“Wow, you’re shorter than I thought!” exclaimed one middle school teacher. “You’re taller than I realized! And I'm even wearing heels!” I responded with a chuckle. Later that August morning, she apologized to me for making that comment in front of 5o teachers and administrators during a training I was leading. I assured her that no apology was needed, and I meant it. In fact, it made me laugh in the moment, and everyone else laughed along with us.
As an external coach, I joined this teacher’s interdisciplinary AIW team via Google Meet five times last year to provide support and feedback. Each meeting was generative, supportive, and impactful. But her comment clarified what was missing: Those most human of moments and interactions that are really hard to enact through a screen.
Yes, we did the work we set out to do last year – helping teachers improve their instruction – and yes, the teachers provided genuine emotional support to one another during an incredibly challenging time. In many ways, we were able to accomplish more in the virtual space than we anticipated. The classroom teachers and school-based coaches adapted, and as an external coach, I adapted. I prepared for each virtual team meeting, posed questions, offered in-the-moment observations and clarifications (what Schön refers to as “reflection-in-action”), and provided facilitation feedback to the school-based team coaches.
But during the past two weeks, after coaching three separate teams in person, I was reminded of just how much was missing. Last Wednesday, I visited a small teacher team in a school building for the first time since March, 2019. The 6 of us sat at separate tables within a Language Arts teacher’s classroom, and we wore masks except for the brief moments when we grabbed a quick drink from a water bottle or popped a homemade chocolate chip cookie into our mouth. It certainly wasn’t business as normal, at least from the optics. But it was infinitely better than sitting in front of a screen.
It felt more real. More fluid. More human.
During the coming months, I’ll continue to interact with most of my teams from behind a screen, either early in the morning or late in the afternoon; the substitute teacher shortage has made it difficult for most schools to provide class coverage for professional development. I won’t be able to make these sessions feel as real, as fluid or as human as in-person meetings can be, but I’ll do the best I can. And I’ll continue to be grateful for the opportunity to interact with and learn from so many inspiring educators.