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Take a look at our overall recommendations for getting back to class!
It’s time, boys, girls, and non-binary pals, to begin fearing the inevitable return of education. But it shouldn’t be all bad, especially if you treat yourself to some essentials. Not only are our recommendations for getting back to school perfect for a little prize for getting through the summer holidays, but also will help you out massively in the coming year. Imagine never having to use the university library PCs or never having to worry about sneaking your phone charger into a plug during class.
So join us as we bring you the top five recommendations for getting back to school, university, or whatever education you’ve decided to throw yourself into this coming year!
Products at a Glance
There’s no point recommending you a voucher or something when we could just cut out the middle man and give you a choice of product that’s actually going to be useful during the day-to-day.
Do you really want to be carrying a fat, beefy gaming laptop between rooms?
No. No one does.
Back to School Essentials for 2023 (UK)
Great Battery Life
Interconnected with other Apple Products
On Par with the 13″ M1 Pro
Will be able to tackle almost any task
Apple’s support for non-M1 supported programs is great
New M1 Chip Not Natively Supported by everything
16GB RAM limit
Only two Thunderbolt 4/USB C Ports, requires dongles
The MacBook Air’s 2023 revision saw a switch from Intel’s CPUs to Apple’s own silicon, bringing with it an incredible battery life and more power than any MacBook Air rightfully should have had crammed into it. Seriously, other than a singular missing core on one of the two versions, the MacBook Air is pretty much on par with the 13″ 2023 MacBook Pro.
The only real issue you might find when buying the MacBook Air M1 is that it’s currently limited to 16GB of RAM, which is only an issue if you planned on doing a massive 3D Render in the blink of an eye. For your day-to-day school work, 8GB should suffice, while 16GB and the Air is perfect for the light creative work you might do at university or in your art, graphics, or (do they still do this one?) Design and Tech class.
You would need to also invest in some dongles, as Apple is still adamant about USB-C only, but then not providing enough USB-C ports to do much of anything with.
They are Thunderbolt 4 equipped though, so if you have the cash, you can absolutely spend it on some wickedly fast storage.
If you’re worried about the shift over from Intel to the M1 and your apps might not work, Apple has been pretty good at ’emulating’ the traditional PC environment with their Rosetta 2 software, which translates how applications built on traditional PC infrastructure (x86) into the M1’s ARM infrastructure, which is slowly becoming the norm across the board. Adobe, Blackmagic, and other creative applications, as well as many productivity apps, have also begun to shift their apps to natively support M1, with massive performance boosts for the MacBook Air, being able to supply a pretty powerful creative machine at a lower cost than the competitors.
60W output for charging everything
Never be without your phone
A tad pricey
Only a couple ports
I’m personally a big fan of the OmniCharge brand. They’re hugely ridiculous chargers that do a lot, while also being not entirely bulky that they become a hindrance. I’ve used the original Omni 20 previously and being able to charge phones, my Switch, and another power bank over a few hours was phenomenal.
Even with the lack of bulk, the full-fat OmniCharge products can be a bit much, but you still want the power out of them. That’s why I’m recommending the Omni Mobile, which can output a full whack of 60 watts out of the USB-C port, which is just about enough to charge a tablet, laptop, or portable console! It even has wireless charging, so you can just pop it on your desk with your phone without any cumbersome wires and get a trickle charge all day.
This is genuinely a great all-in-one charger to just have on hand, while I do prefer the bigger ones, this is the sensible choice to go with. It’ll do everything you need to and probably last a while too between charges or give you that extra boost you need towards the end of a hard day.
Won’t take up a whole desk
Great typing feel
Customizable with software
Wired and no batteries
The Corsair K63 is such a good keyboard. Everything from how it performs in games, but also the comfortable Cherry MX keys are just excellent for typing on. Not my first choice, but also my first choice is a £88 investment that puts looks and stuff to the side while it works on providing the best key feel.
However, the K63 is great for those with limited desk space, as the small 60% size (it’s cut off the Numpad) allows you to keep more very important stuff on your desk instead of more keyboard bits that might not be entirely useful to you.
The really nice features that in my time using the keyboard were the things that I didn’t ever think that I’d ever really use. The media controls over volume, pause, etc., are just so handy to have on hand. Corsair’s keyboards are mostly into customization and while the program can seem a little like bloatware, having the option to control what certain keys do is great for those that want macro controls without the hassle of setting that up on Windows.
Thankfully, you can turn off the RGB lighting if you so wish.
Small and portable, fits into any bag
The price jumps between sizes
Might want to stock up on a couple
Samsung’s T drives (T5 and T7) are ridiculously fast, large SSD storage that you can take pretty much anywhere you want. The small form factor allows it to be slotted anywhere and everywhere, but the speeds. The speeds.
If the drive itself is like a robust sandwich, the speeds are the dipping sauce that makes it all come together. With reading speeds of 1,050MBps and write speeds of 1,000MBps, combine this with our very recommended MacBook Air and you’ve got the makings of some excellent additions to your work. Files literally leap over during transfers, while the drive itself can be bought with storage up to 2TB.
This drive is also perfect for those doing more creative work, as files will be read and written to the drive so quickly, there’ll be no time wasted. This, however, does rely on you having a more up-to-date PC or Mac with support for the full power of USB 3.2. For regular files, this makes for a great “always on you” storage device and will even plug into modern USB-C tablets if that’s more your style.
Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam (UK)
Autofocus & Light Correction
Fits on almost any monitor or laptop
Quality won’t matter on poor connections
Would still recommend a separate microphone
A tad pricey if you already have a built in webcam
Face it: the world changed and now you’ve got to do some classes from your home or student halls, you might even be a regular on Zoom calls or using Discord. So why are you still relying on your built-in webcam? Why aren’t you using the best you can get and then not only look your best but also have a high-quality 1080p camera that you can use for all occasions?
I do recommend getting a separate microphone for this still, but the dual-microphone setup on the front will be more than enough for a majority of people, bringing a clean signal into the PC with little fuzz. This webcam is the go-to for a lot of people due to the video quality it provides, it’s not over-the-top, but does its job incredibly well.
It connects to almost any laptop or desktop, with the option to set it on either the top of your monitor or flush on the desk. The clip isn’t a total grip though, so you would need enough room for it to balance on top at the same time.
The worst thing about webcams that you need to manually focus is never knowing until you’ve managed to sit back and test, but the Logitech C920 HD comes with auto-focus and built-in light correction, giving you the best image possible regardless of your current lighting situation.Our Verdict
Back to School Essentials for 2023 (UK)
Obviously, we recommend everything in this article, but honestly, the MacBook Air with the M1 chip is just too good of a deal. A portable workhorse that not only gives you great battery life but is so well supported by Apple and developers, that some programs are just simply running better on it than older MacBooks. Combine it with any of the other options here and you’ve got yourself set for the next few years.
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Back-to-school shopping season is a busy and exciting time for retailers. It is the second largest retail spending holiday for online and in-store and contributes to 17 percent of the total year sales. In 2024, consumer spending on back-to-school products was a whopping $75.8 billion.
The opportunities for retail sales lie in both the K-12 group and the college students, with the college students spending more.
Many shoppers will be searching online and buying online or offline based on what they discover. Are your paid search campaigns ready for the upcoming boom?
It’s not too late to get started or fine-tune your back-to-school PPC strategy! Using the latest research, you can optimize campaign targeting, ad messaging, and bids to reach the buyers who are spending and adjust the timing to reach them.1. Consumer Spending
Spending on back-to-school items is compulsory, not a discretionary cost, and it really adds up. According to the National Retail Federation, families with kids in grades K-12 family spend about $674 on items such as clothing, electronics, shoes, and school supplies.
As an example, the average family with K-12 students will spend $108 on school supplies, $126 on new kicks, and more.
College is a bigger cost investment in supplies overall, but they will tend to spend, for example, $211 on electronics and $114 on dorm furnishings.
With costs adding up, parents are even asking their kids to contribute the schools supplies costs. Pre-teens are spending on average $20 of their own money and teens spending $33.2. Shopping List
With back-to-school spending being required to buy classroom supplies, shoppers are looking for deals and best prices on everything from tablets to T-shirts.
K-12 themed searches are focused on school supplies, shoes, clothing, and electronics.
College students are searching for furniture, kitchen accessories, bedding, home office furniture, and apparel.3. Purchase Timing
July: Searches ramp up quickly and peak across all groups. 4.49% peak CTR, with pens, pencils, and markers having the highest CTRs for K-12.
August: Search volume dips, but CTRs increase for teachers and parents who have deadlines to purchase supplies.
September: Searches peak again as college students arrive on campuses. Average CTR spikes the week of September 18 at 2.32 percent. Online marketing can lead to offline sales.4. Search Trends
Bing Ads has used Microsoft internal data to analyze the top back-to-school search volume for clothing, backpacks, laptops and tablets, cellphones, shoes, school supplies, and furniture for branded and non-branded search terms.
For example, 81% of school supplies searches are non-branded like “calculator”, “graph paper”, or “pencil pouch”.
In this product category, allocate more budget towards non-branded terms. For keyword match type, consider broad match modifier since non-brand searches alternate by variations of a keyword (e.g., “pen” rather than “Bic pen”).5. Consumer Demographics
Back-to-school shoppers include parents, teachers, and college students themselves.
63 percent are of shoppers are aged 35 to 64.
32 percent of the searchers are 35 to 49 and half male and female.
PreK-8 is the largest group of students.
Majority of enrolled college students are female.Your Action Plan
Here’s your plan for A+ back-to-school PPC campaigns this year:
July: Branding and awareness initiatives will keep your products in the consideration set in the next few weeks as researching begins and peaks. Work on building remarketing lists on the back-to-school products and topics. Early on, identify products categories and optimize them in your shopping campaigns.
August: Bid adjustments will help to maximize opportunities during this narrow time period of high volume searches. Increase bids on highest converting keywords, and cart abandoners. Think about reducing bids on those who have already purchased.
September: Focus on college age. Shoppers shift a bit here since college students are buying when they arrive on campus. Consider increasing bids and budgets on college products and reducing budget allotment to the K-12 audience.
Also, consider the following:
The time period to capitalize on this shopping holiday is tight, so be ready to have agile and responsive strategies.
Understand the searcher and their needs in order to meet them.
Adjust budgets for key time periods and expect increased CPCs during seasonal peaks.
Offer deals or specials to be competitive.
Prep your shopping campaigns with higher bids on more popular product categories.
That’s a huge convenience, but it also means if you lose your phone or it gets stolen then you are without your main communication device – and perhaps are at risk of bank or identity fraud.
That’s why it’s probably best to buy a phone insurance plan to cover your smartphone for accidental damage, loss, or theft.
If insured, you can get a quick replacement for a phone affected by any of those things – smashed screen, dropped in the sea, pinched from the pub – but not all insurance policies cover all eventualities.
In the UK you can take out a phone insurance plan on a new phone very easily, but it’s also possible to buy cover for a phone or multiple devices at any time.Phone insurance with UK mobile operators
Many of the major network providers in the UK provide insurance services. Damage, loss and theft coverage may even be included in your contract, so it’s worth checking with your carrier before you go to a separate insurance company:
EE – From £2.40 per month for damage protection, or £4.80 per month for full protection.
Must purchase when upgrading or taking out a new contract.
O2 – From £3 per month, with protection against loss, theft and damage. Minimum excess of £10.
Must purchase when upgrading or taking out a new contract.
Three – From £4 per month. Some plans include protection against damage, loss, theft and more.
Must take out within 28 days of purchase.
Vodafone – From £6.50 to £8.50 for damage protection, worldwide; £9.50 to £13.50 for damage, loss and theft protection, worldwide.
Device must be less than 60 days old.iPhone insurance with AppleCare
Apple doesn’t call it insurance, but that’s what AppleCare and AppleCare+ is.
If you buy a new iPhone direct from Apple (and select third party retailers) you can choose to also purchase AppleCare at the same time (or within 60 days of the iPhone purchase).
Prices for regular AppleCare start from £3.49 per month or £69 for two years for the iPhone SE (2024) and go up to £9.99 per month or £199 for two years for the iPhone 14 Pro Max. This covers unlimited repairs for accidental damage, repairs that use Apple parts, express replacement service, and 24/7 access to AppleCare experts online.
You can also get AppleCare+ from £5.99 per month and £119 for two years, up to £12.49 per month and £249 for two years, which gets you all of the above plus full cover for loss and theft.
If you’ve bought your iPhone from Apple then we recommend AppleCare because it’s just so easy to get quick repair at any Apple Store in the country. The insurance is linked to your Apple ID too, so you don’t need proof of purchase when you attend an appointment at the store (it’s best to book at the Genius Bar before turning up).Samsung phone insurance Best phone insurance providers
Protect Your Bubble – Good for low excess costs on older phone models with £50 for damage or breakdown claims, and £75 for loss or theft. Policies start at £15.99 per month to insure up to three gadgets with worldwide coverage. Protect Your Bubble allows up to two theft or loss claims per year, per gadget.
You must have bought your phone within the last six months. Be prepared to pay significantly more than the £5 starting prices for phones like the iPhone 14 and new Samsung models, though.
Gadget Cover – Good for shared phone insurance, because your policy is extended to cover damage while a member of your immediate family is using your device. Prices start from around £3.99 per month, with loss coverage an optional extra, with an excess of £50 for devices worth less than £500, £75 for those worth between £501 and £999 and anything over £1,000 has an excess of £100.
Endsleigh – Good for quick replacements. If your phone is lost, stolen, or unrepairable you should get a replacement within one working day. Insurance cover starts from £3.99 a month.
Unlike most dedicated gadget insurers, Endsleigh factors in your age, occupation, and other details in calculating a rate, so prices vary – but loss is included by default, and devices can be just under 3 years old when you start the policy. They also have options for students.
Simplesurance – Good for long-term plans. Simplesurance does just as you’d expect from its name: it keeps things simple. Instead of a monthly fee, you’ll pay a one-off fixed price to protect your phone over one year, two years or three years.
You can add theft protection, too. Prices are very reasonable, and get better if you choose a longer term.
Other insurance companies worth checking out include So-Sure and Love It Cover It.Phone insurance buying guide Different kinds of phone insurance
The first thing to decide when it comes to phone insurance is the level of protection you want. A few factors affect the price of insurance, starting with the assumed market value of the device you are insuring. Most insurance providers will have specific plans for particularly popular devices like iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones.
A lot of policies cover damage like liquid damage and theft but be wary that most packages won’t cover loss, and some of the cheapest packages (cheap being around £3 per month) will even leave out theft entirely and you’ll only be covered for accidental damage. So be sure to check the fine print because sometimes a cheap price means you won’t be covered for everything.
Nowadays with cool tech like Apple Pay and Android Pay, there’s also the risk that if stolen your phone could be used for contactless transaction, so look out for e-wallet cover – Gadget Cover is one of the few companies that includes this as standard.Price and risk
An example is Protect Your Bubble, which offers an excess charge for a claim of damage or breakdown of £50 for many phones, increasing to £100 for the latest and greatest.
Other plans can have excess costs of more than £100. You have to consider the balance you want to strike between peace of mind and then the likelihood of making a claim; if you think you will then make sure you’re happy with the excess costs before you sign up.Consider multi-device policies
If you’re looking to insure more than one device (say you want to cover all of your family’s phones) then quite a few providers sell multi-device packages. Protect Your Bubble again is a good option, offering household gadget insurance for 4-10 devices from £12.99 per month.
Gadget Cover also provides simple, flexible household insurance policies that are worth considering.You might already have insurance
If you aren’t worried about theft or accidental damage (although most people should be!) don’t forget that the majority of smartphone manufacturers cover device defaults for 12 months. iPhones certainly are (when bought new) so double check.
It’s also possible that your phone will be covered by your existing home insurance, or under an insurance policy that comes with your bank account, so make sure to double-check both of those before you commit to spending more money on a new policy.Check the terms and conditions
While we think the providers and policies mentioned in this article are good choices for smartphone insurance, you should always check the terms and conditions and small print before taking out a policy – this is because it depends on your personal situation or preferences.
For example, your phone might only be covered from car theft if the car is locked and phone in the glove box.
Some insurers also don’t protect smartphones unless they are six months old or newer. All these little things could add up to an insurance headache, so make sure you check the fine print.Related stories for further reading
WWDC 2023 starts on Monday.
The 2023 developers conference season is coming to a close. We’ve heard from Microsoft and Google already, Monday, June 4th is Apple’s turn to trot out its plans for the next year or so.HomePod
The biggest news from last year’s conference was the HomePod. Apple’s long-awaited Siri-enabled speaker made its first appearance at WWDC with plans to hit store shelves before 2023’s holiday shopping frenzy. That delivery date stumbled into early 2023, however, putting it behind Google and Amazon, which sold millions of their smart speakers in late 2023.
The HomePod hardware turned out to be extremely nice, but Siri still seems limited compared to Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant, both of which have had their own speakers for years.
Apple also teased AirPlay 2, which lets users link HomePods together to create stereo pairs or multi-room music setups like with the popular Sonos speakers. It took about a year for AirPlay 2 to become real; it finally made it into last week’s iOS 11.4 update.
It seems unlikely that we’ll see any hardware updates for HomePod, but it could learn some new software-based tricks. And rumors are circulating about Apple releasing a Beats speaker with Siri inside.
We also may hear some concrete sales numbers for the HomePod, something Apple hasn’t been particularly forthcoming about even during its most recent earnings call.
The HomePod made its debut at last year’s conference.
iOS 11 Like Google does with Android, Apple typically uses its developers conference as a platform to announce the latest version of its mobile operating system. Last year, we met iOS 11, which wasn’t a total overhaul of the system, but did offer some useful features like:
Apple did not, however, announce an increase in the amount of free iCloud storage users get with their accounts, so you might want to think about upgrading to more storage if you plan on hoarding all of your texts along with their pictures and videos.iMac Pro
Back in 2023, Apple was taking some guff because its latest MacBook Pro computers seemed to give up on things like speed and other features a typical “pro” user would want. This was to accommodate more bells-and-whistles, like the TouchBar that replaced the top row of keys on the keyboard.
Apple’s response was the $5,000 iMac Pro, which comes with a 27-inch, 5K display, an 8-core Xeon processor, 32GB RAM (expandable up to 128GB), and a Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics card. It also comes in a very attractive Space Gray case.
Reviews of the machine were, predictably, good, but it’s not a computer for which the average user needs to shell out. Apple later made the Space Gray Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard available on their own for a $20 premium over the typical aluminum versions.What to expect from this year’s conference
Google went all-in on its Digital Wellbeing initiative during its developers conference, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Apple implement some features to help people use their devices in a more reasonable and responsible way. Expect iOS to give you more tools to manage your smartphone and iPad time, including more visible statistics about how much time you’re spending staring off into iOS land.
Here are some other rumors that have surfaced about possible announcements. None of them are confirmed so take them for what you will.
New MacBooks with ARM-based processors: Seems unlikely, but the current crop of MacBook Pros haven’t gotten much love lately.
An update to the iPad Pro: it’s not out of the question since Apple picked this time last year to make a minor adjustment to the device.
iPhone SE 2: Apple knows some users want a 4-inch iPhone, but we’ll have to wait and see how long it takes to update the littlest device in the lineup.
Be sure to check back to chúng tôi on Monday at 10 a.m. PDT (1 p.m. EDT) to follow along with the keynote announcements, and then check in later in the evening for a WWDC-centric episode of the Last Week in Tech podcast.
“The shift in my role was dramatic,” says Aaron Listhaus. “I was no longer an ESL teacher solely responsible for covering my curriculum.” Listhaus is describing what he encountered when he first joined a very unusual school, one where he immediately became part of a team teaching an innovative interdisciplinary curriculum in a school where mentoring runs through the entire environment.
The school is International High School (IHS) , an alternative public high school located on the campus of La Guardia Community College, in Queens, New York. Today, Listhaus is the chair of the school’s coordinating committee, a democratic governing body that decides major policy issues.
He came to IHS from a more traditional setting, a large urban high school rife with fingerpointing, one where the closest thing to a consensus might involve a ban on hats, one where a teacher would probably find a mix of low accountability and a high level of autonomy (read: isolation).
At IHS, Listhaus found himself in a very different world, one characterized by lots of accountability and much less isolation, one where his great gain was “a community of peers, mentors, and students focused on common interdisciplinary themes,” as he puts it. Helping young people from foreign countries become acclimated to American culture and fluent in English has fostered a powerful and pervasive mentoring culture within the school’s student body, staff, and administration. At IHS, students mentor students, teachers mentor teachers, leaders mentor those moving into leadership positions.
“As a new teacher in this professional community, I was struck by how interdependent we were,” recalls Listhaus. As he shared his expertise in ESL methodology in the science class, helping students work through the different procedures in an experiment and understand the background information they were reading, he might also see the art teacher helping other students with observational and drawing skills, while the science teacher outlined color theory.
The school’s culture promotes mentoring interactions on many levels, including those dealing with affective and behavioral issues. For example, “While routinely discussing individual students and their difficulties during our planning sessions, teachers began to share their strategies for dealing with common complaints such as tardiness, no homework, and late assignments,” says Listhaus.
What might in a more traditional school have been an individual teacher’s problem now became a team focus and responsibility. Teachers who might have had difficulty dealing with a particular student now found they had support. Teachers with positive relationships among students were pressed into service as liaisons. “As a new member of this community, I was able to learn new approaches to positively impact the student-teacher relationship,” he says.Learning to Lead
Elected to the position of chair of the school’s Coordinating Council by majority faculty vote, Listhaus soon took on administrative responsibilities. From the start, he benefited from the mentoring fabric of the IHS culture in very specific ways. After every coordinating council meeting, he received feedback from the steering committee (the school’s management team, comprising administrators and Listhaus) as well as other members of the council.
“We discussed how to monitor the conversation, when to summarize, when to reframe the issue, and how to move the discussion forward to a decision,” he says. “Many of our discussions led to a deeper understanding of an issue or enabled us to reframe the discussion in a more productive light.” In this mentoring process, Listhaus and his colleagues found themselves naturally involved in an ongoing reflection on the leadership they were supplying to the school, collectively and individually. “What is significant about the support I received is the time and dedication my fellow administrators devoted to providing it,” says Listhaus.
Despite the fact that it might have been easier and more efficient to appoint an experienced administrator to the position he took on, Listhaus sees the benefit of choosing a beginner for the job and investing in the mentoring challenge that decision entailed. “In mentoring me, they broadened the pool of leadership to include the ideas and perspective that I brought to the job,” he says. “And through the mentoring relationship, they were put in a position to reflect on their own leadership skills.”From Mentee to Mentor
Given the intensive interdependence of the IHS fabric, it was inevitable that Listhaus would quickly become a leadership mentor himself. “This past year, I saw leadership mentoring from the opposite vantage point,” he says. An individual who had never served on a faculty committee was elected to serve as its chair, and Listhaus volunteered to mentor her. Inevitably, much of their interaction over subsequent months focused on such basic skills and functions as setting agendas, monitoring discussions, finding strategies for moving a conversation forward, getting buy-in, and establishing goals, deadlines, and shared responsibilities — addressing the many diverse concerns and voices needed to reach a decision.
But the process also unearthed deeper issues. “As we spoke, I began to reflect on my beliefs about school leadership and whether they were consistent with my actions,” says Listhaus. “As a school leader, I wondered, was I just responsible for inventing plans to accomplish a goal or was I really supposed to be asking questions that pushed people’s thinking beyond the usual, into new areas?” Was he responsible, Listhaus wondered, for solving problems himself or for helping others solve problems? Where was the line between creating dependency and facilitating independence? In a culture like that of IHS, the mentoring relationship becomes a powerful learning instrument for both mentee and mentor as questions like these arise.
In sum, Listhaus has found at IHS a rich, complex, and colorful learning community that succeeds in providing all of its members opportunities to learn and the support and encouragement needed to make the most of them. “For me, this community provides the chance to continually examine my teaching practices, leadership skills, and beliefs about teaching and learning, and reflect on whether my actions as an educator are consistent with those beliefs,” he says.
As a school leader coach, I work one-on-one with principals to help them build crucial new job skills. Typically, that means traveling to different schools and working with principals in person.
Because of Covid, however, my colleagues and I coached virtually for a full year, and despite my adamant opposition to virtual coaching prior to the pandemic, we learned valuable lessons about how to make it effective.
Time Spent on What Matters Most
When my colleagues and I started coaching virtually, we immediately noticed that we spent more time working directly with principals without adding extra hours to the workweek. First, we were able to schedule meetings back-to-back because virtual coaching avoids the extra time involved with traveling between schools, checking in and out of offices, finding parking, or waiting behind the student drop-off line. Because we didn’t have to travel, we were also able to accommodate tricky scheduling demands by meeting with principals in tight time slots of 25 minutes here and 30 minutes there.
Virtual coaching also made it easy to reschedule. Principles are regularly pulled away at the last minute for emergencies and pressing student issues—especially with the added pressures of contact tracing and Covid safety. Since we weren’t concerned about geographic constraints (i.e., scheduling school visits that are geographically close to one another), we could reschedule a missed coaching meeting the same day or later the same week. Virtual coaching gave us far more flexibility to shift to the principal’s time needs and ultimately meant we spent more time with each leader.
Virtual Planning and Practice
I help principals plan everything from data responses and staff meetings to daylong professional development. During the pandemic, I quickly learned that the phone and a shared Google Doc were all we needed to effectively prepare. Without the need to worry about keeping a mask pulled up tight or paying attention to the interpersonal dynamics of being in the same room, leaders could focus on the work in front of them.
Phone calls also worked great for rehearsals. My colleagues and I help leaders prepare for crucial conversations and tough feedback by rehearsing the execution. Leaders seemed more excited about practicing virtually since they could focus on the words during practice before having to get their body language right, too.
In fact, working virtually pushed me to work more proactively. Instead of relying on observing a meeting first and then offering feedback, I was able to support the principal in the planning stage.
Relationships Work Virtually
When we were forced to switch to virtual support, I was worried about the impact on relationships. But my colleagues and I quickly realized that we could form close, trusting bonds despite never having met the client in person. Our end-of-year evaluations indicated that principals felt the same.
To support relationship building, we made time for principals to share more widely than the initial narrow focus of a particular coaching call. Sometimes, we asked them to start a coaching conversation by sharing the high and low of their day. Other times, I included questions that acknowledged what I might not be seeing, like “Is there anything else you want to make sure that I know?” “Is there anything I’m missing about this?” “Is there anything else you want to flag for me?” Leader coaches build relationships—virtually or in person—by being a steady, regular source of honest feedback and partnership.
We also checked in candidly about sustainability. For many school leaders, the pandemic brought extra job pressure and immense stress in addition to family and childcare concerns.
When most schools were teaching virtually, it was easy to hop into virtual classrooms to co-observe with principals. But even with many schools back in person, there’s still a lot we can see virtually. Just this week I observed a school leader facilitating professional development. The leader propped up a computer, and I watched the entire training through Google Meet.
Other times, leaders have asked me to listen in on the phone during a leadership team meeting or even video into a teacher coaching session. Many schools are still holding virtual faculty and department meetings even though student-facing work is in person.
Virtual coaching sessions make it easy to loop in others to share expertise or practice a similar skill. There are times when my colleagues and I bring principals together for something they’re all working on—shared expectations on walk-throughs or curriculum implementation, for example. People can join just for the time they’re needed or only for the applicable segments. In-person collaboration would require significantly more coordination and time.
It’s hard to predict the full impact of Covid on schools, including the way we support teachers and school leaders. But at least for now, we’ve learned some valuable lessons about virtual coaching that may help us expand who we can support and how we can help them.
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