Coaching Through A Crisis with #TLC2020 Presenter Tricia McKale Skyles

February 14, 2023
September 21, 2020
Written by
Matthew Kelly

Coaching Through A Crisis with #TLC2020 Presenter Tricia McKale Skyles

February 14, 2023
September 21, 2020
Written by
Matthew Kelly

The 2020 Teaching Learning Coaching Conference is now only two weeks away! The presenter lineup at this year's TLC may just be the best yet, and as we continue into this new, unprecedented school year, there are countless things to learn from all of them.

With the daily obstacles that COVID-19 presents, it can be easy for educators to get caught up in their student-focused work and forget that they need to take care of themselves too. Tricia McKale Skyles offers several strategies for self-care that are crucial, not only for new coaches heading into an uncertain school environment, but for everyone as we all adapt to any curve balls life throws our way.

Today's guest author, Tricia McKale Skyles, is an educational consultant with Randy’s Sprick’s Safe and Civil Schools and a co-author of Coaching Classroom Management. Tricia previously served as an Instructional Coach, working extensively with the Strategic Instruction Model from the University of Kansas and continues as a consultant for Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching Group.

Please Secure Your Own Mask Before Assisting Others

While the title is a tongue-in-cheek nod to our current crisis, this pandemic is not the only time we have found ourselves in the throes of chaos. From a complete turnover of campus administration to the unimaginable tragedies of school shootings, campuses are a microcosm of society and all the turmoil within. When you have the heart of a coach, your instinct is to help calm the storm and keep all the people safe in the midst of it. But you can’t do that effectively when you forget that you are in the storm as well.

When this pandemic started, I was already in the middle of a crisis. My husband, the love of my life, had just been diagnosed with lymphoma. Suddenly, overnight, all of the competing priorities in my life fell away. All my energy, all my time, all my anxiety coalesced into a singular focus. Just a few months later, here’s what I’ve learned, and it’s what many of you, unfortunately, know well. Cancer is not a sprint; it’s a marathon, and you have to be ready to persevere through the very long haul.

Early on, I became so exhausted, so angry, so…everything, I realized I was not serving myself or my husband well. That set me on the path of exploration – is self-care selfish in light of the fact that it was my husband, not me, who was the patient? Or is self-care even more necessary the more tragic the events?

Spoiler alert: Self-care is always necessary and most caregivers (parents, teachers, coaches, etc.) aren’t very good at it. So if it’s necessary, how should we do it? Is there a way to put others first without putting ourselves last? In other words, how do we secure our own masks before assisting others?
—Tricia McKale Skyles

In Safe & Civil School’s resource, Early Stage Interventions, there’s an entire appendix devoted to self-care. It’s based on the belief that you cannot care for others without caring for yourself. Filled with practical strategies, I decided to put them on trial. Did I really believe in the very things I told others to do? Is intentional self-care the key to truly being able to care for others?

I started with deep muscle relaxation. To be completely honest, I’ve always internally rolled my eyes at this one. But in pursuit of practical self-care, I gave it a shot. Imagine my surprise when months later, this is one I engage in almost daily. I started with my hands: putting my hand on the table, concentrating on how the hand feels, making a fist for five seconds and concentrating on what that tension feels like, slowly unclenching until there is no tension in my hand and concentrating on how relaxed those muscles feel. Now I can go head to toe through this process. This process is an intentional reflection and release of the continually shocking amount of tension onto which I’m holding.

With a plan to keep the tension at bay, I moved on to the next strategy, keeping a confidential journal. I used to journal all the time through middle and high school. I still have them, and if I’m in the mood to make myself cringe, I’ll bust them out and read through them. They’re silly and embarrassing, but I can also see how they helped me process. By simply putting the thought on paper, I could let the worry go. Just a little, not much, but shifting the weight even a tiny bit is helpful. I struck out the word confidential and took to an online blog. Through the CaringBridge website, I started an online update for my husband’s family to keep everyone in the loop. I was putting some very scary thoughts and fears out there, but simply writing them down was cathartic in it’s own way. Strategy number two is working! Okay, I thought, maybe there is something to intentional self-care. Onward!

Strategy number three instructed me to cultivate a balanced lifestyle. Well isn’t that the million dollar question, I grudgingly thought. Clearly if I could do this, I wouldn’t be so stressed! But, remember, this is about adding a layer of intentionality. To create a balanced lifestyle, you have to address three parts of your life: career, relationships, and self. I opened the Notes app in my phone and started with these three headings. Weekly, I now open this page and make my to-do list by putting tasks in each of the three headings. Very quickly I learned how many tasks I can do within each one and feel good about the week. And having the heading of “self” forced me to think about tasks that impacted me: working out? Reading a book? If that list is blank in any given week, I know my mask has come off, and it’s time to intentionally schedule something.

With a string of successful interventions behind me, the next one was easy, and quite frankly, pretty fun. Promote positive self-talk. I instruct others to strive for a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions with others – I was now going to deploy this strategy on myself. Every time I beat myself up, and sometimes rightfully so, I have to think of three genuinely positive things I’ve done that day. They don’t have to be big, grand gestures – we often overlook the simple things we do that add value to our lives and the lives of those around us. It’s time to pay attention to those things. I replaced the note on my computer that read, “Record, dummy” for all my Zoom meetings to “Record, beautiful.” It’s simple. And it’s effective.

Practice visualization. Hmmmm… Not as simple as telling myself I was beautiful, but the concept was easy enough to understand. It’s based on the premise of pioneers like Florence Chadwick, who swam the channel between Catalina Island and the coast of California in 1952 by keeping a visual of the shore in her mind when the fog rolled in. I started thinking about specific issues with which I was struggling and mentally rehearsing how I would handle these situations. And here was the kicker – I had to visualize it going well. How many times have we failed simply because we were expecting it to go poorly? Well no more self-sabotage. I believe things will go well because I’ve already experienced it. Another win.

The last strategy advised me to focus on the strengths of others. In other words, to care for yourself, you have to continually see the best in others. At this point, we were in lockdown. My world consisted of my parents, who had opted to move in with us for a bit, my husband, and the guy at the grocery pick-up. Again, I deployed the 3:1 strategy. For every irritant that came my way (and, trust me, I’m no peach to live with either), I stopped, intentionally thought and often spoke directly to them of the genuinely amazing things my tiny circle was bringing to the table. And there were so many. It became easy to find joy because I was living in a bounty of good.


Self-care is so simple in concept but so difficult in application. So often we simply fail because we speak of it in such an abstract way. But given concrete high leverage strategies that were simple to deploy and offered an immediate impact made me a believer. I am far better equipped to care for those around me when I have cared for myself. When I haven’t, I feel it and they feel it.

We are living in unprecedented times. Everyone is coming onto our campuses, brick and mortar or virtual, with new baggage and a new lens of trauma. Those who have provided support in instruction and behavior will be called on now more than ever to provide care for others, students and staff alike. This is in addition to caring for our own families and friends. I implore you, make time for you. You don’t have to use my strategies; find those that work for you.

Please secure your own mask before assisting others.

Watch Tricia's Coaching Conversation with Jim Knight!

Don’t miss Tricia’s sessions at this year’s TLC:

Pre-conference Session: Building a Better School: Using a Continuous Improvement Process to Effectively Impact Behavior School-wide

Help all school staff feel empowered in the drive to help all students behave responsibly and respectfully. Apply a framework to consider and reflect on gaps in policies and procedures that may lead to students engaging in inappropriate behavior. Through collaboration and self-reflection, leaders can help site-based teams work effectively with staff. Using an ongoing improvement cycle, teams will empower staff to structure all school settings in a way that promotes successful behavior.

Breakout Session: Managing the Virtual Classroom: A Positive and Proactive Approach

As traditional brick and mortar learning environments have given way at times to the need for virtual learning environments, our classroom management systems have required some adjustments. In this session, learn a quick framework for setting up a successful virtual classroom, with an emphasis on connecting with students and families.



The new challenges of teaching and coaching during the COVID-19 pandemic are daunting for even the most seasoned coaches, but new coaches are entering an unknowable and ever-changing environment. While the obstacles of the pandemic do create new opportunities for growth and success, new coaches will need all of the resources they can get to navigate the year ahead.

One of the four main themes throughout TLC 2020 is New Coaches, and the following keynote speakers, panelists, and breakout presenters will be exploring this topic in their sessions. Be sure to catch their presentations and more at TLC!



Check out Jim's recent Coaching Conversation featuring Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad

Nathan Lang-Raad is the Chief Education Officer at WeVideo and the author of Everyday Instructional Coaching, The New Art and Science of Teaching Mathematics, co-authored with Dr. Robert Marzano, and WeVideo Every Day. He is a Google Certified Educator, Microsoft Innovative Educator, and 2016 Apple Teacher, serves on the board of the Student Voice Foundation, and serves on the International Literacy Association Task Force.

He speaks at both local and national professional conferences and is the cofounder of Bammy Award-nominated #LeadUpChat, an educational leadership professional learning network (PLN) on Twitter. Lang-Raad is also the cofounder of #divergED, a Twitter chat focused on divergent thinking and innovations in education.

The title of Dr. Lang-Raad's TLC session is:

How to Coach and Build Relationships with Sincerity and Genuine Intention

He will also be a part of:

Panel 4: Coaching for Success.

Crysta Crum is a teacher and an instructional coach. During the writing and publication of The Impact Cycle, her journey as a teacher working through a complete coaching cycle with Jim Knight was documented to illustrate how the Impact Cycle can be used in real life.

Since then, Crysta has made the shift from classroom teacher to coach herself. She now shares her coaching story - the highs, the lows, and the crazy - to gives others a window into what coaching can accomplish.

Crysta's TLC session is titled:

Coaching Year One: Myths and Truths

Crysta Crum, TLC 2020 presenter

Watch Crysta's Impact Cycle experience


Paul Bloomberg, TLC 2020 presenter

Paul Bloomberg is the Founder and CEO of the Core Collaborative Learning Network based in San Diego, CA and New York City. Paul partners with schools and districts globally with a focus on expanding learner ownership and agency through collaborative inquiry. He has led multiple, successful school turn-around efforts and has great admiration for the work of public educators.

Dr. Bloomberg is the co-author of the best-selling book, Leading Impact Teams: Building a Culture of Efficacy (Corwin Press) and a lead author of Peer Power! Unite, Learn and Prosper: Activate an Assessment Revolution (Mimi and Todd Press).

Dr. Bloomberg's TLC breakout session is titled:

Coaching Learners for Empowerment

Aretha Lee serves as a secondary English Language Arts Instructional Specialist in the Plano Independent School District. Aretha is an experienced secondary classroom teacher as well as a facilitator of graduate-level courses for pre-service and continuing education teachers. She takes Jim Knight’s work to heart and believes that the teacher/coach interaction should begin with building relationships, fostering trust, and committing to work that improves student learning and achievement.

Key elements of Aretha’s skillset include making authentic connections with teachers and helping teachers embrace the power of reflection in order to identify their own goals and strengths.

Aretha's breakout session at TLC is titled:

Check Yourself

She will also participate in:

Panel 3: Coaching Models



Check out our conference schedule to see the complete lineup of presenters! Hope to see you next month!


Do you have a coaching story to share?

We love hearing how instructional coaching is impacting the life, work, and relationships of people all over the world. Share your story with us today.