Coaching During COVID-19

Lizzie Foltin Artwork

What is your call to action when in crisis? How will you manage and thrive when so much is unknown?

Guest Blog by Lizzie Fortin, Bright Morning Ambassador and educator in Massachusetts

I’ve been doing a lot of listening

Over the past few days, I have seen many resources being shared for teachers to support their students in this chaotic and uneasy time of the COVID-19 pandemic. This outpouring of resources and support and advice has led to many questions from my colleagues and peers. What should we be doing? How will we continue supporting learners? Can I take action in this crisis? What will happen next? I have no answers to any of these questions, so I’ve been doing a lot of listening. 

“Our whole world falls apart, and we’ve been given this great opportunity. However, we don’t trust our basic wisdom mind enough to let it stay like that. Our habitual reaction is to want to get ourselves back—even our anger, resentment, fear, or bewilderment. So we re-create our solid, immovable personality as if we were Michelangelo chiseling ourselves out of marble.”

Pema Chodron

How to manage when you aren’t in control

For me, right now feels unsettling, uneasy, like I can’t quite get my footing. The unknown is scary, as I write this, I remind myself that everything is always unknown. This is not the mainstream assumption; our assumption is that we are in control of everything. As Pema Chodron, a Buddhist monk says above, we continue to grasp at the past, even the negative things – we just want the control back.  

As a coach, I attempt to plan and control situations by creating a coaching plan or planning the conversations and questions I’ll ask during a coaching conversation, but those plans and attempts at control do nothing when the teacher comes in and shares that they were involved in an unexpected tragedy. What is my action when I’m in crisis? At that moment, I know I have to give space to the teachers’ needs completely. The conversation I’ve planned disappears and my love and compassion rise to the surface like the sun returning after a thunderstorm. We are now in that necessary space in perpetuity. The unknown is our reality.

Centering Relationships

Many of us have currently lost our “givens” – the structure of school, the expected patterns of the school year, the known entities of standardized testing and report cards, the behavioral responses to the first days of spring. As a coach, I can support teachers in so many ways around these things. This great unknown of COVID-19 and the cancellation of school for some (and….) led me to think hard about my role as a coach. As a teacher and coach, I have always prioritized relationships over everything else. This is the heart of Transformational Coaching set out by Elena Aguilar – relationships. 

  • What do relationships with colleagues look like when we aren’t physically with each other? 
  • What do relationships that are built around pedagogy look like when pedagogy isn’t present? What do relationships look like when school no longer looks the same? 

These are questions I am sitting with as I think about what my role is now as school is no longer the structure I am familiar with. 

Seeking Normalcy

As I plan for something I cannot envision, I think about what I am currently doing with my friends – reaching out, checking in, setting up virtual meeting spaces. These aren’t structured spaces with agendas, but instead, they are listening spaces, support spaces, community spaces. These spaces are filled with all the emotions – fear, silliness, sadness, curiosity, and so much love.

I think about the needs of my colleagues and peers – and think they are similar. I imagine that these spaces will be necessary and welcome in the coming days with more structured spaces following. I think some semblance of normalcy will be welcomed – even if that normalcy happens in virtual spaces in order to keep the social distancing and health safety in our communities. Looking towards disability justice workers for the lead in creating some of these spaces is helpful – listen to this podcast from How to Survive the End of the World and Healing Justice for ideas. 

The new normal is rising. We can make significant structural and systemic shifts during this time. I implore each of us to imagine here – instead of attempting to fit what we currently do into a different “distance learning” box. I implore us to center love and compassion and listening, rather than knowing. I implore each of us to take care of ourselves with rest and self-love. And so what? What is your call to action when in crisis? 

When Love Is Your Center

No matter what happens or what sort of space is created these are the words I am keeping at the center as I imagine and plan: 

  • Care
  • Compassion
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Community

It just so happens that all these begin with C – who doesn’t love some alliteration – but love is really the center of all of this. 

How will you center love as we move into the unknown? 

Lizzie Fortin is a high school instructional coach, visual art educator, and visual artist whose work centers student relationships, antiracist pedagogy, and equitable access and outcomes using Universal Design for Learning. Her recent transition into instructional coaching has pushed her to transform her pedagogical work for adults. Her current visual artwork is contextualizing history through the use of timelines, text, and primary source images in order to make visual connections to what is currently happening in the world. She enjoys co-creating spaces to encourage dialogue around books, race, and education.

To Do:

We’ve heard you loud and clear: 

  • You want more opportunities for virtual learning. 
  • You want to see more masterful coaching demos. 
  • You want to access learning in bite-sized chunks. 
  • You want to have the opportunity to immediately practice what you learn. 

And we know these needs are greater and more pressing than ever as we all work to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 while still preparing ourselves to be as effective as possible today and in the not-so-distant future when we return to our more predictable schedules and responsibilities. 

That’s why we’re excited to offer our first-ever Coach’s Toolkit Virtual Summit this April and May to meet all these needs and more.