Just over a week into the coronavirus lockdown I am taking stock of where I am as a freelance trainer, coach and consultant in the Further Education sector of the UK. I have moved out of the initial shock and paralysis phase in which I could hardly believe how quickly life was changing and how work appointments were disappearing from the calendar. Now I am thinking about what I can actually do for the people I support and how best to do this in practice, so that I can be purposeful and hopefully helpful as well. I plan to post a few blog entries on this process in order to reflect on that journey over the next weeks.
What could be helpful for my contacts in colleges right now?
My normal working week mainly involves delivering face-to-face training, coaching and planning support for managers, coaches and teachers in the FE sector, so the initial phase of the pandemic just involved rapid, clear communication with colleges about delivery that would be postponed for now. I just needed to respond with empathy as clients were understandably in a state of stress, anxiety and pressure as they attempted to arrange college shutdown and the complex move to remote teaching and learning. Training days were the least of their worries and quite rightly so.
2.Quick access to guidance and resources
After this initial set of communications, I started following the transition to remote delivery on Twitter and thought about the kind of support, guidance and resources my contacts might need. I know that some settings have great tech capabilities, with staff that have high levels of expertise and digital skills; some settings have patchy or poor tech capabilities and really varied skill levels among teaching staff. Over the sector I imagine that significant numbers of staff have little or no experience with remote delivery in a full-time teaching from home context.
I decided that the most useful thing I could do during my first lockdown week was to watch social media carefully and trawl the internet for relevant reads and links to video guidance and blog posts/research articles about remote delivery of teaching and learning. I curated collections of links with specific audiences in mind; teachers, parents, T&L Coaches and Advanced Practitioners and learners, of course. Here are some of the results of that process:
It was obvious that teachers all over the sectors were grappling with new/rarely used technology to deliver content or learning sessions in ways that were not usual practice for them or their learners. Short and easy to access guides for different online platforms and digital tools would definitely be helpful for some of my contacts as they built skills and developed expertise on a steep learning curve. So I pulled together this collection of links:
As we all began to move out of shock and into responding to the pandemic and lockdown challenges, the wellbeing issues came into sharper focus. Teachers shifting to full-time remote working face a wide range of new routines and changes to their way of relating to others and these abrupt shifts can place a strain on mental and physical wellbeing, of course. People started to share useful approaches and strategies for managing your own mindset and daily routine and those posts are shared here:
I spoke to many of my contacts who are T&L Coaches and Advanced Practitioners this week and it emerged that they were feeling unclear about how best to support and guide staff during this crisis. They are used to working face-to-face for many of their activities and were grappling with how to transition to remote support. In response to their queries about how best to support colleagues, I wrote some content and pulled together related reading links to support their work in college:
- Ways to cope with the lockdown
As the lockdown became a reality, I joined the online hunt for ways to access the outside world and bring that into an online session with learners or an activity in the home. With the Easter break approaching, some of this content may well be of interest to teachers and parents as well:
Some college managers started to tell me that they were working through Zoom for online meetings so I began to investigate this further and collated some related guides:
One way to cope with the lockdown and remote working is to shift communications onto digital channels and this week I have found it both reassuring and inspiring that my Zoom chats 1:1 and in group meetings have helped some projects to move forward and people to feel connected and not alone. As a freelancer I support lots of projects and initiatives that develop over time and I have many long-term relationships with different organisations – the use of Zoom has helped me keep the thread of work on track, even if its form has shifted and its timeline changed. There is so much valuable work going on in improvement and development in the sector and one of my goals is to help my contacts preserve their focus on that work as the year progresses and remote working becomes the new normal.
- Being flexible, creative and brave
Freelancers are used to responding to clients’ needs and being creative in the development of support packages and resources. For me the new aspect of flexibility needed for this pandemic is thinking about your business model and how it may need to adapt to survive. I was already doing 1:1 coaching, mentoring and planning/project support using Zoom, Skype and Face Time before coronavirus and I am confident that these digital tools help you to deliver really well-tailored, personalised support to clients in a flexible way. I am comfortable and confident working in that way. Now I need to encourage clients who love 1:1 and group face-to-face support to move with me into the digital sphere for some forms of support and development. Over the next weeks I need to be able to answer these questions:
- How can I retain core aspects of my work in a digital delivery model? Being responsive and interactive with staff; using coaching approaches to develop ideas; fostering high quality reflective sharing of practice; creating safe, creative spaces for thinking?
- How can I support my college contacts using digital tools in a viable business model?
- How can I publicise this new business model and engage people with it through different channels?
- Which digital tools do I need to use, in order to provide accessible, useful support and development for colleges?
- Where do I need to gain specific digital skills and how can I do that quickly?
- How can I leverage my contacts network on social media to pick up useful insights, strategies and resources?
- What kind of mindset and routine will help me to be creative, flexible and brave as a freelancer in the next months?
My instinct is this is going to be a long haul and I can see many people on social media wondering if we will get back into colleges before the autumn term at the earliest. So for me as a freelancer this needs to be a thoughtful, steady response and not a knee-jerk one, as the changes I make to my business model need to be considered and sustainable, if I am to support my clients effectively and also keep my business alive.