iAspire Reflect

Using Videos During Teacher Observations Part 4 – Introducing iAspire Reflect

In our previous three posts, we have discussed my own personal struggles with the teacher observation process, creating an environment where teachers self reflect, and sharing a wonderful resource called the Best Foot Forward Project from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.    Properly evaluating teachers where a focus is on concrete evidence (video) can be a difficult transition for many schools and organizations.  Why?  Mostly it’s because it is not the norm in education and/or is not what they currently do.

To me, all decisions come down to purpose.  In the words of Simon Sinek in his wonderful book Start with Why: “For great leaders, The Golden Circle is in balance. They are in pursuit of WHY, they hold themselves accountable to HOW they do it, and WHAT they do serves as the tangible proof of what they believe.”  If you haven’t heard about Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, below is a 3:40 clip of him explaining it:

So what exactly is iAspire Reflect?  iAspire Reflect is a simple-to-use software that allows educators to quickly upload video, add tags to the video (questioning, lesson objective, etc), share videos with colleagues, and search using a variety of criteria. iAspire Reflect also allows you to create a video library of the very best teaching in your organization.

The why behind  iAspire Reflect is to help create an environment where self-reflection and observations based on concrete evidence becomes the norm.  I think about the professional athletes of the world and how often they watch game film.  Being from Indiana (although a Chicago Bears Fan…), I have to make a reference to Peyton Manning, arguably one of the best football players of all time.  It was not Peyton’s elite athleticism that separated him from other quarterbacks. It was his ability and initiative to prepare for opponents that set him apart.  Peyton spent countless hours watching game film.  He reviewed each practice and game from multiple angles, identifying what the opponents were doing, their tendencies, and determining a plan based on what he saw.  He didn’t rely solely on his memory or what his coach told him to do.  Instead, he took complete and total ownership of the entire process and grounded his decisions in concrete evidence – what the “tape” showed him.  Here is an article from the New York Post on Peyton’s video prowess.  He was a machine when it came to preparation and watching video.

In an education environment, video observations allow the teacher and/or other educator to watch a clip, rewind, and watch again.  What specific behaviors were most effective for the teacher, and how do you know?  What exactly did the students do and say as a result of the teacher actions?  This is where recording and watching a lesson becomes extremely powerful.

Another why behind iAspire Reflect is to help alleviate some of the struggles that I faced when observing teachers.  No need to rehash all the struggles – you can read them again here.  Without something concrete, I would not be able to provide the specific actions or dialogue for everything that happened, the teacher would be basing his/her reflections on what he/she remembered, and my own filters would be a barrier to what I was able to capture and document.

As we have been developing iAspire Reflect for teacher observations using video, we have had the privilege to speak with schools across the country to gain their input on our development.  When we discussed our idea for iAspire Reflect, about 95% have been very intrigued and excited by the possibility.  In fact, most of the final responses from these conversations sounded a lot like this: “Can I try it?” or “How can I get started with this?”.

 

To learn more, please visit www.iaspireapp.com/reflect

 

Teacher Evaluation

Using Videos During Teacher Observations Part 3 – Helping You Get Started

The reflection that I did myself, when I videoed, offered me more opportunity for growth than anything an outsider could do for me. Watching my kids, what went on in my room, how I handled it, and things I said—that was more important than any sit-down that I could have with anybody [else]. ” Best Foot Forward teacher, North Carolina (2013)1

In this third installment of our Using Videos During Teacher Observations series, we will dive right in to what the research says with regard to using videos to support teacher observations.  Our previous two posts can be found here: My Own Struggles and Creating an environment where teachers self reflect.

I’m guessing most of you don’t formally use videos during your teacher observations.  Coaching?  Maybe.  The observer sitting down, watching the lesson on video, and providing feedback specific based on what was seen on film?  Probably not.  There are a lot of reasons why schools are hesitant to use videos.  According to Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research and their Best Foot Forward Project, these reasons may include but are not limited to:

  • Compliance Culture
  • Rudimentary Reflection
  • Inflexible Time
  • Inadequate content area feedback

I’ve personally had conversations with several administrators who had various other reasons why they aren’t using videos for teacher observations.  These reasons include their Union won’t allow it, they don’t have the appropriate technology, there is not a simple way to do it, and they are afraid of teachers putting on the proverbial “dog and pony show”.  Others had concerns about students being recorded and what would be required from a policy perspective to allow for recording in the classroom.  However 95% of these administrators rated the potential of video reflections/observations as having a major impact in their school.  In other words, most (95%) think using videos during observations would make a positive difference for them and their teachers.  They just aren’t doing it.

The aforementioned Best Foot Forward Project from Harvard University does a fantastic job providing specific suggestions to break through these barriers.  Their toolkit is simply amazing.  If you haven’t reviewed their toolkit, you should download it now.  The Toolkit provides support in the following areas:

  • Leveraging Video for Learning
    • Video for self-reflection, peer collaboration, virtual coaching, evaluation, and building a video library
  • Cultivating Trust in Video Observations
    • Create a safe environment for teachers and communicate with parents and manage student privacy concerns
  • Turnkey Technology: Setting up Schools for Effective Implementation
    • Choose the right technology, set up your infrastructure, train teachers and observers
  • Measuring Readiness and Assessing Success
    • Ensure readiness, Assess Success
  • Appendix
  • References

Speaking of the dog and pony show, The Best Foot Forward project addressed that directly in its Leveraging Video for Learning section: “If teachers control the camera, they are able to choose a videotaped lesson that they believe represents a comprehensive view of their best work.  Not only does this process increase teacher agency in evaluation, but it also encourages teachers to rewatch several lessons and contemplate what constitutes effective, evaluation-worthy instruction before choosing what will be submitted to the administrator.”  Later it reads “…teachers put their ‘best foot forward’, but this did not fundamentally change the distribution of observation scores between teachers.”2  For a more detailed quantitative review, please see the Best Foot Forward research brief.

The Best Foot Forward Project also includes a self-guided module for analyzing videos of your own instruction, a self-analysis noticing rubric, coaching conversation scripts, and many other worthwhile resources.

If you are considering using videos to support teacher reflection, coaching, and/or evaluation, the guidance from the Best Foot Forward project may help you map an implementation schedule and feel comfortable doing so.  There are definitely logistics to consider, timing issues, collective bargaining disagreements, and other barriers you will face, but best practice suggests using video can have a positive impact on your entire observation process.

Next week we will take a look at how a professional athlete uses video to improve his game, and you may even learn a little bit about Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

 

Have you used videos during any of your observations, coaching cycles, or evaluations?  If so, how did it go?

 

1Fullerton, J., Greenberg, M., Kane, T., Le, L., Quinn, D., Thal, D., & Zelaya, S. (2015). Leveraging Video for Learning: Strategies for Using Video Observations for Professional Growth [PDF]. Center for Education Policy Research. p. 2

2Fullerton, J., Greenberg, M., Kane, T., Le, L., Quinn, D., Thal, D., & Zelaya, S. (2015). Leveraging Video for Learning: Strategies for Using Video Observations for Professional Growth [PDF]. Center for Education Policy Research. p. 11-12

Video Self Reflections

Using Videos During Teacher Observations Part 2 – Teacher Self Reflection

Last week I spent some time talking about my own personal struggles when completing observations.  As a quick recap, these difficulties included an inability to notice, and capture, everything that happened in the classroom, the difficulty in remembering and recalling the specific details of each lesson when in an observation conference with a teacher, and the teacher’s own self-reflection of the lesson.  You can read last week’s post by clicking here: Using Videos During Teacher Observations Part 1 – My Own Struggles

Today I want to focus on the self-reflection aspect of the teacher observation/evaluation process.  Many researchers have proven the power of creating an environment where employees thrive, one which:

  • Challenges employees but provides appropriate support.  The Pygmalion effect suggests that people will reach the expectations that are placed on them.  If you expect a lot from your employees, but not so much that you consistently discourage them, your team will rise to your expectations.  Consequently, if you expect very little from your employees, guess what you will receive in return?
  • Values employees and their contributions.  Teaching is a tough job, as we all know.  Your teachers are impacting dozens, if not hundreds, of students each day.  Teachers are world-changers – let’s treat them as such!
  • Encourages both collaboration and autonomy.  Teachers have a lot to learn, and a lot to share.  Encourage your teachers to continually learn from each other, yet create an environment for teachers to practice and implement their learning in their own classrooms.  In the words of Daniel Pink, “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.
  • Allows for risk-taking.  For teachers to improve, they must try new things.  Allow your teachers to take risks and see what happens (of course the risk needs to be legal, ethical, thought out, and fits within the vision, mission, and beliefs of the organization…)  Setting up an environment where risk-taking is “allowed” will provide encouragement and motivation to teachers to improve, even if there are stumbling blocks along the way.
  • Supports teacher self-reflection.  See below:

To get the most out of any professional development, initiative, or strategy, the ownership must lie in the hands of those on the front line.  The best book study or workshop will not positively affect your teachers, and therefore students, unless and until your teachers actually practice the actions.  Studying is not enough.  Learning is not enough.  You must actually “do”.

Being the owner of a company that specializes in employee evaluations, I fully support the effective use of observer feedback.  After all, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.  Having an outsider provide perspective, suggestions, and questions can go a long way to improve teachers’ instruction and implementation of the studying and learning.

However, sometimes I think we miss the boat and provide a little too much observer feedback.  Many times I had observation conferences with teachers, and the teacher was WAY harder on him/herself than I thought was necessary.  The teacher would have an entire monologue prepared with things he/she would change.  This is great self-reflection, but as we discussed last week, I question what the teacher was using to reflect.  It was solely based on memory of what she heard, saw, and said as well as what she let through her own filters.  Additionally, how many days had passed between the lesson and this reflection?  Again I question if this is the absolute best way for teachers to self-reflect?

I wonder how this teacher’s thought process would have been different if he/she had reviewed the lesson on video first?  I wonder what this teacher would have noticed and how more meaningful it would be to watch the lesson, or a portion of it, on video?  Perhaps the teacher is so in tune with his/her own teaching the reflections would have been identical.  I’m guessing not though.  I’m guessing this teacher would come prepared to show, not just talk about, what she noticed and what she would do differently.  As a former observer, this is the kind of self-reflection I would want my teachers to participate in.

Next week we will dive further into the research and discuss the Best Foot Forward project from Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research.  Here’s a little teaser to think about between now and then:

“The reflection that I did myself, when I videoed, offered me more opportunity for growth than anything an outsider could do for me. Watching my kids, what went on in my room, how I handled it, and things I said—that was more important than any sit-down that I could have with anybody [else]. ”

Best Foot Forward teacher, North Carolina (2013)1

1https://cepr.harvard.edu/files/cepr/files/1._leveraging_video_for_learning.pdf

Video Observations Part 1

Using Videos During Teacher Observations Part 1 – My Own Struggles

We have noticed an interesting yet exciting trend in recent years with regard to teacher evaluations.  Many schools, districts, and organizations have been incorporating coaching (or aspects of it) into the evaluation process.  Most notably, the idea of collegial conversations focused on ongoing, incremental growth has been a noticeable trend.

You may have heard the terms continuous improvement, teacher growth, etc.  They all boil down to the idea of consistently increasing the effectiveness of each of your teachers.  Many states and other agencies require some type of a teacher evaluation to occur, which involves the principal or other administrator to be present in the classroom.  Typically notes are taken, perhaps even scripting of who says what, and then connecting these notes to a rubric or other form.  Feedback is provided, the observer and teacher sit down, and they review the notes (or scripting) and discuss the observation.  Simple enough, right?  But is this the most effective way of growing teachers?

Let me start by saying that the staffs I have worked with have been amazing.  Absolutely amazing.  I have only glowing things to say about them as people and educators.  Even with this “ideal” situation, I still had some of my own challenges with regard to teacher evaluation and observation processes.  The challenges below are specific to me, and you may be facing different challenges than what I describe.  That’s completely okay!  For this blog series, I will be diving into some of my own struggles.  We will also be getting into a fairly new concept for a lot of educators – using videos to help support teacher growth and sustained improvement processes.  

One struggle I had as an administrator (and therefore an evaluator) was the impact my own personal filters had during the observation process.  I would sit in a classroom for 40+ minutes, furiously typing everything that I could possibly capture, and provide feedback to my teachers.  The problem was no matter how consistent I tried to be with my note taking, I would miss something, or many somethings, each and every observation.  Maybe a group in the corner working on a project together had an amazing aha! moment.  Maybe the teacher was circulating the room and giving positive feedback to the quiet student in the back of the room.  It’s not possible to capture everything, no matter how fast you are at typing.  There were times when we were studying best practices for writing workshop, so I would focus on the instruction related to WW.  There were other times when we as a building were focused on positive reinforcement, so that’s what I would be listening for during my observations.  Or maybe I just had a tough conversation with the police and a few parents about an incident that happened that morning – probably not ideal to happen right before a long observation.

These filters meant that I wasn’t capturing everything that was happening in the classroom.  On top of that, I would take some time after a formal observation and try to correct my typos, incomplete sentences, and otherwise faulty grammar.  Then we would schedule a time to meet, which could be 5+ days after the actual lesson. I had completed many other observations during this timeframe, and with everything administrators are responsible for, there were times when the lessons blended together in my mind.  I’m supposed to remember the lesson so I can give acutely specific feedback or ask targeted questions to allow the teacher to self reflect and come up with his/her own aha! moment.  This is tough to do when I couldn’t remember every little detail of the lesson.

The other trend I noticed was the amount of self-reflection teachers were doing, and more importantly what they were using to self reflect.  Teacher observations are inherently a sweat-inducing experience for many teachers.  I’ve had conferences with teachers who said they don’t remember much of the lesson because they were so nervous.  I get it – I was that way too for a while.  Typically my first post-observation conference question was “How do you think the lesson went and why?” This gave the teacher a chance to talk about what the lesson, their reflections, etc.  Then I would base my subsequent questions and feedback on the specific response from the teacher.  Teachers can’t remember every aspect of that individual lesson, so they are stuck leaning on a faulty recollection of what they and their dozens of students did and said.  It’s not their faults they can’t remember everything (just as I can’t remember everything either…)

Teachers would at-times respond with things like “I asked a lot of good questions.”, “I thought it was an okay lesson.”, or “My kids were having a rough day, and I was REALLY hoping you wouldn’t have come in during our science experiment.”  I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard anything like this before, have you?

For sustained improvement to occur, the teacher must be in the center of the improvement process.  We as administrators can tell teachers what to do to improve, but we only get what Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research refers to as a “Compliance culture1: teachers do what the observer says because the observer says to do it.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I have a feeling that you are not looking for a Compliance Culture if your focus is on increasing the effectiveness of instruction in your classrooms.

Next week we’ll take a look at the impact that self-reflection can have on instruction and how the use of video might help take away some of these pain points we’ve described.

Do you even face any of these same issues?  How do you get past them?

11 Fullerton, J., Greenberg, M., Kane, T., Le, L., Quinn, D., Thal, D., & Zelaya, S. (2015). Best Foot Forward: A Toolkit for Fast-Forwarding Classroom Observations Using Video [PDF]. Center for Education Policy Research.