In 2017, in an effort to empower our teacher leadership and improve camaraderie and collaboration, the Decatur Township Metropolitan School District in Indiana started using video for coaching. Along the way, we found video of teachers in the classroom to be a powerful tool for encouraging teacher self-reflection, which led to tremendous growth.
Here’s how we’ve made it work.
Using the PD for support, not personnel files
Coaching and teacher evaluation should be available to teachers to support them and help them become better teachers, never to reprimand them. In a coaching environment, teachers must not be afraid to fail. We want them to try new and different things, and they need to know without a doubt that their coaches are there to support them.
We do give teachers the choice to use video in their evaluations, but it can only empower them in that context as well. They are able to record and re-record themselves as many times as they like. Many people probably feel a little uncomfortable at the idea of watching themselves do their job on video. No one would choose to record themselves if there was a chance that they may be penalized for it. Our teachers all choose video because they know they can reshoot until they’re confident they have captured a video that shows them doing a good job. If they turn in a video that reflects poorly on them, that becomes a teachable moment they can discuss with teacher leadership rather than worry about official corrective measures.
How our teachers came around to the idea
Along the way, each time they watch themselves, teachers are reflecting on their practice and looking for ways to make it better for the next attempt. The video becomes a tool that gives them ownership over their own growth before they even submit it to a coach or evaluator.
Making it optional was also key in bringing the teachers union on board. It’s easy to say yes to giving teachers an option, but we also had to gain their trust that we would not use videos to reprimand teachers or lower their evaluation scores.
Although many of our teachers now choose to use video for coaching, it took some time for everyone to come around. Many teachers jumped at the idea that they would not have to teach nervously while an administrator sat in a corner of their classroom watching and judging everything they did. Those who were less sure came around as they saw more of their colleagues doing it and talking about how much better the experience was.
Teachers’ peers are going to be the best advocates for large professional development initiatives like this. It takes patient persistence and persistent patience to allow large change to develop organically. Letting them adopt a change at their own pace helped it take root in a much better way.
Aligning the district on video for coaching
For that natural buy-in to be complete, you must have alignment up and down the organization. Everyone must believe that the new tools are a viable option for improving teaching. Aligning the district is a two-way street.
Our PD is focused on student achievement throughout the year. That means that teachers are working with teacher leadership on how to read data and how to respond to it. Teacher leadership, in turn, comes to the administration and tells them what they are seeing. That informs the direction that the administration decides to move in next. If that alignment is working properly, teachers will be able to see improvement from formative assessment to formative assessment and even from state test to state test.
A team that’s in alignment will say, “This is what we need to do,” not “This is what the central office is telling us to do.” Part of that is in the delivery, and part is in allowing buy-in to grow organically from the bottom up instead of forcing it from the top down.
Adopting video for coaching has given us an opportunity to create additional resources for educator growth. Over the last few years, our district has built a library of exemplar videos, recorded by our own teachers, showing excellent teaching in practice. This library is useful not only because it recognizes the quality teaching happening right here in our own schools, but also because we know that these resources are completely aligned to our district culture.
We’ve been using the Teaching Channel’s Engage Feedback video platform and also have started using videos from the Engage Library. The library expands the depth and breadth of already vetted practices our teachers can see at work. Sometimes looking outside the district for fresh ideas is the best way to improve practice. Sometimes leaning on the strengths of the educators inside our district will be better. Combining the two gives us the best of both worlds.
The use of teachers’ video in coaching and evaluation has helped us create a more cohesive and aligned organization across our district. It has empowered teachers throughout our district to take ownership of their own development and practice. That, in turn, has improved staff retention and raised student achievement. It has made it clear for leadership to see who is committed to changing students’ lives so they can celebrate their success. At the same time, it has helped teachers who had a little more room to grow and self-reflect to find their own path to becoming the best teachers they can be.
Matthew Prusiecki, Ph.D., is the superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township in Indianapolis, where they use Teaching Channel to implement video for teacher coaching and evaluation. He can be reached at [email protected].
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