, it takes time, there’s adjustments that need to be made in order for each teacher to make it theirs, make it work with their students, their classroom. As a coach (and educator) I never exactly know the impact of anything I’m doing. I hope some of the tiny pieces might land and might eventually hit kids. 

On Wednesday though, I saw the PD she had engaged in. I saw the work of the Unpacking Whiteness cohort she participated in. I saw the support around UDL and specifically executive functioning.  I saw a lesson I had so carefully curated and thought through for my students years ago get executed even better and with more care. I saw kids thinking out loud and advocating for themselves and feeling so safe in a space in the world. I saw the work we have been doing together since the moment we met in action.

I wanted to gush through all that I saw in her, I wanted to tell her every single thing she had done well, I also wanted to carefully point out some spots to grow – but first I wanted her to see it. As I prepared for our coaching conversation, I knew I wanted to move into a less directive stance and wanted to just ask questions, allow her to find the answers inside of her. I prepared for the conversation by pulling some questions and highlighting my notes. 

  • What did you do to make the lesson so successful?
  • I noticed how when you… the students really….
  • I’m interested in learning/hearing how you think that went?
  • What sort of an impact do you think having prompts to agree with/for in the chat might’ve made?

I highlighted my notes in 3 colors – one color to indicate the really good stuff, another color to indicate some areas to expand on and chat about, another color for tools or strategies. I wanted to allow her to direct the conversation but I wanted to easily be able to find the areas I had noticed. I didn’t ask the questions in order but began with the very open ended question around how she thought the lesson went. She knew it went well and brought up some of the same concerns. I also maintained the pace of the conversation by letting some things bubble up around grading without focusing on that – oftentimes I also get sidetracked by the bubbles. We then talked about exactly what made it successful which she was able to clearly state and that meant it was something she could replicate – not the content but the conditions. Those two questions led to some really robust conversation which really showed me how she was valuing students as humans and thinking about them in this way during her planning of content. We then talked about what occurred before and after this day and what she was planning moving forward. Her questions around engagement with students and how to circle back with students when they were struggling or seemingly struggling made for some action items for her. 

As I’ve worked with Callie over the past 3 years, as a mentor, as a coach, and as a friend I have been intentional in my planning of Professional Development, conversations, and debriefing using the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines – primarily focused on the Engagement guidelines. In preparation for both the observation/visit and the debrief I thought about the Guideline: Providing Options for Self Regulation

 9.1 Provide coaches, mentors, or agents that model the process of setting personally appropriate goals that take into account both strengths and weaknesses

 Which is where my questioning around the success of the lesson as well as what she is doing next in order to set those goals. 

9.3 Use activities that include a means by which learners get feedback and have access to alternative scaffolds (e.g., charts, templates, feedback displays) that support understanding progress in a manner that is understandable and timely

This piece is where I shared my notes, photos I took, as well as this entire reflection piece with Callie. Through the years we have also spent time reflecting back on her progress in order to understand where she is now and where she wants to go next. 

I’m sharing this story and my preparation as a reflection of both the growth of one of my favorite colleagues, educators, and friends, Callie, as well as my own growth and trying to encapsulate some of my practices as a coach. Pulling together multiple methods of reflection, observation, and questioning techniques has led me to having richer conversations with Callie but also other teachers I am in a coaching relationship with. Preparing intentionally for conversations helps me feel better able to support teachers.

You can find Callie on twitter – She is also the 2020 Massachusetts Exceptional New Art Educator of the Year.


UDL Guidelines

The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar

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