At the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township, we never planned to begin using video for our instructional-coaching and instructional-leadership programs, let alone in our evaluations. We won a grant through the Teacher and School Leader (TSL) Incentive Program that gave us the opportunity to access a video-coaching platform to help us improve teaching, instructional coaching, and student achievement within our district. When the pandemic hit, we were not forced to make any significant shifts in our plans, but it was the catalyst for our district to go all in on video coaching and begin using asynchronous video for teacher evaluations with the full support of our teachers’ union.
Overcoming Video Hesitancy
We began using video in teacher professional development just over four years ago as a participating school district in the Empowering Educators to Excel (E3) TSL grant program. The E3 project provided our district, and four others, with access to the ADVANCEfeedback® platform and the opportunity to collaborate with one another through a networked improvement community on issues such as instructional leadership and teacher retention.
At first, we weren’t really sure how to best use the platform and, to be honest, we were nervous about it. I think many of us are a little uncomfortable with the idea of being recorded on video. When you pile on making that recording at your place of work—and then asking people to watch and reflect on that recording by earmarking a time stamp and sharing their thoughts about what they’ve captured—you’re really asking people to put themselves out there. You’re asking them to be vulnerable. As a result, our goals in those first days were: 1) to figure out what our goals actually were; and 2) to get our teachers to begin using the video platform for self-reflection.
We started with coaching and began learning the ins and outs of the program by asking teachers to submit 10-minute clips of themselves teaching, along with a bit of reflection about the clip. Some of our teachers, and even entire schools, really dove in and started recording and sharing a lot of videos. As we dug in throughout the district, we started using it more and more because we were seeing more value in it. We were seeing more value in helping teachers improve their practice.
Earning Buy-in From Teachers (and the Union!)
Our teachers’ union has been very supportive of our use of video for instructional coaching from the beginning. Asking teachers to create and submit only short clips at the beginning undoubtedly helped, but when the pandemic struck, we had to have a conversation with them about the practice.
Just like other schools across the country, we were worried about how we would carry on our work. When it came to teacher evaluations, ADVANCEfeedback was an obvious short- and long-term solution for us. We met with the union and told them we had this platform that had been delivering great value for us and that would allow us to maintain some sense of normalcy at a time when it felt like everything was so chaotic.
It did help that our teachers were so happy with the process, which simply required them to record their practice and eliminated the intrusive and distracting nature of having an observer in the room with them. Teachers are always going to be either your greatest supporters or your biggest detractors in any districtwide initiative, and because they were solidly on board, so was the union.
In a similar vein, video feedback has been beneficial to our retention efforts because our teachers know they can get targeted, individualized feedback on the exact concerns they have about their practice.
Unifying Language and Creating New Improvement Resources
Providing a sense of normalcy and continuity during a tumultuous and traumatic time was not the only benefit of video coaching.
We now have a districtwide vocabulary that’s aligned both vertically and horizontally through everything we do in our instructional-leadership teams and professional learning communities. They may be speaking at different levels, depending upon the grade or content area they teach, but they are all working toward the same district goals and using the same terminology to talk about them. We see that shared vocabulary is paying dividends not just in teacher practice but in the ways teachers support one another outside of formal training and professional development. We see this especially with teachers from our elementary schools who interact with another among our several different buildings.
We’ve also been able to create a library of best practices created by our teacher leaders. These are always accessible to our teachers, created by colleagues they trust and respect and rooted in our district’s culture and context. Just as our teachers can use our feedback platform to create a video on a topic they’re struggling with, upload it, and receive support, our instructional leaders can create exemplar videos to share when they notice other teachers struggling in a particular area, such as the modeling of classroom-management strategies as well as observing teachers implement the gradual-release model.
Finally, the ability to provide video feedback has greatly expanded who can offer coaching or attend professional learning communities. As an assistant superintendent with nine buildings in our district, my ability to sit in on meetings was logistically challenging before. Now I can join a meeting in one building and be at another in a school on the other side of the district immediately after.
We’ve made incredible improvements through the use of video feedback, things we weren’t even sure would be possible. Feedback from our administrators and lead teachers consistently reinforce and validate the effectiveness of improving teacher practice. I’m eager to see what other districts will think of as well, because there’s nothing special about us other than the fact that we love our students and want to do the best we possibly can for them.
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.