The coronavirus has upended higher education at all levels, from enrollment to instruction. The transition to a fully remote learning environment provided unimaginable challenges for teachers and students, many having never experienced 100 percent online learning or instruction. News reports illustrate that some efforts have been more successful than others, with individuals experiencing issues with connectivity, lack of technology or the content itself.
In terms of how to manage instruction in the remote classroom, there are few concrete examples of what really works. It might be time for higher education to take a page out of the K-12 book and apply those insights at the scale that makes sense in the postsecondary environment to help ensure students are successful.
One such strategy is instructional coaching. While the use of instructional coaches is common in the public K-12 education setting, it is uncommon to find them in postsecondary institutions. The idea behind this resource is to provide ongoing feedback to instructors to enable them to be more effective in the classroom while developing a culture of improvement.
Instructional coaching makes sense
During this time of online and hybrid classrooms, instructional coaching makes more sense than ever. Many teachers report receiving little training for online teaching, which can lead to dissatisfaction among both instructors and students, as well as a lack of efficiency in curriculum delivery. Instructional coaches can help bridge that gap and provide knowledge to help faculty become better remote teachers. The creative mindset instructors develop when coached also lends itself to a more engaging remote classroom, where students feel supported and more able to learn effectively.
My nonprofit, ECMC Education, provides career and technical education through its Altierus Career Colleges and Institute, developed a coaching program for its instructors that launched in 2019 to help them leverage effective strategies that promote active and engaged learning through small group training and individual assessments. The program became a key component of assessing the remote learning environment when the schools transitioned to being fully remote at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak and has led to strong engagement from both instructors and students, with weekly surveys showing more than 90 percent attendance and over 90 percent instructor preparedness in the remote environment.
What does an effective program look like?
An effective instructional coaching program should be scaled to the number of instructors and students. The primary goal of the program is to provide targeted, differentiated support to promote student success and consistency in the classroom, not only during periods where education is experiencing upheaval, but always.
In the postsecondary space, instructional coaches observe the performance of teaching staff and use their observations to provide feedback and set goals to increase student success. Coaches provide resources, offer one-on-one training and support, and model strategies. The coaching process should be cyclical and based on a continuous improvement model of data and feedback. This model can also help coaches and instructors develop relationships, which will help faculty become more comfortable taking risks and trying new things – innovation and creativity are essential in the “new normal” learning environment.
The impact of coaching can be observed in a variety of areas including campus culture, performance and student success. As instructors grow through coaching, they develop a culture of continuous improvement. The goal is for them to become self-reflective by identifying their own needs, searching for resources, requesting training and collaborating with one another to share teaching strategies and best practices. Through this, they will implement highly effective teaching strategies in the classroom while leveraging technology through virtual learning, resulting in better student engagement. This support helps students become active learners who increase their critical thinking skills to help ensure that course and program outcomes are mastered.
Instructional coaches provide the guidance to allow us to deliver the highest level of education possible to prepare students for careers in their chosen field. By ensuring that students have mastered all program outcomes, we can better prepare students for the professional environment immediately after graduation. Instructional coaches are essential to ensuring that education delivery is effective in a remote environment moving forward. With classrooms that continue to see the impact of the coronavirus, it’s more important than ever to provide support not only for students, but for the faculty who help connect the dots between education and careers.
Jennifer Erpelding is the vice president of academic affairs for ECMC Education, a nonprofit provider of educational solutions rooted in innovation, employer collaboration and industry stewardship. She has more than 15 years of experience in instruction and education leadership.