Joellen Killion Says Coaches Are Still Important When Distanced Teaching

  • Learning Forward Senior Advisor Joellen Killion discusses the need for effective instructional coaches even when the teaching landscape is altered.
  • Joellen illustrates how there are still fundamental similarities between distance teaching and the live-classroom experience.
  • Setting expectations, listening, and prioritizing are all skills that Joellen describes as critical to the success of a coach during this time.

Joellen Killion is a senior advisor for Learning Forward and served as the association’s deputy executive director for many years. She has a vast amount of experience in the implementation, design, and planning of professional learning at the school and state levels. She is also an author of many books on instructional coaching, including, The Feedback Process: Transforming Feedback for Professional Learning and Coaching Matters.

She was interviewed by Edthena founder Adam Geller for the professional development blog #PLtogether.

You can watch the interview segment above, and we’ve shared some of the highlights below.

Teachers need coaches now more than ever

“Instructional coaches are as important to teachers now as they have ever been,” said Joellen. She states that there should be an even bigger focus on supporting teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the amount of change people are undergoing, coaches are the driving force in ensuring teachers are “feeling comfortable and courageous.”

According to Joellen, there has been a sharp increase in the learning curve for educators. Teachers must become rapidly proficient with unfamiliar tools and with an unfamiliar environment in order to distance teach to distanced learners. But Joellen sees this skill learning need as an opportunity for instructional coaches to make a positive impact on the teachers with whom they work.

Joellen does describe a change in the teaching format due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, she also highlights the consistencies in pedagogy and content that teachers still must produce. “We are still engaged in designing learning experiences for student success. We’re still working with the same curriculum.,” she said. The educational setting may be different during the coronavirus pandemic, but the foundation of what makes a successful teacher remains similar.

Teachers are still designing learning experiences for student success

Designing curriculum, building relationships, and differentiating learning are all concepts that Joellen mentions as unchanged. So much of the work of a teacher is the same, albeit the tools used are different and may appear daunting. A coach’s role should not be as a “tech captain” but as someone who is thinking critically about how they can be the best support system for their teacher.

“We still are building relationships with students and coaches with the teachers they support. So much of what we’re doing in terms of the actual day-to-day work is at the root the same. It may be on a different platform, in a different environment, but that environment is causing us to think about what is really critical,”  said Joellen.

A support system example that Joellen brought up is the notion that “what was important before continues to be important today.” If a district’s priority was the use of academic language in the content area before, why shouldn’t it be a focus now? Coaches can still support teachers with the same concepts they were concentrating on before the shift to distance teaching.

Dear instructional coach, ask yourself these important questions from Joellen Killion

For instructional coaches looking to be a pillar for their teachers, Joellen offers some advice on answering questions on setting expectations and prioritizing. “What are the expectations for students, for teachers, and for coaches? Let’s get clear on what those expectations are,” said Joellen.

The importance of setting expectations is not a novel concept. But in a time of flux and uncertainty, it is even more important. No matter if classrooms are in person or online, teachers need to prioritize setting clear expectations for their students, and coaches should also set clear expectations around communication with their teachers.

“I’d also ask about prioritizing my work as a coach,” said Joellen. “Who are those resource people who are available to support tech areas? Which aspects of the curriculum will the district prioritize at one point of the year versus what we might prioritize at another point if we are back in schools?” she said.

Joellen believes coaches should focus on prioritizing what is important for their teachers. There are still many ways that coaches can support teachers during the time of distance learning. Whether it be providing resources, giving feedback on videos, or even helping create pre-recorded lessons, coaches can determine exactly what they should be doing to best support their teachers.

Overall, the classroom setting has been altered due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it still may not look like it once was. What has remained consistent during this transition, however, is the need for instructional coaches. Coaches still need to provide targeted support on the focuses that have been prevalent for teachers in years past.

We can learn a lot from this moment, and specifically, how we as educators respond to it. As Joellen said, “Every small step forward is something and that is a huge success. While we want it to be perfect, we’re gonna celebrate every mistake along the way”.

Like what your reading? Watch more videos at or read our related post about Learner-Focused Feedback with Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn. 

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