Mentoring and Coaching Teachers
How can we best support teachers in reflecting on and improving their practice?
Reflection: How Video can Cure Common Concerns about Observations
With tight budgets, overworked staff filling multiple roles, and barely enough time in the day, how can you, as a school leader, also provide support and mentors to your staff? Perhaps you have learned about and studied the use of classroom observation as a tool to help teachers improve their practice. You believe your school can create a culture of collaboration and that many problems will be resolved through the process of observation. You are eager to see the successes teachers are having in class and to hear their ideas and frustrations. You know that teacher practice will improve if observations are enthusiastically and properly implemented. How will you find the time and resources to conduct observations and how will you address the apprehension staff is likely to feel when this new strategy is suggested, especially as it asks teachers to share both their struggles and successes?
I found that using video to record observations and reflections at my school resolved many time and resource issues, as well as built trust and a standard of self-reflection and on-going professional development.
Resources: “I don't have time for that in my schedule!”
My school is small and there are limited opportunities for staff to meet together due to our conflicting schedules. Video can be taken at any time, watched when convenient, and shared easily with more than one person. Ideally, a live human is available to video reocrd a classroom but if not, a static video set up in a corner of the classroom can capture what a busy mentor may not have time to record live. Observations can be focused because the teacher under observation can guide their mentor to the chunk of recorded class time they most want feedback on, eliminating time spent sitting in person through less critical classroom activities. For example, I recently observed a staff member who spent 25 minutes passing out and explaining a few papers. When she watched the video later, she quickly realized that she spent far too much time with paperwork and when we met to debrief asked that we only focus on the first and last 5 minutes of class where some students were struggling with the bell work and exit slips. This focused conversation was a far better use of human resources than the time I spent watching her pass out papers.
Connection: “I don't want people in my room and I don't want to be on tape!”
The first time staff were observed for the purpose of reflective (rather than evaluative) feedback, they were extremely nervous. They felt they were "under the microscope" and wanted to prepare their best lesson and most well-behaved class. When I told them I would also be video recording, their anxiety increased. However, I gave each teacher a copy of the video observation before we met to debrief, allowing them the time to see what I saw during their lesson as well as time to create their thoughts about the lesson. They came to the debrief meeting with great questions, observations, and ideas already in mind and, because we sat and watched the video clip again together, felt more like they were sharing their class with me than that I was coming in to pass judgement. Ultimately, I think the video made the meeting balanced and gave the teacher a lot of power over what we discussed. We were connecting over the same material by sharing our two different perspectives.
Reflection: “How am I supposed to know if I've improved? With all my responsibilities, I barely remember what happened yesterday.”
Educators are busy. I often conducted observations during my prep periods, rushing from and to my classroom. There was no time to reflect upon what I had observed nor did the teacher under observation have time to digest her or his lesson. Knowing the lesson was captured on video and could be reviewed when appropriate and as many times as necessary was a great relief. This year I am conducting 3 video observations of teachers--one in the fall, one in winter, one in spring. This will create a visual record of this teacher's classroom throughout the year and will be a great reflection tool: What areas of concern have been resolved? Where have you pushed yourself? What areas still stand out to you? Especially for first year teachers, I expect we will see dramatic change from the beginning of the year to the end and I think it is a great way to reinforce positive progress and set teachers up with a template for on-going development.
Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history. ~Joan Wallach Scott
As a school leader, you understand that teachers may be threatened when they are asked to open their rooms to observation and take on the new challenge of collaboratively examining their practice. You also know that time and resources are limited; you want maximum benefit from your efforts. Using video to record classroom interactions resolves many of these concerns and frees you and your staff to focus on the rewards of the observation tool.
Artifact: demonstration video of a video observation debrief