On October 21, 2020, The Professional Institute for Instructional Coaching (TPIIC) offered a ½ day virtual conversation for participants from around the globe. By design, it was a conversation, not a conference, with topics generated from an action research project based on interviews with teachers and coaches (some of whom were parents, too) conducted in the spring. There was a general session, a facilitated breakout session based on topics, and a participant-selected problem of practice. Although there were several “takeaways,” the one that stood out the most was the desire for participants to continue collaborating with their colleagues in ways that promote changes in thinking and practice.
With that in my mind, I just read Karin Hurt and David Dye’s Let’s Grow Leaders Blog in the October 29th SmartBrief on Leadership. The writers share that their most often heard concern is all about sustaining relationships and keeping connected when working remotely. Surprising? Not at all. We found the very same thing in our virtual conversation… the necessity of keeping those relationships active and collaboration alive when teaching in a hybrid or virtual setting.
Being socially distant but emotionally connected does present a balancing act of great proportion. The key is to think about how those relationships were established and sustained in a face to face environment and recognizing what can be carried over to the remote teaching and learning one.
Hurt and Dye suggest the “virtual watercooler” idea as a place for sharing and caring. Instructional coaches can certainly launch a virtual time and place for this to happen. In fact, many coaches routinely schedule virtual office hours to work with colleagues that they can’t see during the day, especially if the coach and teacher have simultaneous teaching periods. The number of participants can determine if the group remains together or if individual breakout rooms are needed. Think virtual PLCs if enough participants can be grouped by interest or topic.
Just like the informal communication occurring in schools is incredibly powerful, the informal exchange of ideas, albeit in an intentional time and space, can bring colleagues together and help them stay in touch with each other. This is crucial in supporting the social emotional state of the community.
What “virtual watercooler” ideas have you tried that keeps you and your colleagues connected?