This post is sponsored by Insight Education Group.
In parts one and two of this blog series, we discussed not only the challenges that schools face in implementing effective teacher observation and evaluation systems, but the promising evidence that classroom video can improve how educators grow.
In this third and final post, we take a close look at how teachers in one school district are using video – and the remarkable results they’re seeing.
When Newton County Schools System (NCSS), a 20,000-student district in Georgia, decided to install camera and audio systems in the classrooms of its 23 schools, the primary goal was to reduce disciplinary issues and improve student safety. But as Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey explains, it didn’t take long before they began thinking much bigger about how video could impact nearly every aspect of teaching and learning within the district.
At the time, NCSS’ administrators and instructional leaders were also grappling with issues that are unfortunately all too common: new and heightened curricular expectations and declining student achievement scores – without enough professional support for teachers or funding.
“We discovered video as an economical way to help address deficiencies in areas where we didn’t have staff,” said Fuhrey. When Georgia adopted its new coordinate algebra standards and assessment, NCSS did not have a mathematics coordinator to provide teachers with support, so district leaders decided to leverage the video technology.
Recognizing a need for content-area expertise and relevant feedback for teachers that they couldn’t provide on their own, NCSS partnered with Insight Education Group. It was a natural fit, as Insight has a team of highly-skilled coaches who specialize in a variety of content areas, including secondary mathematics, with experience using video for coaching, too.
The district’s 10 coordinate algebra teachers filmed lessons and sent them to an Insight coach, who provided the content-specific and actionable feedback teachers needed to adjust and improve instructional practices. The teachers embraced the process almost immediately. As one NCSS teacher put it, “If a system provides an opportunity to hone your craft and receive more individualized support, then why would you not use that to your full advantage?”
Not only did teachers feel more supported than ever before, according to Fuhrey, proficiency scores increased dramatically in just 6 months. Prior to the project, the district’s high schools had a coordinate algebra pass rate of just 19%. After, however, these same schools showed improvement levels higher than the rest of the state. “State movement was only about 3 points,” she says proudly. “We improved as much as 15 points.”
Motivated by these results, district leaders quickly decided to expand the program to other schools, with more teachers in various disciplines now filming their instruction and engaging with specialized coaches.
Doing things differently – and getting better results
Increased student achievement hasn’t been the only added benefit of video technology, however. According to Fuhrey, there has been an observable culture shift among teachers and school leaders around professional growth, bringing fresh perspectives and much-needed developments to the district’s professional learning, observation and evaluation processes. Fuhrey says this new mindset has led to:
- Improved teacher-observer dialogue. Video has changed the way observers give – and teachers receive – feedback, and created a new trust between teachers and evaluators, says Fuhrey. “It’s not what I saw, it’s what we see together,” she explains. “We’re on the same side looking at the footage together. When you use video in this way, teachers trust you that you’re not about playing ‘gotcha’ — it’s about professional development and improving practice. It’s fantastic.”
- Enhanced self–reflection among teachers. Fuhrey says teachers are doing more self-reflection and peer collaboration in PLCs. “Teachers are filming themselves and sharing the footage in their PLCs to see ‘what can I do better, what did I miss’,” she explains. “Or they identify excellent instruction and share that footage. They’re sharing and talking about their own instruction. They’re improving instruction from the ground up. It’s transformed a great deal of the work our teachers do.”
- More efficient evaluator processes. Georgia has rather extensive guidelines for teacher evaluations, often resulting in time-consuming processes for school leaders. However, Fuhrey saw the potential of classroom video to improve the evaluation process and secured approval from Georgia Department of Education to give teachers the option to submit videos for review. “Evaluators can now view the footage at any time within certain observation windows,” she says. “They don’t have to be present in the classroom so they’re able to maximize their time.” Eliminating scheduling concerns also allows for more thoughtful assessment of practices and relevant feedback that can make the entire process more productive.
Clearly, change is on the horizon at NCSS. Not only has the district’s original goal been met (discipline referrals are down 90% in the first year), teachers are seeking and receiving support like never before. Data confirms dramatic increases in student achievement, and teachers report a marked increase in student engagement and participation. The future, according to Fuhrey, is very bright for NCSS.
“Our high school scores have never been higher,” Fuhrey says. “Our discipline problems have decreased significantly. And our underperforming students are doing very well. I attribute much of that to the fact that we’re doing things differently.”
Insight Education Group is an educational consulting and product development firm that supports the growth of teachers and school leaders.
Dr. Michael Moody is the founder and CEO of Insight Education Group. His experiences as a classroom teacher, school and district administrator and consultant have given him a unique perspective on both the challenges and opportunities in education today.