By Dr. Michael Moody and Jason Stricker
The Center on Education Policy recently released a report called “Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices.” Based on an online survey given last winter to educators around the country, the report presented some fascinating findings, including that only about half of educators found the feedback from performance evaluations in 2014-15 helpful. (And this stat is actually higher than other recent surveys released on the topic of teacher support.)
When it comes to assessing and improving job performance, we can all learn from professional athletes. For years, athletes have been reviewing practice and game tapes to develop strategies and refine techniques. Why? Because video gives coaches and athletes the same thing that all educators want and need: relevant, actionable feedback that improves practices and leads to growth.
As we’ve engaged in the important work of building more effective support systems for teachers, video continues to show promise as a method of getting support closer to classroom practice while also offering opportunities to support the growth of those who observe and coach teachers.
This does not mean that video is “another thing” to add to busy administrators’ workloads. As Harvard’s Best Foot Forward Project found, administrators who used video as the catalyst for observations “reported spending more time observing and less time on paperwork. Moreover, the ability to watch video allowed supervisors to time-shift their observation duties: two-thirds of log-ins occurred during non-instructional school hours.”
As the lynchpin of an evaluation and support strategy, here’s how using video is essential not just for school administrators, but for teachers, instructional coaches, observers, and district leaders, too.
For Teachers: Flexibility and Objectivity
Teachers need and want feedback that helps them do their jobs better. Video takes the angst out of evaluation because it gives them and their observers a common, objective piece of evidence on which to base their conversation. As the Best Foot Forward Project put it, teachers who were evaluated based on video observation “perceived their supervisors to be more supportive and their observations to be fairer. They reported fewer disagreements on the ratings they received and were more likely to describe a specific change in their practice resulting from their post-observation conference.”
Video observation offers teachers flexibility that in-person observation simply can’t. Having two or four formal observations per year of an entire lesson is a good start, but video can also help deliver “bite-size” feedback on specific skills like introducing a topic or transitioning from one topic to another. Rather than submitting an hour-long lesson, teachers can submit the crucial few minutes of a lesson and get more formative feedback. This approach puts teachers in the driver’s seat of their own professional development.
Using video also allows the feedback loop to widen. Teachers can share videos of lessons (or parts of lessons) with other teachers in their content area. It is enormously helpful for teachers to see examples from other teachers who are excelling in an area where they might be struggling. Having another teacher watch and comment on a video provides them practical feedback from peers they trust.
Finally, video is a teacher’s friend because having that common, objective piece of evidence on which to base their observation conversations challenges observers to “up their game,” as we will see below.
For Instructional Coaches: Concrete Context
Watching videos of a range of teachers in a variety of subject areas provides instructional coaches with concrete examples of strong practice and poor practice. In addition to classroom management, they should also deeply understand the content of the lessons and how lessons are aligned to the school’s or district’s instructional framework and any relevant standards. Watching a wide selection of videos from teachers in their school or district can help coaches answer the challenging question “What does good teaching look like?”
When it comes to coaching individual teachers, videos allow instructional coaches to drill down into the things that matter to them. Having an “instant replay” of what happened in class provides an objective launch pad for helping teachers to improve their practice in specific ways. Saying, “You need to pay attention to the whole class” is much less powerful feedback than referring to a video where a teacher spent seven minutes with one student and asking how she could have included the other 29 students in the classroom in that moment.
One opportunity we’ve found in our work with coaches is their desire to receive feedback on their own practice. Many feel isolated and are hungry for recommendations on to how to improve their coaching skills with teachers. In several districts with whom we work, we have coaches film coaching sessions with teachers and then share and get feedback from other coaches from within and outside their district. Several have told us that they’ve never received feedback like this before. And it’s all done via video.
For Principals and Observers: Calibration and Flexibility
In addition to overcoming some of the logistical challenges of instructional coaching, video assists coaches and observers in aligning their assessment of quality instruction and feedback, thereby inspiring confidence in the feedback and support process for teachers. Video is an unmatched tool for calibration.
For teachers to buy into an evaluation system, districts need to be transparent about what their bar is for assessing whether or not a teacher’s instruction is effective. Teaching is not a cut-and-dry endeavor, so it’s common to have different opinions about what was effective or what was not. This can lead to teachers distrusting the system. Having observers watch and score the same videos, then asking them why they scored them that way, is an efficient way to make sure that all observers are applying the same standards.
Here again, video removes the logistical barriers of having all observers watch the same lesson. Observation can happen at multiple points in the year, and it can happen outside of the typical school day. With the right systems in place, districts get good data on the accuracy of observations so they can provide differentiated support for observers.
For District Leaders: Inspiration for Teacher Professional Development
Video observation also helps district leaders by providing actionable intelligence to the organization at large. Watching videos from around the district guides district leaders to highlight common pain points, which can, in turn, drive professional development for teachers, principals, and instructional coaches. Additionally, the data gathered from observations across the district provides guidance on trends relative to teacher strengths and areas for improvement. This can give district administrators what they need to truly differentiate the professional development and support for teachers--and those who support them.
As an example, we’ve been encouraged by our work using video with algebra teachers in Wisconsin and Georgia. Throughout the year, teachers share video of their classroom practice with a virtual coach in Colorado. The coach provides detailed, individual feedback reports that identify successes, challenges and gaps in what she sees across videos. These reports can then be used for regular in-person professional development.
In short, just as athletes have relied on video for decades to improve their practice, we believe that video is a powerful lever that can help all educators be better at their jobs. To learn more about the invaluable opportunities with video, check out “5 ways to use video to support teacher growth.”
Dr. Michael Moody is a co-founder and CEO of Insight ADVANCE. He has extensive experience throughout the field. His work as a classroom teacher, school and district administrator, and consultant have provided him with the foundation necessary to understand first‐hand the needs of students, teachers and educational leaders. Follow him on Twitter at @drmichaelmoody.
Jason Stricker is a co‐founder and CEO of Insight Education Group. With extensive experience in education as a teacher, coach, chief academic officer, and consultant, Jason brings to his work a deep understanding of educator effectiveness and organizational change and its impact on stakeholders at all levels. Follow him on Twitter at @stricktlyjason.
The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 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.