An Interview with Education Talk Radio
Think about this for a second: Thirty percent of teachers say they’re getting quality feedback from teacher observations. At first glance, it looks like one of those statistics that doesn’t seem striking one way or the other until you realize that, on the flip side, 70 percent of teachers aren’t getting much, if anything out of their observations. The disconnect between feedback teachers are receiving and what they want to be getting is troubling.
One of our higher education client’s, Rebekah Ralph, knows a lot about this divide. She’s a professor in the education department at LaGrange College in Georgia where she helps pre-service teachers with their instructional practice right before they head out to begin their teaching careers. Last year, LaGrange began using our video observation tool, which is focused on using technology to help teachers get the feedback they need (and want) to help them improve.
Recently, Rebekah and I spoke about how video can be used to improve classroom feedback in some pretty exciting ways—sometimes right before a teacher’s eyes—as part of an Education Talk Radio podcast with host Larry Jacobs. What follows are the highlights of that conversation, but you can check out the whole thing embedded below.
Larry Jacobs: What’s going on out there with teachers not getting feedback? What seem to be the biggest issues?
Michael Moody: First, let me start by saying that quality feedback systems are really hard to implement, and it’s really hard to get teachers the type of feedback that’s going to help them be responsive in their practice and move it forward.
I think we’ve had a large focus in recent years on the “gotcha” part of the evaluation systems, and we’re starting to see these conversations now turn to a better question: How do we make sure that growth is part of this work? It’s hard to give teachers the type of feedback they need just when they need it.
The folks responsible for giving the feedback (primarily: school leaders, coaches, support providers) need to devote a lot of time into doing this well. The logistics of it sometimes get in the way, and that’s where think video can really play an important role.
Rebekah Ralph: I would agree. When we first started using video at LaGrange last year, the students felt they were being evaluated, and that wasn’t the impression we were trying to convey. This year, we backed up and said, “Ok, let’s start over, and let’s not make this an ‘I gotcha,’ but let’s make this more of a ‘Let’s get better together process,’” and it’s gone a lot smoother.
Michael: What’s exciting about the use of video is that it gets us out of the need for things to happen between certain bell times within the four walls, and really kind of opens up the world to how it works, and how we might get teachers the feedback.
The other big thing we’re trying to do with video is help teachers get feedback from the right people. I think back to my time as a school leader and conducting observations.
When I used to have to evaluate the French teacher, it was hard because I don’t know any French. But I still had to observe her and provide feedback. This is where video can help because it can connect teachers to peers or coaches who can provide the best feedback.
Rebekah: For us, our conversations are no longer stuck in our schools, and like you said, Michael, we’re not in our “four walls” anymore, but we’re sharing ideas and successes and struggles back and forth and becoming more of a community of learners. That’s what we need in education. We need to support one another and help one another through the process.
As an example, using the Insight ADVANCE program you can attach your comments to different constructs on the rubric when you’re observing students. Our students are going to be leaving here at the end of May, and they’re going to be going out into the field with a professional learning plan.
They can use the feedback and comments from ADVANCE to help develop that plan and go out into the field feeling confident in their ability to teach and what their biggest strengths are.
Michael: I do want to point out that we want to be careful about following into the assumption that technology is going to save the day, or even that video is the only answer. I think it’s an amazing tool and it’s really helpful, but all this still fits in the hands of the practitioners, and so I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t keep the focus on using technology to help make these systems better, but also not losing focus on the fact that all of our educators in our school need to grow.
It’s not just about taking video, but also what you do with it. Having an administrator set up a camera in the back of the room and looking at it later, e-mailing the file around, that to me is Version 1.0, and it’s what we’ve been doing for a long time. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not much of a system.
The platform we’ve developed is really about letting that interaction happen within an online space. To take you through the process, teachers upload a video into their account, they share the video with their school leader or with peers, and then the observer/the support provider watches the video and can comment in real time.
You can ask questions in specific places. You can use a rubric effectively. What we’re trying to do is bring all the details together, so when a teacher uses the platform and then they rewatch the video, they’re getting a timestamped commentary from all of the observers who have seen them teach and who have made suggestions on how they might improve their practice.
And then there’s the statistic I used to open this blog post. Remember, 70 percent of teachers aren’t getting the quality feedback they want.
Our platform gives teachers opportunities to share context and make sure the observer knows exactly the type of feedback they’re looking for. In addition to uploading artifacts or attaching the lesson plans to the video, teachers can also answer questions that are timestamped or make comments within the video as well.
So, as the observer’s watching, they’re getting that teacher’s questions posed to them as the video plays. Teachers are actually saying “I need feedback here,” and the observer is saying, “Ok, here it is.”
Maybe it would help, Rebekah, if you could talk a little about how you’re using it with your pre-service teachers.
Rebekah: Sure. When we started using Insight ADVANCE, we wanted our candidates to leave being really critical, reflective thinkers—there’s only so much we can teach them in the two years that we have them—but when they go out, they are going to be impacting generation after generation. We saw this product as a great way to make our weekly written reflections a lot more authentic. We started using it with the mindset that instead of doing a weekly written reflection that they would then send to their supervisor, they would do a weekly video reflection instead.
Once we started using it though, we saw that this tool is not only helpful to make candidates more reflective thinkers, but it was also an amazing pedagogical tool as well. Now we’re using it in a couple different ways throughout the program.
In Junior year, when they first enter our education department, we’re sharing common videos amongst the class. We’ll talk about a topic such as “Asking Good Questions,” or “Listening and Building on Responses.”
After we talk about the theory behind these topics, we’ll send out a common video of a teacher candidate that has been through the program before, and we’ll give our current students and opportunity to watch that video and provide the comments. Then we come back together as a class. They’re really seeing theory in practice now, and we’re having good conversations in class about what it means to ask good questions.
We’re getting our candidates to see different teaching styles and different classroom management strategies, too.
The Juniors are also submitting video reflections where they record themselves and we watch and give them time-stamped comments. When we, as the professors and the supervisors, get to watch those videos, we know their thought processes, their concerns, their perceived strengths, and we can build on those in class.
We can start to see common areas where, as professors, we might need to focus our teaching and our discussions to strengthen their teaching.
Our Seniors, who are in a year-long residency, are sending in reflections every other week through video. With this, we’ve moved to where they are really being critical of their own practice. We’re seeing the students being almost more critical than we would be, and I think they’re getting a lot out of that.
They’re making improvements and finding ways that they can improve just through the comments on their videos. They are recognizing their strengths and weaknesses.
Michael: I wanted to talk a little about the research into video in the classroom, because I think it does reflect some of what Rebekah is seeing. There was a recent study [Best Foot Forward Study] from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University that measured hundreds of K-12 teachers to see if video improved classroom observation.
One of the first things they found out was that teachers overcame this issue of technology quite quickly. What we think is going to be an impediment actually falls away pretty quickly as teachers get used to the process and used to the system.
They found a few other things: Number one, teachers felt like the observations were more fair, and more productive. When we have these traditional observation systems, often times the feedback process happens in an office, or maybe in a classroom, but not around kids. Maybe it’s me looking back at my notes and saying, “Here’s everything I saw, and here’s what I would do differently,” and the teacher largely trying to figure out “Is that what really happened? That’s not what I felt happened.”
Rather than try to engage in that type of back and forth, what we’re finding is that video allows us both to watch a common piece of evidence and have a conversation about what we’re seeing, versus what we think we saw or what we’re trying to remember seeing, so it feels more fair.
The other thing that the Harvard study found is that it’s much more convenient in terms of scheduling for administrators. We’ve really upped the game in terms of how much feedback we expect teachers to receive, but we haven’t changed much else—we haven’t extended the school day, we haven’t taken things off the plates of school leaders.
Video has allowed administrators to do some of this feedback work outside of the school day, even on a Saturday, and it’s still more productive. We’ve removed the barriers that were once really inhibiting this work, especially around scheduling.
[Side note: Download Best Foot Forward Video Observation Toolkit for educators.]
Another thing that has come up is the idea of self-reflection. It is so different now with video. When I was a teacher, I don’t remember reflecting a lot on my practice, except trying to remember, “How did that go? What would I change next time?”
Watching yourself teach is humbling, for starters, but as you watch the video, I’ve heard so many teachers say, “I’m actually finding ways to improve my own practice, and it doesn’t require anyone else’s help.” Just watching ourselves teach is something we’ve never ever done.
Getting to see that from the perspective of a student has allowed this self-reflection to really take root and become more concrete for teachers.
Rebekah: When our students watch themselves on video, and they see the progress and improvement they’re making, I think that is very motivational for them. It adds to their confidence, so we’ve seen a lot of improvement in that area.
We also talk a lot about professional learning communities, and that’s kind of the way professional development is going. This is the perfect opportunity for natural professional learning communities to start developing within our schools.
We have our student teachers at two different schools, so not only are they teaching at their school, but they’re also coming back together on campus once a week and they’re getting to see what’s happening at the other school across the county.
The Insight ADVANCE team has been great working with us throughout the entire implementation process. You basically can customize the entire platform, and we were able to put our own observation tool in there.
The support team has been great. We have regular scheduled phone calls, they check in throughout the semester just to see how the process is going, they created an outline of what this might look like as we try to implement it into our courses. If there’s ever an issue getting a video to upload, students can email the support desk and get feedback and support right away.
There’s never an issue of not hearing back; help is always there when you need it. This has made using this in our program a lot easier, because if the technology doesn’t work for some people, they’ll just give up. We haven’t had that happen this year because of the support that we’ve had from Insight.
Michael: I think what we’ve tried to focus on, and I think what Rebekah is feeling, and the students in the program are feeling, is that we’re so focused on implementation.
Because we don't think that a technology tool is going to be the end-all-be-all to these issues. These are big meaty issues that we need to dig into. We’re all educators here. We’re not a tech company who had a great tool and wanted to get it out into the market.
We came at this from our practice first. I think often times, with technology in particular, we expect that we can flip the switch and everything is going to be better. I hope one of the big lessons people are getting from this is that focusing on implementation is critically important to make sure these things work.
Rebekah: My hope is that we’ve made the process so easy for them that our students will continue to record themselves even when we’re not requiring it, just for their own professional development.
I also hope they’ll take it a step further and build these organic professional learning communities on their own, so that it’s not their schools having to tell them to do it, but they’re just doing it because they know how much it helps.
To learn more about how Rebekah and her team are using video to encourage growth their student teachers, check out Smartbrief Tech Tip: Using video to support teacher training programs.