Coaches Don’t Have To Solve The Problem Or Know What To Say, Says Elena Aguilar

  • Elena Aguilar reflects how the coronavirus pandemic is making teaching harder than ever.

  • Coaches can provide instructional support and emotional support to teachers during this time.

  • As thought partners, instructional coaches provide ideas and alternative instructional strategies as educators navigate distanced teaching during COVID-19.

Elena Aguilar’s expertise comes from twenty-five years as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, and leadership coach. She’s best known by many as the author of instructional coaching books like The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation and Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience.

Today, Elena works with a team to prioritize the idea that “every conversation counts” at Bright Morning, an organization she founded.

Elena spoke with Adam Geller as part of the PLtogether Lounge Talks series. During their conversation, Elena shared how coaches are needed now during this pandemic more than ever.

Overall Elena believes that educators can continue to design learning experiences that help meet students where they are and what they need right now. An example that was provided is the idea that if a teacher is working with ESL students, then the end result of that project could be in the language used at home.

Elena Aguilar says coaches can still be an emotional and instructional support system even during this time of Covid-19. Regardless of where they are or what they need, coaches can still find explicit ways to support teachers and students. This is even further validation that coaches are needed now more than ever.

The video segment above is part two of their four part conversation.  Here are some highlights of this part of the interview with Elena Aguilar.

Do we still need instructional coaches during the coronavirus pandemic?

Yes! Teachers are under more stress and pressure having to make changes to the way they think about curriculum and instruction. If a coach is a thought partner, their coach can help them think about alternatives and other approaches. Their coach can also provide emotional support to teachers as well during this time.

How has the change to distance teaching impacted a coach’s ability to be an emotional backbone for a teacher?

I see potential in the sort of melding of the worlds that we traditionally think of as so separate. There’s a lot of potential for people to embrace their full humanity. I’ve had coaching calls and I’ve been facilitating learning, where people’s kids wander in, or their pets, or their other loved ones.

I have had meetings with principals who were at home and some of them were wearing pajamas. It made me think, if you are a teacher and now you are meeting with your principal in a virtual space and you’re seeing more complexity to who they are, it’s going to shift the power dynamics a little bit.

There’s also a possibility for coaches to expand their traditional repertoire of strategies.

We as coaches can hold some space. When thinking about attending to someone’s emotions, it can be about holding some space to listen to someone and to perhaps help them process the fear, the disappointment, the sadness, the uncertainty that is coming up for everyone. Just expressing empathy and using active listening and slowing down enough to let someone talk and process is a big gift.

How can we set and achieve high expectations for our students given the Covid-19 teaching context?

I coach teachers to understand what their students need and provide their students with that type of support. Understanding where they’re at right now. And right now, many students are also in places of great uncertainty and fear. We can take an approach that’s more responsive and holistic.

There’s more opportunity for oral culture, or for storytelling culture to be appreciated and to thrive. Some teachers are seeing their students, families, and community members responding really positively to more space and more time to share stories.

Like what your reading? Watch more videos at or read our related post about Joellen Killion’s take on the importance of instructional coaches. 

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