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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Caught on Tape: Using Video to Enhance Instruction

By Peter DeWitt — March 27, 2015 4 min read
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Mention using video to enhance instruction in some states and you might as well bring a court order. Due to some serious cases of accountability, teachers don’t trust putting themselves on camera, which is too bad because it can help teachers get a true sense of the way they talk and act with students.

The reality is that there are many teachers working around the US who use video to get a better understanding of their mannerisms in the classroom. Just like anything, there is a spectrum of the way video is used. Sometimes it’s a mandate from an administrator and part of the teacher’s contract, other times it’s a teacher working with an instructional coach so the school leader never sees the video, and then there are dozens of other scenarios in between.

In Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public - Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, Carmine Gallo writes,

Few of the leaders I work with initially think about how they talk, walk and look until they see themselves on video. Once they do, most realize they need a lot more work to look natural and conversational. Fortunately the problems are easy to identify and fix.

I know what you’re thinking. “I don’t want to be a Ted or TedX presenter.” Clearly not everyone does, but what about the facial expressions you may make when a student asks a question or the way you answer a question...or ask one? Do you know what you look like during those moments? Have you considered that your expressions or voice make students feel as though they can’t ask a question?

Video can be very powerful. In Focus on Teaching: Using Video in High Impact Instruction, instructional coaching expert Jim Knight writes,

The major reason video is so useful for learning is that it helps us see exactly what it looks like when we teach or our students learn. This is important because professionals often do not have a clear picture of what it looks like when they do their work.

Knight, who I work with as an instructional coaching trainer, goes on to write,

In our research conversations, teachers and coaches tell us that when hey see video recordings of their lessons, they are often amazed at what the video reveals. Many times, teachers are pleased to see evidence that their lessons are working. In other cases, teachers are disappointed (every coach told us that teachers tend to be extremely hard on themselves) by what they see.

Swivl: A Great Device for Practioners

Recently, I presented on Flipping Leadership at ASCD’s Annual Conference in Houston. While there I came across Swivl. The Swivl sits on top of a tripod and follows your voice as you present or teach. A remote hangs around your neck with a lanyard, much like your school ID badge, and as you talk and move around the room the Swivl follows your voice and records the interactions with the audience.

A year ago I saw a demonstration on Swivl at the Boston Tech Forum and thought it was a great device, but I wasn’t sure how I would use it as a principal. Seeing the impact video can have on teaching, I can see how a tool like Swivl would offer an easy solution to videoing ourselves in the classroom. Swivl has a built in remote control start/stop on Swivl gives teachers full control over what they capture to reduce the concern of the “gotcha” factor.

If you’re a principal who flips your leadership or a teacher that flips your classroom, Swivl gives you the freedom to move around, act more natural, and may increase the creativity you feel while shooting the video.

I had the opportunity to test the device when I presented and within a minute or so I forgot that it was even there. The daunting part was not the actual use, but watching myself on video after I presented. It’s not easy to watch ourselves on video because we start to see how often we say “Uhm” or use the same words over and over again.

Truth be told I have not used video much because I found it awkward. Setting up a camera that didn’t move in the back of the room didn’t provide the effect that I wanted because it would record my voice but not provide the video to see how I interacted with students or participants. Swivl definitely made that daunting experience much better.

School Culture

Teachers don’t feel safe putting themselves on video because they’re concerned it would result in a “Gotcha!” We live in a time of increased accountability and in many states the rhetoric about teaching has not been kind, nor has it been helpful. But at some point we can’t let that stop us from trying to improve our practice.

Teachers can still video themselves without sharing it with their school leaders, or if they are in a supportive school culture, then they can use video as a part of their goal setting for the year. Clearly, depending on the school, there needs to be permission (opt out rather than opt in) so parents understand why a teacher is using video. Best case scenario is that a school leaders works as an instructional coach with their teachers so they can work in partnership and not be adversaries.

Knight has 6 Guidelines for Success. They are:

Establish trust - Very few people will put themselves on video without there being a level of trust involved.

Make participation a choice - “Some leaders may be tempted to simply instruct their staff to record their classes and watch their lessons. However, forcing teachers to record their lessons and watch the video will almost certainly engender resentment and a negative attitude about the video.

Focus on intrinsic motivation and safety - Don’t solely focus on the negative because it doesn’t work. Focus on using support and work hard to enhance a teacher’s intrinsic motivation, just like teachers should do with students.

Establish boundaries - In order for teachers to trust the process there must be boundaries set up. That likely includes who will watch it and where it will be viewed or saved. Knight has other examples in the book as well.

Walk the talk - If leaders or coaches want teachers to observe themselves on video, they must do it as well. For example, I needed to video myself before I could write that it’s a good idea.

Go slow to go fast - In order for this process to work, it needs to be piloted with teachers who feel safe and supported while doing it. Through that process leaders and teachers can establish what to look for, how to use the camera appropriately, what the best angles may be, how to maximize the view of student engagement and the teacher’s body language. Knight suggests going slow so that the process can be established most effectively.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.