Fostering Adult Learning Communities
How can we best support adult learning and shared decision-making in teacher-driven schools?
Video Feedback: A Put-It-To-Practice for Fostering Adult Learning Communities
Imagine, for a moment, you have a teenage son or daughter. It is time to start teaching them how to drive. They look to you as an expert, someone who holds the keys, literally and figuratively, to their success as a driver. You have already answered several of their questions about driving, but are getting ready to do your first ride with them behind the wheel and you in the passenger seat. However, when you open your front door, you are confronted by a friendly man in a green plaid suit. “Hello!” he cries enthusiastically. He holds up a dvd disk, grinning. “I’ve brought video footage of you driving the other day while sipping coffee and reaching for the pen you had dropped on the floor!” He steps into your home, beaming at you. “This will be a great way for your teenager to learn about driving! Let’s pop it in, shall we?” Your stomach turns as your teenager looks at you expectantly.
This is how I felt when I decided to model the benefits of getting peer feedback by sharing a clip of my classroom with my fellow staff. As the mentor teacher, I had already visited classrooms and had lengthy conversations and problem-solving sessions with several staff. Now, I was about to share with them the startling reality: my classroom has issues too! The workshop turned out to be one of the most beneficial 40 minutes of staff time this year.
Sharing and discussing my video clip reminded me how much trust it takes for my mentees to share their classrooms with me and open themselves to feedback. To make sharing more structured and “safe,” we set some norms together and then I used a protocol from The Power of Protocols to guide the conversation. These were two powerful tools that I intend to use with my mentees when we sit down to discuss the video clips of their classroom.
As adults, we like to think we know how to have healthy, productive conversations. However, especially in larger groups, participants often stray off into their own tangents or choose not to speak up. Sometimes, conversation points drag on too long while others are glossed over or not addressed. Participating in protocols during my graduate courses had helped me see the powerful benefits of structuring a groups’ time and conversation focus and I wanted the same for my staff.
The protocol I chose, “The Descriptive Consultancy” (see attachment below), walks a group through phases of discussion to help the “presenter” gain perspective and possible solutions to a problem they are having. The group become “consultants” and give observational, rather than subjective or judgmental, descriptions of what they see the problem to be. Working in small groups, they later brainstorm some suggestions and the presenter leaves with many new ideas about their perceived problem and a lot of solutions they can try. This protocol works well with something visual: actual student work or a video clip of a classroom. I taped myself teaching, and chose a 3 minute clip where I am giving directions to the class before releasing them to do work with a partner. I felt my directions were ineffective and hoped to hear other’s perspectives and solutions.
I recruited a fellow teacher to be the facilitator and modified the original protocol to fit into a 30 minute time frame. In an effort to pare down the original 60 minute protocol, I added more small group time so each group could share out one response rather than having each person share out. To help groups keep track of their time, I set up a computer and projector and asked my facilitator to project the time for each round with a free online countdown timer. Lastly, I typed up the purpose of the consultancy and laid out a timeline with directions in bold, and a step-by-step format. Each staff member had a copy of the protocol.
I was excited to use the Descriptive Consultancy but also a bit nervous because this was my staff’s first time using a protocol and, for me, a very public way to share a problem in my classroom: ineffective verbal directions. To help the group feel comfortable with the protocol and me feel safe with sharing, I used the following “norms,” adopted from some I have seen valued at High Tech High:
- Hard on the content, soft on the people.
- Share the air.
- Specific, kind, and helpful.
- What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
I typed the norms at the top of the protocol handout and introduced each of them to the staff before we began the Descriptive Consultancy. The idea behind each norm is:
- Hard on the content, soft on the people. As we practice with our students, we can be hard on the behavior but still love the person. It is important to respect the person who is sharing their work by not attacking them personally but also by giving honest, critical feedback about the work they are sharing.
- Share the air. Simple concept but often difficult for people to self monitor: those who tend to talk a lot need to consciously keep it short and those who tend not to speak need to consciously speak up. The goal of a conversation is to hear ideas, and protocols, in particular, really rely on everyone participating.
- Specific, kind, and helpful. We try to do this with our students too: saying “Great use of descriptive adjectives in your third paragraph” rather than “Good work!” When offering criticism, it needs to be helpful: paired with an idea or presented in a way that helps the person improve rather than just feel good or bad about themselves or their work.
- What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. This one always cracks me up because a group of professional educators shouldn’t be anything like a weekend in Vegas, but the heart of the norm is critical: this group of people and the conversation about to happen will keep the experience to themselves once they walk out the door. It is safe to take risks and be honest here because that time together is protected by this mutual understanding of trust and confidentiality.
I had followed these norms before many times as a graduate student but never realized their power until I was the one presenting personal material to a group of peers who weren’t experienced with norms or protocols: I felt very nervous.
What I discovered was that, because I took the time to introduce the purpose of the protocols and the thinking behind each of the norms, everyone participated and I felt safe and supported rather than out on a limb or under attack. At the end of the protocol, when we debriefed the process, the feedback was really positive: I liked having the time projected so we could be responsible for ourselves; I liked talking with people I don’t normally hear from; I admire you for sharing something from your class; I got a lot of ideas today; I could use this protocol in class; We should do this more often!
My goal had been to model the benefits of sharing and getting feedback. I believe the structure of the protocol and the clarity of the norms were essential to achieving this goal. As a mentor, I was humbled by the experience of opening myself to feedback. I am looking forward to meeting with my mentees and setting similar norms and using a protocol to help guide our time together. As a staff, I am eager to see protocols used in more ways and more interest in using video to get feedback from each other.