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How video coaching inspires teacher self-reflection

An interim superintendent shares how administrators, coaches, and educators have built a culture of coaching that has increased teacher retention and boosted student achievement

Key points:

The Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township has been successfully using video in our teacher professional learning for more than seven years. According to our recently retired former superintendent, Dr. Matt Prusiecki, the return on investment has been “tremendous” because “the entire district team is more reflective on practice, we’ve increased teacher retention, and most importantly, raised student achievement by improving the quality of instruction.”

Recent research highlights the value of video: A study conducted through the U.S. Department of Education looked at video-based coaching in about 100 elementary schools. A group of 350 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-grade teachers were split into groups. One group had five rounds of coaching in which they recorded themselves teaching and received feedback on the video. Another group had no video coaching. Compared to similar teachers who didn’t receive the additional coaching, those who received five rounds of coaching showed significant improvement in student achievement. Teachers with five or fewer years of experience and those with teaching practices in the bottom third of participants saw even greater improvement in both math and English language arts.

Here’s how we’ve used video coaching to improve all of our teachers’ self-reflection, growth mindset, and mastery of teaching practices.

Focusing on educators’ self-reflection

In every building, we have instructional leadership teams and professional learning communities (PLCs). These groups are part of our culture of coaching, which means that everyone, everywhere in our district, from top to bottom, receives coaching. Video has provided our leadership an opportunity to calibrate their coaching methods and evaluations by, for example, sharing a video and discussing how they would each score the teaching in it. It’s logistically difficult for colleagues to observe each other on an average day, but using video in our PLCs has allowed teachers to coach one another, even if they are never able to visit each other’s classes.

To get teachers comfortable with recording themselves, we put them in control of their own videos. We want them to take risks, and they need to be in the driver’s seat if they are going to feel safe enough to do that. That means they get to decide what they want help with and when they will record themselves. Just deciding what to focus on encourages teachers to reflect on their practice, and that’s a win even if no one else ever sees the video.

We ask teachers to just watch their videos and see what they notice, and see if there’s anything they could do better or that they’d like to change. From there, we encourage them to share it with one or two of the folks in their PLC as an opportunity to reflect on their practice with colleagues they trust, respect, and have chosen to be vulnerable with. When they’re ready, they may share videos with their principal, their whole PLC, or some other individual or group of educators.

We’ve also found that keeping the videos short is helpful. Our teachers say that about 10 minutes is the sweet spot–the same length as an observation by a coach or administrator.

Our early focus on high-quality self-reflection is not just a way to help teachers become comfortable recording and sharing videos, however. It’s also one of our end goals, and to measure progress we created a teacher reflection rubric as well as questions that teachers can keep an eye on as they watch their recordings. They’re designed to engage teachers in deeper reflection by asking themselves things like, “How did that question I asked impact my students’ learning? If I tweaked this, what would that do for my kids?”

Cultivating a growth mindset

As part of our culture of self-reflection, our instructional coaches share coaching videos with each other. This gives them the same opportunity as our teachers to reflect collaboratively, and it also supports districtwide alignment. Every coach in the district learns to speak the same language, and they’re able to bounce ideas off each other and broaden the discussion by sharing perspectives. It’s easy to say, “We all get coached and all have room to grow,” but video actually gives us the visibility into everyone’s practices necessary to actually get that coaching done.

I have complete confidence in our teachers. When we review videos together, the teacher points out areas for improvement in their practice before I get the chance. Video has also helped us to identify what’s working and what’s not when teachers get disparate results. A group of kindergarten teachers can plan together, for example, but all have different results in the classroom. Normally, figuring out why everyone saw different results is essentially a guessing game, but with video they can look into those different classrooms together to analyze and reflect on the differences they see and how those might affect outcomes.

It’s not about “catching” the teachers who are having less success. It can be about celebrating wins. It’s about examining the delivery, presentation, or general classroom atmosphere behind the success their colleagues are having. It creates a positive environment that is more focused on coaching than evaluation.

We know that it’s working because we send out surveys to our new teachers in their first five years, and the results have shown that video coaching has helped them feel more supported early on. New teachers tend to leave the field fast, and not feeling supported in the little things can have a huge impact on how satisfied they are in the job. Pairing them with a veteran educator through video is much easier than dealing with the logistics of in-person meetings, and having a mentor to check in with can make all the difference in the world when they think about whether they want to continue teaching.

We’ve also had an influx of people transitioning to teaching from previous careers. Sometimes those people haven’t been in a classroom since they were in high school, and having videos that allow them to see what their colleagues are doing helps them understand what it looks like to teach in settings they may not be familiar with. Fortunately, as I watch coaching videos, I often find myself thinking, “This is fantastic! We have such amazing teachers, and what better experts could we have than the teachers in our own district?” Video coaching has really helped us identify teachers who are doing phenomenal jobs. Now when we see exceptional teaching practice in a video, we’ll use it as an exemplar to share with other teachers in our district.

Sharing excellence through exemplar videos

Our library of exemplar videos shines a light on the strong teachers within our community and provides examples of excellence that we know work within the unique context of our district. But there’s also something to be said for videos created by teachers outside the district. Fortunately, Teaching Channel’s EMPOWER Platform provides a library of nearly 1,700 videos from educators around the country.

The videos cover best practices for questions, grouping, lesson structure, pacing, or anything else a teacher might need an example of. They’re a non-threatening way to get a conversation going. If we’re sharing in a group, calibrating on something, or even considering a practice, it’s nice to have examples from outside our district so that no one has to say what they like and dislike about the teaching performance of someone sitting right next to them.

Video coaching has helped us to see the growth our greatest practitioners have been cultivating in their classrooms all along, to share that progress with their colleagues, and to nurture teaching excellence in all our teachers.

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