Professional Educators

NEA Launches Virtual Coaching for Priority School Sites

By Teal Ruland

NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign recently partnered with the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) to offer a virtual coaching pilot program for Intensive Support Sites. This pilot program features 41 accomplished teachers to serve as virtual coaches to their fellow educators in priority schools.

These select coaches from 14 states have joined forces to share a wealth of knowledge and experience. They represent schools ranging from small rural areas to sprawling urban cities; 80% are National Board Certified Teachers, and over half work in schools with 50% or more students qualifying for free-reduced lunch. The coaches were trained in collaboration with The Center for Teaching Quality, which has considerable expertise in cultivating teacher leadership to address student learning.

The pilot coaching program takes place entirely online in a number of theme-based virtual learning communities (VLCs), which are accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “As the Priority Schools Campaign took shape,” said NEA Senior Policy Analyst Jennifer Locke, “we began to see how accomplished teachers from similar contexts could build virtual communities around specific topics, engaging with colleagues from around the country.”

The guiding themes within the VLCs change with the interests of the teachers, but topics can range anywhere from classroom management to family-school-community partnership. However, 20 teachers are needed in each community for any particular themed VLC to be effective and generate meaningful discussion.

“The range of experience, contexts, and interests really make for an exciting learning environment for both the trainers and the participants,” said Locke, “but we need to push the communities out in order for the learning to start.”

Through the Priority Schools Campaign, NEA strives to promote increased professionalism and systemic education reform in some of the nation’s lowest-performing schools. In the pilot program, VLCs help teachers in priority schools save time, improve efficiency, and give quick access to resources and solutions. It’s a free, flexible service, and teachers can sign up alone or as part of a group. There’s also a sense of safety to a virtual community.

“I think this is often a job where we are more often than not ‘corrected’ rather than encouraged,” said Florida elementary school teacher and virtual coach Natalie Faucher. “A coach will be the one to say ‘Atta-girl/boy’ when others may not see improvement, and they can offer assistance in a nonjudgmental way, especially when it’s not tied to teachers’ job evaluations.”

Participants interact with other teachers from priority schools, and only these members of the community are granted access to discussion threads. That means privacy from administrators, principals, and parents, unless a previous agreement has been arranged and agreed upon by all members of the VLC.

Co-facilitator Kathie Marshall from the Center for Teaching Quality suggested, “The more private communications provided by an online coach, once trust is established, will heighten the likelihood of struggling teachers to communicate openly and fully with their mentor teachers.”

Coaches and teachers alike reap the immense benefits of the pilot program. Participants share perspectives, problems, and ideas, as well as collaborating online resources. “Often, teachers can answer their own questions when they are able to communicate with a good listener who’ll act as a sounding board and clarify what the teacher’s problem is, without trying to fix it for him or her,” said Faucher.

Signing up is fast and easy. Just click here to fill out the form and NEA will take care of the rest.

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