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How video is redefining teacher development

8 min read


This post is sponsored by Teaching Channel.

 Video is redefining how teacher development happens for many education organizations, creating personalized, professional learning experiences and an evidence base of improving teacher practice. In this Expert Spotlight Q&A, Teaching Channel CEO Pat Wasley explains why the use of video is so powerful, and describes how it is being used effectively.

Pat has been a public school administrator, a researcher, a university professor and a dean of both the Bank Street Graduate School of Education and the University of Washington College of Education. Along the way, she has worked in a variety of roles to understand how to prepare and support teachers as they develop an ever-growing and sophisticated repertoire of approaches for working with children.


What are some of the major barriers to teacher growth?

Pat Wasley: There are a few identifiable conditions that have historically held teachers back from growing the way they would like to grow. For one thing, teachers work alone in their classrooms so they don’t get a chance to see other people teach. It’s really hard to improve your practice if you don’t see anybody else teach. And the result is that most teachers teach the way they were taught.

Also, teachers often don’t receive much feedback on their instruction. They might get an evaluation from their principal twice a year, but most teachers report that this is not enough feedback to help them grow all year long. Teachers need a way to get more frequent input. Add to this the fact that many professional learning experiences are passive, ‘sit-n-get’ experiences, that is, an idea or strategy is presented without any opportunity for teachers to interact with it, or any structure put in place to promote the use and adaptation of the strategy, and what you end up with is little to no change in teaching practice.

How does video unlock teacher potential?

PW: Video addresses the challenges I mentioned in very powerful ways, and it’s having a profound impact on teachers’ professional learning. When teachers watch video of their colleagues, they develop a broader imagination for how teaching can be done. Watching videos of teaching collected from across the country, or across your district, helps people see all kinds of methods and approaches they might not have tried in their own teaching.

Ellen Lugo, assistant superintendent for Upland Unified School District, which uses the Teaching Channel Teams video-based professional learning platform, shared a story with me about one of her teachers. In a district meeting with teachers, administrators and the teacher’s union, the teacher said that in her 30 years of teaching, she had only been able to visit about 10 classrooms to watch other models of teaching. After about five months of implementing the Teams platform, she had visited over 100 classrooms. This is huge, and demonstrates one way in which video helps to break down barriers to teacher growth.

When teachers take the use of video to the next level and record and watch themselves trying new, or even existing, strategies, they are able to reflect — on their own or with colleagues or coaches — on their approaches to working with students in a much more concrete way. Cameras are always more reliable than memories! Additionally, recording their own practice provides an evidence-base of improving practice as teachers first try, and then refine, a wide range of strategies. As Jennifer Wolfe, a teacher at Oceanside School District and Teams enthusiast explains,

“Our focus has always been about enhancing professional practice. Teaching Channel Teams was a great way for us to introduce examples of effective teaching, but also to support what we were doing with teachers with actual evidence of it being done. With the Teams platform, we can create these Groups, these really healthy spaces where we can continue to talk about teaching and the work we do together. That’s pretty great because it doesn’t become a one-hit wonder, something that you forget the second that you put your key in the door in the parking lot; it becomes a living thing.”

What does the research say about the use of video for professional learning?

PW: There is a wealth of research on the use of video for professional learning. One important finding is related to the importance of a teacher’s ability to ‘notice’. Video allows teachers to go back and watch their interactions with students over and over again, enabling them to pick up on cues they might have missed in the moment. We also know from the research that sustained reflection on video helps teachers pay attention to classroom interactions in new ways, learn to more effectively diagnose student thinking, and interpret the impact of pedagogical techniques.

In a recent webinar we did with our colleague, author and coaching expert Jim Knight, he summed this up by saying that the power of video is is in its ability to provide a clear picture of our practice, and that a clear picture of reality is the starting point for effective professional learning.

What does it look like when video is used as a central component of a professional learning program?

PW: Innovative districts across the country are using the Teams video-enabled professional learning platform to address a wide range of initiatives. A few of the most interesting programs focus on coaching, professional learning communities (PLCs), and new teacher mentor programs.

Michelle Rooks, a fourth-year middle school instructional coach and member of a 10-person district-wide team, is leading the charge in Teton County School District to integrate video as a foundational practice of teacher learning, with the objective of ensuring that all students are taught by effective teachers. As Michelle explained in a webinar, in Teton County, video is used at every part of the coaching cycle, from planning conversations with teachers, to instruction, to student interactions and interviews. The time-stamped Notes feature in Teams is a key tool for Teton coaches and helps them identify specific moments of practice in exemplar videos as well as teacher-generated videos.

The collaboration between coach and teacher has improved in many ways. Not only are coaches and teachers able to connect more often, even on a daily basis, via private Teams Groups but, as Michelle explains, the use of video has “opened bigger, more honest conversations about what we are actually seeing. The teachers have grown more comfortable with discussions about what occurred in the video after reading through my notes. Because you are pointing something out to them and they can see it, the discussions, and the learning, go so much faster. The evidence is right there in front of all of us.”

In another webinar, Brandon Dorman from Fresno Unified School District described the work they are doing with their Innovative Professional Learning Grant. The goal of this work is to provide effective professional learning experience to support comprehensive implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Video has a central role in their redesigned Professional Learning Updraft System (PLUS). Among other things, Fresno implemented quarterly cycles in which teachers and leaders work together to design modules, engage in lesson study, and engage in calibrated scoring and analysis of student work. This is supported through their Accountable Communities (a more structured form of PLCs), which now meets both in-person and online via the Teams platform. Video is used at each point in this process to connect leadership with what teachers are learning, and to make the learning more visible and participatory.

Tulsa Public Schools has integrated video in a number of professional learning initiatives. Jamie Lomax, director of Title I for Tulsa, provided insight into this work in a webinar. The district is using video for its New Teacher Mentor program and its Critical Friends Groups (CFGs, another form of an effective PLC). The district has also created a set of their own videos aligned to their Teacher Effectiveness Model. The videos are stored and shared on their private Teams platform, allowing all teachers to access effective models of instruction demonstrated by their colleagues.

Tulsa’s New Teacher Mentors are instructional coaches for first-year teachers. The program begins with a meeting between the teacher and mentor to discuss what the teacher wants to focus on. Then they capture video of the mentee’s instruction using the Tch recorder app, load it into their Teams group, and then each person views the video and uses the time-stamped Notes to annotate the video. After, they meet virtually or in person to discuss what they saw, and define areas where the teaching is going well, as well as areas that need further refinement. Videos from the Teams or Tulsa library that demonstrate effective practice in the areas that need work are posted to the Group to provide a model for the new teacher to observe and analyze. When asked about the effectiveness of using video with new teachers, the mentors agreed that video has been the difference-maker in helping new teachers grow quickly.

These are just a few examples of the innovative, effective work that is being done with video-based professional learning across the country. There are so many more; so many educators are grasping the power of video. It is such an exciting time to be an educator.