Research In Action

Research In Action

virtual learning during COVID-19
Adapting Bullying Prevention Coaching for Virtual Delivery
November 12, 2020

“If I get one more email with a Googled list of resources that haven’t been vetted, I’m going to set my computer on fire.” - Anonymous veteran educator

As schools in Philadelphia and around the country grapple with the transition into remote learning, communities of educators are all trying their best to adapt in a maelstrom of uncertainty. While efforts to help are well-meaning, they can be distracting—at best—or otherwise overwhelming. Recently, my colleague Ann Perepezko, LSW, blogged about the efforts of our Friend to Friend (F2F) team to adapt our program, designed as an in-person intervention program designed to decrease aggression among 4th and 5th grade girls, to be delivered in a virtual setting. Since the F2F team supports partners primarily through training and coaching, the question of what it means to be a “resource” felt important to revisit in this light.

In Year 2 of our F2F clinical trial, our goal is to empower schools to capitalize on the strong relationships unique to their community and truly make the curriculum a part of their social and emotional fabric. To accomplish this, we knew that our training and coaching of adult facilitators needed to remain engaging and empowering in the virtual realm.

In short, we needed to be more than a list of links.

Adapting Our Approach to Training

To this end, we needed to first adapt our training modules to make sense with remote delivery. For instance, a large part of the training is active modeling and practice with lesson delivery. This is much more difficult over Zoom. Using engaging online instruction platforms and various ad-hoc measures (“show me on a scale of 1-5 your level of comfort”), we are able to measure facilitator mastery while also mirroring the tools that facilitators will be using in the student-facing version.

We next recorded the delivery of an adapted lesson given to a group of “students” (played by colleagues), who simulate everything from very specific tenants of the program, to mild levels of distracted or disruptive behavior. This allows for an authentic model that facilitators will always be able to fall back on, not just in training, but when they are prepping to deliver content independently. 

We also had to adapt session scripts in our training manuals, in order to make them applicable for virtual delivery. For instance, we built in default routines for teaching students how to actively listen, discuss, and ask for help in a virtual setting, while using interactive tools appropriately and efficiently. We also saw the need to specifically designate moments to praise student resiliency and pro-social behaviors. These scripted cues will make it easier to replicate positive behavioral reinforcement and trauma-informed practices that are much more difficult to activate in the virtual realm. 

Train the Trainer

Once trained, ensuring fidelity in delivery was a second challenge we had to address. A lot of context and diagnostic power is lost when we can’t observe the sessions in person. From a coaching standpoint, while we maintain concrete markers for fidelity in delivery and fully embrace data-informed feedback, it is important that we pay attention to the ways that a shift to virtual learning affects the dynamic between facilitators and students. 

With this in mind, online coaching sessions will need to resemble something more open-ended. If we are successful thought partners, we will find existing strengths, systems, and strategies that can supplement our virtual model—all while validating the facilitator’s perspective and celebrating the hard work already done. Just as important as cultivating comfort with the content, we hope to empower our partners to sustain the program beyond our direct coaching. 

Supporting Our Partners

Coming back to the need for resources, one of the most important pieces of feedback we received from partners in our first cohort was that they felt supported by our team. It is essential that we continue to be a real, tangible resource to our partners—the key being actionable guidance that is responsive to the conditions on the ground. If we can continue to communicate through our training and coaching that our participants aren’t just subjects in a study, but partners in developing a rigorous evidence-based bullying and violence prevention approach, we are confident that their resilient participation during this unprecedented year will be transformative for their school communities.