students, video observations

Teacher Video Observations for a Changing World

The most transformative device of the 21st century, and arguably in all of human history, was created in 2007.  The first generation iPhone introduced us to a new wave of technology called smartphones.  It’s slogan was, “This is only the beginning…”.  How right were they?!  It’s 11 years later, and smartphones are part of our everyday lives just like getting dressed or going to work. As such, it’s no surprise that these devices will play an important role in how schools prepare, educate, and cultivate the next generation; particularly as it pertains to using video observations to improve instructional practices.

What does the future job industry look like?

According to the Institute For the Future, IFTF, 85% of the jobs people will have in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet (future jobs). This means that teachers today are preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. Let that sink in for a minute!  It’s critical that we help teachers and students prepare for this approaching reality.

What are the skills that will be needed?

Although we may not know what these jobs will be, we do know that students will need skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration as well as the ability to adjust quickly in a rapidly-changing technological world. But, if teachers are to better prepare students for this, teachers should be innovators, too (innovative teachers).

What are the goals in order to get there?

Billionaire venture capitalist John Doerr, an early backer of Google and Amazon, understands innovation. His success, he says, comes from setting transparent goals he calls OKRs (objectives and key results) and evaluating them. More importantly, however, is that Doerr also gives permission to fail, because he says it is better to aim high and meet 70% of your goals than aim low and meet 100% of them.  Perhaps this same idea should be applied to education to encourage teacher innovators as they create professional growth goals?  After all, a goal without a plan is just a wish.

What will determine success?

Teachers, too, need permission to fail. They need to be able to try new things without fear. This will open the door to innovative ideas that encourage student engagement focused on creative thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. Teachers and evaluators can use video observations, like iAspire Reflect, to discuss ideas that worked and change the ones that didn’t. In this way, teachers can equip students with the skills they need to navigate this brave new world.

Video observations are the future of teacher evaluations because they support self-reflection, allow for more frequent coaching cycles, and can be self-driven.  This allows teachers to adapt and grow so they can prepare students for those jobs that haven’t even been invented yet!

teacher evaluations

When Teacher Evaluations Fail – Lessons Learned!

Last week we explored some common pitfalls of teacher evaluations. Now, let’s discuss how evaluators can avoid these pitfalls and turn teacher evaluations into an effective process for professional growth and continuous improvement.  Here’s how:

Problem: Incorrect Perceptions or Just Checking Off the Boxes – In this scenario, the evaluator placed dots on a page to track teacher interaction with students. The focus of the classroom observation was to “check the boxes” of the evaluation. The feedback – that the teacher needed more dots – was not meaningful. This teacher was left wondering why. In this case a dot only meant a teacher spoke out loud with a student, not whether it was meaningful. The requirement that every student should have a dot during the classroom observation was arbitrary and didn’t add any value.

Solution: Establish and Communicate a Clear Objective for the Observation – Classroom observations should have a clear objective that helps to focus the intent of the teacher evaluation: what do effective teachers do? How can this teacher be more effective? The evaluator should use the dots to jumpstart a conversation that leads to teacher reflection. He could ask and/or observe what kind of conversations were taking place and how they represented student understanding of the material. This type of reflective dialogue encourages the teacher to become more self-aware of his engagement level with the students.

Problem: Small Sample Size or Bad Timing – In this scenario, evaluators based their evaluations on one or two short observations, some of which were poorly timed. This type of evaluation also failed because it only took into consideration a small sample of the teacher’s work over the course of the school year with the students.

Solution: Flexible Scheduling, Video Observations, Supportive Artifacts – Obviously, a larger sample size is the ideal way for the evaluator to fully understand the teacher’s effectiveness. However, the reality is that evaluators have numerous demands on their time, too, so spending more time on observations is not always feasible. An efficient solution is needed to improve the quality and fairness of the observations. What might that look like?

First, it’s important to observe a lesson more representative of a typical day in the classroom. Ask the teacher for a list of days that may not be the norm (e.g., perhaps they are giving a test) and avoid those days. Sometimes teachers are forced to change plans for various reasons (e.g., moving a test because there was a fire alarm), so evaluators should be willing to change plans also. Evaluators can even start the observation with a simple question, “Is this a good time?” and come back another day if there’s a reasonable explanation why it isn’t.

The evaluator can also supplement a short observation by looking at a unit lesson plan and/or having a conversation with the teacher about where the observed lesson worked into a unit. For example, they might observe a lecture and then through a conversation with the teacher see that it was essential context for students to understand a historical event, which they would later analyze and connect to a current issue. Had the evaluator only seen the lecture, they would’ve missed the depth of learning and application that was taking place in the classroom. A bigger picture evaluation would lead to more conversation and purposeful feedback, and it would be a more reasonable representation of the teacher’s work.

The evaluator and teachers can also use video observations to increase the number of lessons and activities observed, which then increases the number of coaching cycles with each teacher. Imagine a teacher recording themselves on their tablet or phone and then reviewing the video with their evaluator for targeted feedback. This is now possible with iAspire Reflect.

Problem: No Immediate Feedback is Provided – In this scenario, a teacher was briefly observed numerous times throughout the year to get a “snapshot” of what he did in class. However, his evaluator did not give him any feedback regarding these visits. He was left wondering what the observers were looking for and whether they had found it.

Solution: Use a Digital Solution with Immediate Feedback Capability – To make short observations more open and efficient, the evaluators should know what they’re looking for during the visit and provide immediate feedback. Are they checking to see if a specific curriculum is being taught, whether a certain methodology is being used, whether differentiation is taking place, or whether students are actively engaged? After the observation, there should be specific feedback related to these objectives, to reinforce strengths and improve weak areas.

In every scenario there were issues related to inconsistent feedback over a seemingly ambiguous set of objectives.

This means evaluators must have clearly-communicated objectives and also get a complete picture of the teacher’s work, regardless of the number and length of classroom observations. The feedback should then be based on these objectives and include opportunities for reflective dialogue. Follow these simple solutions, and you’ll create a teacher-centric and teacher-driven process for nurturing professional growth.

~Dawn Knight

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?”.


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