Educational Leadership and Coaching Article

Educational Leadership & Coaching: 

Five Feedback Essentials to Provide Teachers During These Times

April 17, 2020                     Alexandra Guilamo


Dear district leaders, principals, assistant principals, coaches, and more,
Let me start by sharing a heartfelt thank you.  Being a leader, strategic planner, model of the ‘why’ to this work, and guardian of equity for all, is no small feat.  It was challenging before the 2019-2020 school year began. However, the impact of COVID19 has made educational leadership and coaching even more challenging for us all. 
But in this time of uncertainty and challenge, we need your leadership now more than ever.  Leaders and coaches rallied together for, what many thought would be, short school closures amidst the COVID19 pandemic.  However, as of today, April 17, 2020, some of our largest school districts (including all schools in Illinois) are already announcing that their school closures will stay in place for the remainder of the school year.  As more districts face the reality that our physical schools will be closed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year, your leadership will again need to adapt. It now must shift from getting needed resources and materials to families (which should now be in place) to coaching all instructional staff in how to maximize their impact during our new shared reality for ALL students.
We must resist the urge to expect that teachers will instantly be able to make it work under these conditions.  Much like the reality in our physical schools, simply giving teachers and students ‘stuff’ is not the formula for success (Guilamo, A., 2020). 
Instead, I urge leaders and coaches to leverage coaching and feedback as a critical tool in every toolkit.  But I’m not talking about any and all feedback; what teachers will need now more than ever, is feedback around 5 essentials that will help ensure equity, stability, and learning in the short and long term.  As leaders observe virtual lessons and monitor supposed student engagement, these five feedback essential must be prioritized by every district:
  1. Put first things first;
  2. Have SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, & timebound) expectations for learning and communication for all students and family partners;
  3. Focus on practices and methods used to deliver meaningful learning, not programs;
  4. Use a balance of relationships and data to use collaboration time strategically and plan with other instructional staff;
  5. Reflect on ‘H2O impact and actively engage in virtual professional learning to improve that impact


Put first things first:
The current challenges and complexities presented by COVID19 are mentally, emotionally, physically, and linguistically exhausting for our students and their families (Guilamo, A., 2020).  As such, that is the first need that teachers must attend to and the first feedback that leaders and coaches must provide. Students and their families are depending on schools to ensure learning experiences and an education that will prepare every single one of their children for the future. In these unique times, however, many teachers are realizing that preparing their students for the future is much more complicated than pushing ‘send’ on an email that shares a new packet of materials to their students.   That’s because remote learning in and of itself is not the way to learning and achievement – instead, remote learning classrooms now have to look different, much in the same way that multilingual classrooms have always had to be different in order to account for the additional challenges and complexities they have. 
There is no more important feedback that leaders and coaches can provide teachers than (Guilamo, A., 2020): 
  • the explicit planning for students to feel a sense of stability and safety, 
  • a teacher’s sensitivity to student home identities and situations, 
  • the explicit planning for equity and access to meaningful learning for all learners regardless of living conditions that are outside of their control, 
  • the assurance of student agency and encouragement to stay engaged as learners as they take academic risks in their homes


Have SMART (specific, meaningful, attainable, realistic, & timebound) expectations for learning and communication for all students and family partners:
With multilingual families representing the fastest growing population of students in the US), in the last 3 – 4 weeks, I have received more messages and questions about the right set of expectations for our multilingual families from districts across the country.  The answer is that there is no ‘right’ set of expectations for families during these unprecedented times.  There are many schools that have planned for tech and non-tech versions of learning.  However, much like instruction in physical building, these plans must be differentiated for the range of students needs and family situations that are now their classrooms. 
Teachers will need feedback that is a new brand of SMART to ensure that teachers are taking student needs and family situations in their expectations for learning and continued communication.  For example, for a family of 6 school-age children, one device, and a parents that still must work to provide food on the table and a roof over their families’ heads, the expectation for learning and communication must be adjusted in order to maintain stability and emotional safety of the entire family.  For a host of reasons, there are many families that do not currently qualify for free internet connectivity, and so the expectation for the amount of communication and what they upload online to offer proof of learning will need to be adjusted to ensure – again – that first things come first.


Focus on practices and methods used to deliver meaningful learning, not programs:
During the first weeks of home learning students could withstand extended time spent in packets and in front of a screen on apps.  However, enduring the rest of the school year staring at a packet or in front of a computer screen completing this ‘stuff’ will not effectively prepare students for any future worthy of hope and real engagement.
Teachers will need substantial support in how they balance student use of digital and print tools and how they use a variety of practices/methods to deliver instruction and extend learning into their homes.  This means that teachers will also need support with how to match and implement strategies that are designed to engage students, embed hands on learning, increase project-based and constructivist approaches that already have the flexibility to account for every student’s home situation.  Once teachers understand what these practices and methods are, they will need coaching and support in how and when to introduce them in ways that are effective and accurate in their implementation.  
Finally, and especially as it relates to our multilingual students and students with exceptionalities, teachers will need facilitation and guidance in when co-planning for needs outside of their expertise is necessary.  Many general education teachers will need leaders and coaches to facilitate time and structures for them to plan with Dual Language/ESL/ENL/ bilingual/etc. specialists to ensure the inclusion of critical strategies that have yet to be learned and essential language scaffolds that prevent student access to grade level learning if not in place.  Only then will teachers be able to leverage digital tools and say that there is an effective plan in place for a viable curriculum (Marzano, 2003),


Use a balance of relationships and data to use collaboration time strategically and plan with other instructional staff:
The districts with whom we partner have found ways to create collaboration time for teacher teams.  However, not many districts are leveraging this time to its fullest potential. Leaders and coaches will need to strategically plan for how that time is leveraged to maintain the culture, climate, and collaboration of their staff.  Leaders and coaches will also need to ensure that personnel with different skillsets, expertise, and perspectives are brought together to customize and differentiate the learning and sustained engagement of every learner across a range of grades, languages, platforms, and unique circumstances. 
Leaders and coaches will need to support their instructional staff as they use a range of data during the decision-making process to meaningfully adjust their practices and tools during this collaboration and planning time.   Some of the data that leaders and coaches will need to prioritize during this collaboration time include (Guilamo, A., 2020): 
  • Which students are not engaged in learning and what data is needed to fully understand why they have not engaged?
  • What families still lack access to internet connectivity and/or devices and what strategies can be leveraged to mitigate that issue of equity?
  • What is the home language and what scaffolds must be matched to students’ current language proficiency levels?
  • What literacy levels and independent literacy learning can students manage at this time?
  • Who are your students?  What do we know about students’ identities, cultures, and new realities that can help schools to personalize learning in a way that is authentic to the diverse cultures and countries of each school community, and the diverse reference points that allow for integrated practice of grade level learning at home?


Reflect on ‘H2O’ impact and actively engage in virtual professional learning to improve that impact:
We all know that human beings need water to survive.  Similarly, students will need teachers to reflect on a formula of survival, hope, and success during this time.  The formula is easy to remember, H2O, or heart over head.
While I will be the first to advocate for the importance of giving access to grade level learning to every child, leaders and coaches will need to remember that there is much more at stake during this trying time. Who will our children be once we leave our quarantine? Will they still be curious, engaged, willing to connect to others?  Will they want to return to school, to routines, to accountable learning? Will they leave this pandemic with hope for their future, for our future? These are matters of the heart. Yet they are matters of the heart that must be attended to, in order to unlock the potential of their heads. 
Teachers will need bold, creative, and reflective leaders and coaches that can safely push them to reflect on the larger goals that we have for our kids.  These are student goals that are reflected in all of our school missions and visions – and we need that mission now more than ever. 
Regardless, leaders and coaches should be prepared to offer support and feedback that includes the following basic structure:
    1. Name the successes; 
    2. Guide teachers to reflect on missed opportunities; 
    3. Agree on the earliest needed change, using the essential questions found in table 6.1 below;
    4. Collaboratively brainstorm and align strategies that will help teachers improve in that change area and decision-making process; 
Reflect on ‘H2O’ impact – students’ hearts over heads and additional supports and/or feedback needed.

(Guilamo, A., 2020, pp. 75)