Feedback is a crucial factor for growth and progress, regardless of your profession. If we are starved for feedback, we may begin to think we don't need it or that it's not valuable—but when feedback is frequent, relevant, and expected, we start to view it in a more constructive manner. As the supervisor of instruction in Haddon Township School District, I would love to be able to give my teachers weekly feedback, but I have 200 teachers, so that's just not feasible. It is feasible, however, for my teachers to give each other this type of frequent feedback.
This year, I started a collaborative reflection pilot program with a few of my teachers. I currently have a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher cross-collaborating, and two English teachers in the high school doing a horizontal collaboration. Each pair has a common goal or problem that they wish to solve. The elementary teachers are instituting new writing and mathematics programs, so it was a natural fit to investigate the vertical articulation and make sure the level of rigor across grade levels was appropriate. The English teachers are both new to the district this year. One has prior teaching experience, while for the other one, this is pretty much their first teaching job, so it was beneficial to pair two people who were new and who were teaching the same thing in order to share ideas across a common curriculum.
We made an agreement that they would each capture themselves on video at least three times, and share the recordings with their collaborative partner. There was plenty of flexibility, with a couple teachers recording full hour-long lessons, while other teachers recorded snippets of a focused practice.
The teachers loved it. They really liked being able to watch their partner teach without going into each other’s classrooms. Since we're a relatively small district, I can arrange cross-classroom visitations for new teachers once or twice a year, but I really don't have the staff or the resources to do visitations on a large scale. Through the use of video and the pairings, I found that the teachers who were recording themselves were much more deliberate about what they were teaching and what they were sharing—and they were informally doing their own self-reflection and changing their practice even before they hit “share.” This means that when I am able to visit, formally or informally, I see better teaching and learning because of the collaboration and feedback that has happened before I was even in the room.
I plan to use video to observe and provide feedback to my teachers more regularly. It would allow me the opportunity to watch, rewind, and pause, which is something that you really can't do while sitting in the classroom during a live observation. I would assume there's a lot that I miss: not just bad stuff, but probably a ton of good things, too. I would love the opportunity to be able to slow that process down a bit so teachers can show me their best, or be able to show me something new they're trying.
Expanding the Pilot
Our intention here in Haddon Township is to expand organically. There's so much excitement amongst the initial pilot group that they're already inviting their peers to participate. For instance, the 2nd grade teacher in the pilot is the only 2nd grade teacher in her building, so she wants to collaborate cross-building. There are eight 2nd grade teachers spread across five buildings in our district, and we have three buildings with only one 2nd grade teacher in them. There's a real need to have grade-level collaboration across the district for these more isolated teachers.
We’re starting a second cycle of the pilot for the spring semester. We’ll refine the program based on what the initial group has experienced, and next year we hope to expand it even further, with more educators participating. Given the enthusiasm from my teachers, and the need for district-wide collaboration, I believe the program has enormous potential.