Video Observations Part 1

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.

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