3 tips to help inspire self-reflection in teachers

How a district administrator helped his teachers collaborate and improve their practice

As the supervisor of instruction in Haddon Township School District in New Jersey, I would love to be able to give my teachers feedback every week. Feedback is a crucial factor for growth and progress, especially for teachers, who are often starved for outside input on their classroom practice. The challenge is that I have 200 teachers in my district, so offering them detailed, individual coaching on a weekly basis simply isn’t feasible. It is feasible, however, for my teachers to give each other this type of frequent feedback.

To bring this idea to life, this year I have been piloting a collaborative reflection program with a few of my teachers. Here are three key lessons that we’ve learned so far.

Pair teachers who have a common goal.

A second- and third-grade teacher are collaborating, as well as two English teachers in the high school. Each pair has a common goal or problem they wish to solve. The elementary teachers are instituting new writing and mathematics programs, so it was a natural fit to investigate the vertical articulation and make sure the level of rigor across grade levels was appropriate. The English teachers are both new to our district this year. One has prior teaching experience, while the other one is brand new to teaching, so it was beneficial to pair two people who were new and who were teaching the same thing in order to share ideas across a common curriculum.

Use video to save time and inspire improvement.

At the beginning of the pilot, the teachers agreed to capture themselves on video at least three times, and share the recordings with their partner using ADVANCEfeedback from Insight ADVANCE. There was plenty of flexibility, with a couple teachers recording full hour-long lessons and others recording snippets of a focused practice.

The teachers loved it. They really liked being able to watch their partner teach without going into each other’s classrooms. Since we’re a relatively small district, I can arrange cross-classroom visitations for new teachers once or twice a year, but I really don’t have the staff or the resources to do visitations on a large scale.

I found that the teachers who recorded themselves were much more deliberate about what they were teaching and what they were sharing—and they were informally doing their own self-reflection and changing their practice even before they hit “share.” This means that when I am able to visit, formally or informally, I see better teaching and learning because of the collaboration and feedback that has happened before I was even in the room.

Expand organically.

There’s so much excitement among the initial pilot group that they’re already inviting their peers to participate. For instance, the second-grade teacher in the pilot is the only second-grade teacher in her building, so she wants to collaborate cross-building. There are eight second-grade teachers spread across five buildings in our district, and three buildings have only one second-grade teacher. There’s a real need to have grade-level collaboration across the district for these more isolated teachers.

I plan to use video to observe and provide feedback to my teachers more regularly. It lets me watch, rewind, and pause, which is something that you really can’t do while sitting in the classroom during a live observation. I would assume there’s a lot that I miss: not just bad stuff, but probably a ton of good things, too. I would love the opportunity to be able to slow that process down a bit so teachers can show me their best, or be able to show me something new they’re trying.

We’re starting a second cycle of the pilot for the spring semester. We’ll refine the program based on what the initial group has experienced, and next year we hope to expand it even further, with more educators participating. Given the enthusiasm from my teachers, and the need for district-wide collaboration, I believe the program has enormous potential.

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