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How peer video coaching is completely changing how our teachers teach

By Diane Lauer
February 2nd, 2016

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Peer-to-peer video comments are changing how one district’s teachers think about their practice

A new era of professional development is sweeping into districts across the country, and just in time. For many districts, the days of after-school PowerPoint-driven lectures not differentiated by content, expertise, grade-level or delivery, not to mention daylong workshops on an obsolete topic, have recently given way to face-to-face coaching programs and professional learning communities. And in St. Vrain Valley School District, where we serve 32,000 students in seven towns northwest of Denver, we’ve gone one step further.

We’ve augmented our professional development program with an online video coaching platform for classroom observation through one-on-one coaching and collaborative study teams. As one of nine exemplar districts designated by the U.S. Department of Education to be “Future Ready,” the integration of video coaching is an extension of our pledge to empower educators through personalized learning. But our decision also created some cognitive dissonance as we migrated to video coaching.

Hard questions lead to the right answer

While our PD coaching team was excited by the promise of video coaching enhancing teacher support, we were cautious in implementing the new video-powered process. Would video coaching effectively build upon the quality relationships we hold so dear with our teachers? Would the time involved tip the balance for those who are already stretched too thin? Would teachers benefit from the process in noticeable ways? We found that the adoption of the Edthena online video coaching and reflection platform not only strengthened our district coaching program, but our school-based collaborative learning programs as well.

Developed by a former certified science teacher and principal, the platform helps schools and districts implement video observation in many scenarios, including teacher induction, teacher mentoring, professional learning communities (PLCs), and peer observation. Teachers using the platform analyze their instructional practice through recorded video and online collaboration tools. They upload videos of classroom instruction and share with colleagues who provide time-synced comments.

The company just launched a new iOS app, which makes it possible to have a video uploaded before the class period is finished. Since our teachers and students each have access to iPad minis as part of our district plan to transform learning through robust technology-enriched learning environments, providing a video coaching tool they can use with their iPad minis really empowers teachers to own the observation and reflection process. That, in turn, accelerates the rate at which teachers implement changes to improve their craft because they can now upload videos of classroom instruction directly from mobile devices.

A picture IS worth 1,000 words

Teachers really appreciate watching themselves and their peers in action. It’s powerful. It helps to generate ideas of how to teach concepts in new and engaging ways. And it instantly moves abstract theory into concrete conceptualizations. It also offers them the opportunity for pure, personal reflection because they can see themselves in action, acknowledging their strengths and identifying where they need to grow. As I’ve told my team, video = data. When our teachers and their coach connect face-to-face, the teachers are primed for deep conversations that incorporate concrete examples. And that’s beneficial for both veteran teachers and new hires.

For example, this year, one coach and teacher focused on the transition time between when the class bell rang and when learners actually got to work. They used the video to capture evidence of student behavior, and then they used the time-stamping feature in Edthena to measure it. Together, the coach and the teacher worked to decrease wasted learning time and clarify what engagement really looks like.

We also documented a case where a reflection from classroom observation raised questions relative to the ratio of positive interactions with students. The teacher thought she was providing a high ratio of positive interactions, but she couldn’t recall concrete examples. So the coach invited the teacher to video her instruction to note the positive engagements on her own. Even before the coach returned the following week, the teacher set a goal for herself for a 5:1 positive to negative student interactions each day and began changing her practice. Again, video = data.

The fact that the online video coaching accelerated the pace of the professional development cycle even before the coach returned to the classroom was an important discovery for our PD coaches. Our teachers no longer had to wait until our next scheduled coaching conversation to reflect or plan a new goal. We started thinking about how we could empower teachers to drive their own learning and continuous growth with us as their guide on the side.

Moving forward

As you contemplate your staff development for this year and beyond, consider the options available to you that empower teachers and accelerate their growth. How might you leverage a more differentiated, participant-driven professional sharing via 21st century technologies that specifically allow educators to curate, create, and collaborate amongst themselves quickly and conveniently on the things that matter to them personally?

We are on the cusp of a revolution in professional development. As instructional leaders we are uniquely positioned to harness today’s tools to provide rich self-generated and peer-to-peer learning without the constraints of geography and time. If we want 21st century learners in our classrooms, shouldn’t we embrace 21st century learning to foster professional growth?

About the Author:

Diane Lauer is executive director of professional development and assessment for St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado.