Any good teacher understands the value of learning and personal growth. Why else would teachers pursue new and creative ways to engage their students, to lead them to new depths of thought, and to open up their world to new possibilities. Teachers desperately want to be effective, because they care about their students. However, the process of learning and perfecting new approaches has one key ingredient that is sometimes skirted over a little to hastily: reflection. We all reflect to a certain degree; otherwise we would never see any need to improve our practice at all. But do we reflect on our lessons to the level of depth that leads us to the specific deficits or weaknesses in our daily behaviors of which changes will lead to highly impactful improvements on our practice? Such reflection requires an individual to give immediate attention to the behavior at hand, otherwise our memory fades and we lose the details of the event. Luckily we live in a century that has a tool that will not fade like our memory and will capture the truth (whether we like it or not) and that is video.
On our campus we have seen video be a powerful tool for self-reflection and a driver of growth and change. Doing so was simple but effective. Below you will find three ways to use video on your campus, two of which I have personally used and a third that I have recently read about and I plan to use soon.
- Video Learning Teams (VLTs): I first learned of VLTs from a book called Focus on Teaching: Using Video for High-Impact Instruction written by Jim Knight, pioneer and advocate for the instructional coach approach. Simply VLTs are groups of teachers that agree to review one another’s recorded lessons and subsequently provide feedback. I first presented this idea on our campus as an option for growth. As a rule for myself and those I supervise I have one most important rule: I don’t care how you do it, but you always must be learning and growing in some way. VLTs was one option that I provided our campus to learn and grow. I was pleased to have ten of our forty teachers sign up to participate of which I created three groups. The process was simple: (1) record the first teacher’s lesson using the Swivl Robot (more information on the Swivl Robot HERE), (2) share the video with the recorded teacher, (3) the recorded teacher watches his/her video and provides two or three big “Look For’s” to give the group an area on which to focus their feedback, (4) share the video with the other group members who then take notes and prepare for feedback, and (5) the group meets to watch any important parts of the lesson to help shed light on practice and feedback is shared. The process is then repeated with the remaining teachers within the group.
- Campus Wide Video Reflections: Because we believe in the power of video reflection so much on our campus we actually made it a requirement for each teacher to be recorded at least once during the school year. Establishing this requirement set off several alarms in our staff, so to show teachers how serious we were about having a growth mindset during this experience all three administrators also were recorded while teaching a lesson (more about this powerful experience in the post One of the Scariest Things I’ve Ever Done). Also to calm teachers’ fears we set a rule that only the person being recorded would ever see the video unless they explicitly asked someone else to watch it. In fact only two people ever had access to the video at any given time: myself who recorded the video using the Swivl and the recorded teacher. Setting this rule set minds at ease even further. Simply recording teachers, however, would not lead to a direct realization of areas of needed growth or to subsequent action. To encourage the growth process further each teacher was required to then write a short reflection on their strengths and weaknesses within the lesson, rate themselves in their area of refinement from our teacher appraisal system, and create specific actions that would be taken to address the areas of needed growth. Lastly, each teacher shared the reflection with their appraiser, and followed up with a one on one meeting to further reflect and create an action plan.
- Video Stimulated Reflective Dialogues (VSRDs): VSRDs are very similar to Video Learning Teams from above, but with one important distinguishing element. Once a teacher has been recorded all those involved, whether that be an administrator and teacher, or just two teachers, watch the recorded lesson. After the lesson has been watched once the two meet to watch the video a second time but this time with additional reflective questions. In other words, the video serves as a “stimulant” for discussion. For example, if in the video a teacher responds to a student’s answer with a correction rather than a probing question, the teacher may be asked, “Why did you choose to respond this way? What other responses may have further prompted the student to think through the problem?” Such a dialogue requires great trust between the two participating parties, so make sure strong relationships have been formed before attempting VSRDs.
Using strategies such as these can sometimes be uncomfortable, but I leave you with this quote: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” True growth and change require a little bit of discomfort, but the lives you will impact will be worth all the effort.