As a college football fan and, more importantly, a University of Notre Dame fan, I was a bit surprised to see Coach Brian Kelly, the winningest coach in University of Notre Dame history, leave this storied program to accept the head coaching job at Louisiana State University. On the same day, the sport saw Lincoln Riley head west from the University of Oklahoma to accept the head coaching position at the University of Southern California (USC). In addition to offering him a salary that is incomprehensible for most, USC agreed to buy his family's new home in California. As well as to provide 24/7 access to a private jet.
After I digested this as a football fan, I began to think about our work as educators with an emphasis on coaching. This once again sparks a conversation about the importance of coaching, especially for our teachers. If football success is so important for our country, why shouldn’t teacher success be as important? Isn’t education the gateway to a bright, happy, and healthy life? Isn’t it the most important thing we do for the future of society? If our teachers perform at their best, I am confident that our students will have the best chance for success.
Continuing with the theme of football, I remember my time on the gridiron. We would break down the game film on the Monday after the weekend game. Our coach would play, pause, rewind, and replay the recording as many times as needed. He would point out what went well on certain plays for each player and what needed improvement. I vividly remember him saying, “The eye in the sky doesn’t lie!”
Our teachers deserve that same “eye in the sky” accompanied by compassionate coaches to partner with them as they grow. That’s why 10 years ago, my friend and colleague Jim Thompson and I implemented the video coaching program.
Teachers have individual perceptions of how they believe they teach or what they look like when teaching. Video recordings of their teaching provides participants with the opportunity to see what their students experience.
The use of video-recording technology contributes to teachers’ interaction with their instruction, and reflection on their practice as a result of viewing the recorded sessions. This is because teachers and coaches can review each recording multiple times, pausing it, marking it, and unpacking what took place. This leads to a more comprehensive analysis of what occurred during the lesson. It is rare for someone to remember every single detail and experience without video.
There is value in capturing instruction on video for the reflective process. And although self-reflection is necessary and can improve a teacher’s skills, a coach enhances their experience.
Throughout our research and development of the video coaching program by conducting interviews with willing participants, we identified what we believe to be six ingredients of the special sauce that, along with the coach, are integral to the implementation and sustainability of successful video coaching. The ingredients included in the approach are: non-evaluative, confidential, optional, embedded, ongoing, and reflective.
Although video coaching provides a systematic approach for a teacher to work with a coach to evaluate his or her practice, it should be non-evaluative in the sense that the teacher is not rated to make an employment decision. Once teachers recognize that the coaching process is safe, they are more likely to be honest with both themselves and the coach. Teachers and coaches should know that what they share will have no impact on their employment or on their futures with the organizations.
Confidentiality is closely aligned with the program’s non-evaluative nature. Whatever is discussed in the coaching cycle between the teacher and coach needs to remain between the two, as this element supports the risk-taking and vulnerability necessary to grow through the video coaching model. We often refer to this aspect of the program as the coach acting as the participant’s priest, rabbi, or counselor. Your program will most likely come to a screeching halt if the coach shares the content of the coaching sessions with other teachers or the administration. Trust is the glue that fortifies the climate necessary for teachers to embrace this concept. Only with trust can they begin to appreciate that this is not a program aimed at catching someone doing something wrong, but rather a supportive approach that requires openness and honesty.
Optional participation means that teachers have the choice of whether they will participate in the program. The fact that the program is not mandated or forced on teachers is an important element of its success, especially in the early implementation stage.
We always need to be learning. When a skill is a part of our daily learning and is meaningful to the work we do, it becomes important to us. The skills and feedback gained from video coaching must be applied immediately to teachers’ instruction with students. This application provides a teacher with the opportunity to practice their newly learned skills in an authentic environment.
“Ongoing” refers to the concept that teachers apply feedback to their practice continuously. Video coaching cycles are encouraged to continue until the day a teacher leaves the profession. The goal is to be in a continuous state of improvement.
Having the opportunity and skills to look back at an action and to think about it is an important part of improving. The use of video provides a recording similar to the methods used in athletics as well as the performing arts. Whether it is improving your golf swing, identifying who missed a block in a football game, or improving your teaching, reflection is a key part of the improvement process.
If you currently use video and coaching to support teacher development, or if you are interested in implementing this type of professional development, please consider maintaining fidelity to the key ingredients of the special sauce.