How Video Coaching Leads to More Honest Teaching

Professional Development

How Video Coaching Leads to More Honest Teaching

By Angie Busch Alston     Oct 23, 2018

How Video Coaching Leads to More Honest Teaching

You know that squirmy feeling you get when you hear a recording of your own voice? Maybe you listen back to your voicemail greeting to make sure it’s really you? Multiply that feeling by ten and you’ll get an idea of how it initially feels to watch videos of yourself teaching.

When we first began doing video coaching at Brevig Mission School in Northwestern Alaska, I was nervous. So were my colleagues. But sometimes all you need is a little push.

A Friendly Nudge

Our own gentle nudge came in the form of our progressive and forward-thinking principal, Ginger Crockett. For her, it’s really important that we learn from each other. Watching each other teach means noticing our colleagues’ routines and techniques—ones that we can adapt into our own practice.

To help us through our initial fears of recording ourselves, Ginger gave us weekly video challenges. One week, she challenged us to film the first three minutes of class. Another week, she wanted to see a transition time. Sometimes we would film times that related to our professional growth plans. Each week, we’d bring the recordings to staff meetings and watch them together with a partner or small group. Sometimes, Ginger would provide prompts for us to use as we discussed the recordings.

When I first shared these early videos, my initial feeling was one of embarrassment, particularly around my physical appearance. Thoughts like “I really need to do something with my hair” and “How many pounds do I need to lose before I look good in those pants?” were not uncommon. I also found myself worried about sharing “good” footage—exemplary footage—the kind of footage that wouldn’t leave my colleagues judging me or my teaching. I didn’t want to give them any reason to think or say things like, “She lets her kids get away with that?” or “No wonder her students don’t know anything about U.S. History!”

It Gets Easier

But the more videos I shared, the less fear and embarrassment I felt. I stopped noticing my physical imperfections. I found myself relaxed around my colleagues, as they didn’t shred my teaching practices. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised when my colleagues actually noticed good things about my lesson—things that I either hadn’t seen myself or had downplayed. We even laughed together—at some common student antics, at ridiculous facial expressions, at my fabulous “Bad Hair Day” hair during Spirit Week. Hearing their compliments, sharing some levity, and seeing them recognize my strengths was affirming. It made me want to try harder in the classroom and sharpen my skills.

When I got brave enough to show honest videos of what was going on in my classroom rather than carefully curated highlights, my colleagues made some great suggestions for ways I might improve or enhance my lessons. Such a thoughtful, respectful back-and-forth only increased the admiration I had for my colleagues, made me more eager to seek their feedback, and made clear the benefits of tapping into our staff’s collective intelligence.

For example, seeing the Daily Five posters in a first-grade classroom inspired me to make a set of Weekly Five tasks for my high school students. And third grade’s small-group rotations reminded me of the power of masterful differentiation and instruction tailored to the specific needs of the students. The way my students focused during their math class convinced me that I could expect more of my students during direct instruction.

Ultimately, filming my own teaching made me vulnerable, but the recordings provided an objective and accurate peek into my classroom’s goings on. It can be easy to dismiss the results of live observations as a reflection of the observer’s bias. It’s harder to dismiss them when video evidence is staring you in the face. As one of our consultants is fond of saying, “the eye in the sky don’t lie.”

A Practical Solution

While the value of seeing my colleague’s skills in action was undeniable, it did have some practical limitations. For one, scheduling a time for teachers to get together to review footage was, quite frankly, a nightmare. Not having prep periods meant that we had to miss instructional time to conduct peer observations. To make sure all of our classrooms were covered, we developed an elaborate schedule where paraprofessionals rotated to cover our classes, like some sort of relay race without the uniforms or the excitement or the medals.

The scheduling complications prompted a lot of resistance to peer observations. Some weeks, I didn’t even bother signing up. It became very easy for teachers to convince themselves that their instruction time was too precious to do peer observations. Excuses, it seems, were plentiful.

Our school was looking for a solution that preserved the value of peer observations and solved the scheduling woes. We found a good fit (and really stepped up the video coaching game) with Edthena, a platform that allows teachers to upload teaching footage to a secure website (it also compresses the footage, making it easy to upload, even with our less-than-reliable connection up here in the Bering Strait).

Once uploaded, footage is only available to members of a group that the teacher allows. For Brevig Mission School, this meant the only ones with access to our videos were teachers and our principal. Not only can group members view these shared videos, but they can also make time-stamped comments.

With a couple clicks and keystrokes, my colleagues could give detailed feedback on my classroom videos—and I on theirs. The whole system makes it easy to scan through comments, as well as see exactly what was happening in the video that prompted each comment. Since the video lives online, could observe different teachers and student age groups at different times of the day, whenever a free few minutes opened up.

Implementing a school-wide video coaching program can open up a world of new possibilities for personal and professional growth—helping both teachers and the students they serve.

To be sure, video coaching can be uncomfortable (especially at first), but the process is just too powerful to abandon for the jitters. Watching my own lessons and analyzing them with fellow teachers has prompted me to take a hard look at what I do in the classroom each day. Watching my colleagues teach has also opened my eyes to a whole host of new ideas—to what is really possible in a classroom. Making myself vulnerable enough to share and open to objective feedback has certainly made me a better teacher.

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