Step 2: Growth Plus Evaluation for the Whole School

Next year, we are rolling out the video observation system to the whole school, and we will expand our focus to include both teacher growth and teacher evaluation. I have made it clear that I am looking for gradual improvement. I don’t expect that teachers will go from “needs improvement” to “highly effective” in one jump. Based on our experience this year, we’re talking about how often we will ask teachers to capture video next year.

When I’m not working, I love to cook, and right now I am trying to perfect a cheese soufflé recipe. For me, rolling out an initiative like this is like trying to get a recipe just right. We’ll try it, we’ll see how it tastes, and then we’ll adjust it to make it better next time.

To prepare for the 2017-2018 school year, I am asking teachers to pick a lesson that they’re going to teach in the first week or two school, and tape 10 or 15 minutes without the children. I want them to get used to seeing themselves—get comfortable with being on video.

Once school starts, I’ll have them tape a full class and I’ll meet with them in the third of fourth week of September, again using our instructional rubric to evaluate. Most importantly, I’ll be able to ask each teacher, “What did you see that would you like to work on for this quarter or this half of the year?”

Our teachers are excited about using video, because more than anything, it removes the “gotcha” piece of teacher evaluation. I don’t like that kind of atmosphere. I want to create an atmosphere where teachers want to get better at teaching, and where I can be there to help them do their best.

One way I can do that is by creating a resource library of videos to showcase our teachers who are doing something really creative. Those videos also serve as a digital portfolio for the teacher. I hope that all of my teachers stay with me for their whole career, but realistically, they won’t, and having an objective example of their work in the classroom is going to set them apart from any other teacher, wherever they’re going.

Step 3: International Collaboration Without Travel

This fall, our video initiative will expand not only to every classroom in the school, but across the ocean to South Africa as well. HUMS is on the campus of Howard University, which is where Nelson Mandela got his law degree. Last year, one of Mandela’s fellow freedom fighters in the Soweto uprising, Dr. Jacob Ngakane, came to visit our school. Dr. Ngakane is now the head of a nonprofit that supports education in South Africa.

Like some of our students at HUMS, many students in South Africa have difficulty with mathematics. They get to 10th grade and switch to general math, so when they finish high school they can’t get into college, and very few jobs are available to them. During his visit, Dr. Ngakane and I talked, determined to come up with a way that our children and our teachers could collaborate.

At Dr. Ngakane’s invitation, I went to visit South Africa and talked to teachers, children, and principals. I told a principal about how we do observations with video, and we realized that we can collaborate without traveling. Starting this fall, we plan to share video snippets of good math teaching with each other.

As a former math teacher, I am thrilled at the prospect of working with other math teachers around the world. We are a global community, united in our goal of giving students the opportunity to excel and making sure they are ready for the jobs that the 21st century will provide.

About the Author:

Kathryn Procope is the Head of School at Howard University Middle School in Washington, DC.