Observations cause teachers a lot of stress and anxiety. And when they’re tied to formal evaluations, observations can create even more stress and anxiety. As a result, it’s hardly the most realistic environment to give a proper evaluation.
So what happens? “It’s like a show,” one Washington, D.C. charter school principal told me recently. “Teachers put on a performance for the evaluation that is completely different from what they really do. How am I supposed to give a proper evaluation based on a show?”
Video can be a powerful tool for teachers, coaches, and school leaders, but a careful approach to integration will improve the chances that you’ll reap the benefits. Below is a three-step process that our team has seen work well for integrating video observation in schools and districts around the country.
A good first step is to have teachers start using video for their own self-reflection. That said, people aren’t always comfortable the first time they record videos of themselves. A favorite example of mine is a sports team that uses video to improve its game. If a hitter in baseball can’t seem to stop popping the ball straight up into the air, he can watch himself take the swing, noticing how his weight shifts and whether he drops his back shoulder, the angle of his head, and so on. This valuable self-reflection gives him a sense for how he might shift his position and optimize his swing. The player self-corrects in order to improve performance.
The same thing can be said for a teacher. When you watch a video of yourself teaching, you’re going to spot things that you didn’t realize you were doing. You might see that you’re calling on one side of the class more than the other. Or you may notice that your voice isn’t really projecting and the students aren’t fully engaged.
Teachers can share their videos with peers, too. If I’m a fifth-grade social studies teacher struggling to engage my kids, I can record and share a video with a trusted peer who also teaches fifth-grade social studies in a different school and invite them to share suggestions.
Research says that self-reflection is an extremely valuable form of professional development. Video enables teachers to take charge of their professional development by reflecting in privacy, without worrying about being judged or evaluated.
When I speak to instructional coaches, they tell me that they prefer to be in the classroom, which of course makes sense. They need to take in the whole environment if they’re going to give meaningful coaching.
But video is an excellent tool that can supplement and enhance coaching sessions. As teachers get more comfortable using video, they may choose to share videos with their coaches to ask for feedback on specific challenges.
Some instructional coaches may be responsible for many teachers, which becomes completely overwhelming if they want to give deeper feedback on a particular issue. When teachers share video of themselves, coaches can review it later and provide deeper actionable feedback in safe setting, inspiring the teachers to improve their practice.
Which brings us to...
3) Formal observations
Unfortunately, a lot of these conversations can become adversarial. Teacher observations are typically done as a checklist: paperwork completed, started class on time, differentiated instruction, etc. This compliance-driven approach is more concerned with checking off boxes than providing meaningful evaluation. Furthermore, it can become contentious because teachers and evaluators don’t always agree on what actually happened during the observation. Recording teacher performance not only provides a common piece of evidence, but according to Harvard University’s Best Foot Forward study, teachers felt that the administrators who used video were more likely to evaluate them fairly. Taking the “he said/she said” adversarial quality out of the evaluation will free both administrator and teacher to build a more collaborative relationship.
You can begin integrating video with any of these steps. Please share your experiences using video in PD for self-reflection, coaching or evaluations.