Steven Lamkin and Todd Nesloney
Two principals share advice on cultivating teacher-led video reflection for professional growth.
There is nothing worse than sitting through professional development that has nothing to do with what I’m doing in my classroom.” This sentiment, expressed by a 4th grade teacher in Maryland, is a valid and collectively shared lament of teachers across the United States. For many years, we have known that the “sit-and-get,” one-size-fits-all approach to professional learning is mildly effective at best (Garet et al., 2001). And yet, it still widely prevails as the main method of professional development in most schools and districts. As building principals, we want to support personalized learning for our teachers. We firmly believe that teachers deserve to be respected as professionals and learners. Managing individualized learning paths for an entire staff of educators, however, can be a daunting task.
We have found that making purposeful use of video technology can help enhance the process. Video, of course, is a widely used tool for training and educational purposes across a range of professions. Professional football players wouldn’t dream of not watching game tapes as a strategy for preparing for their next opponent. By the same token, wouldn’t it make sense for teachers to use video reflection from one day’s lesson to prepare for the challenges of the lessons that lie ahead? While the value of video study is widely documented and video has been used in education since the 1960s, video-based professional development still isn’t a pervasive practice in today’s schools.
We believe that using video for guided self-reflection has the power to transform professional learning in schools in a manner that truly places teachers as the leaders of their own learning. Our experiences as building leaders in two vastly different school settings have led us to several shared conclusions about how to introduce and sustain video use for job-embedded professional development in preK–12 schools.
Creating a Video-Friendly Culture
As with anything, the culture of a school can make or break an initiative before it is ever introduced to the staff. Video use for professional learning is no different. Jim Knight (2014) emphasizes that watching oneself on video can be an emotionally challenging task. For that reason, a psychologically safe environment must first be cultivated. It is not enough for school leaders simply to say that they support innovation and risk taking: New practices must be modeled, and failure must be expected and embraced.
One way to build a culture that leverages video use is to introduce it for a variety of purposes, not just for professional development. We both utilize video as a method for sending announcements or other communications to school staff and families. We have modeled the use of tech tools such as Flipgrid, a video-focused response platform, for exit tickets from staff meetings or to gather and share short “shout-out” videos to celebrate staff members. Facebook Live has been an effective tool to build connections with school families; we have even used it to read stories aloud to students at bedtime and on snow days. Modeling the use of low-stakes video in safe, non-invasive ways has laid important groundwork in making video an accepted and valued component of learning at our schools.
We also strongly believe in the importance of leading by example. A school leader can record him- or herself teaching model lessons in classrooms and allow teachers to provide critiques and ways to improve. Not only does this demonstrate vulnerability, but it also shows the rest of the team that no one is above learning and growing. Teachers benefit from seeing their leader from a different perspective and school leaders might better understand and empathize with their teachers.
Another essential component of building a video-friendly school culture is ensuring that teachers are confident that their privacy will be respected. There is a careful balance between using video for evaluation and for professional growth; while those two purposes can work in unison, teachers must be confident that video recordings won’t ever be held as documented evidence against them. Technology can help with this. Swivl, for example, is a robotic mount (for iPads, cameras, and smartphones) that allows teachers to record video in their classroom easily and without needing another person to operate a camera. Teachers can upload videos to their own personal “Swivl Cloud,” which puts them in control of when, with whom, and how videos are shared. This simple act of empowerment places each teacher in the driver’s seat of their professional learning journey.
Theories of adult learning hold that adults learn best when they are provided with autonomy, when their learning helps them solve real-world issues that they are facing, and when the motivation for learning is internalized (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2012). While the act of watching video of oneself teaching is a step toward individualizing professional learning, implementing video-based reflection with a standardized approach for all staff does not support how adults best learn and could, potentially, be detrimental to professional growth. Allowing teachers to choose how they utilize video to meet their own goals and needs could be the single most important component in integrating video into professional learning.
Individual, personal reflection can be powerfully amplified when video is added. Since many teacher evaluation rubrics cite reflection as a measure of effective teaching, it is important for leaders to provide opportunities for teachers to reflect in meaningful ways. We have found that in many cases, when teachers know that no one else will watch the video except for themselves, they are more willing to give it a try. Providing teachers with some standard questions to guide their reflection, such as “What did you notice that went well in your lesson?” or “Did anything on the video surprise you about yourself or your students?” can be a helpful practice. Additionally, teachers have reported that it is helpful to watch the video more than one time, often focusing their attention on different components of the classroom with subsequent viewings. As administrators, we can still engage in reflective conversations with teachers about their recorded lessons, even if we haven’t watched the videos ourselves. We can simply inquire into what the teacher learned and what changes they plan to make in their classroom as a result.
For some teachers, viewing videos with a trusted mentor or within a professional learning community can provide fresh insight into their instructional practices. For example, a colleague may notice that a teacher tends to linger in certain places in the room rather than moving around freely. Of course, this requires trust among teachers and may not be effective if it is forced or mandated. Teachers have expressed that although watching video in groups can be “absolutely terrifying,” the rewards almost always outweigh the risks.
We have also worked with teachers who have asked to utilize video as a part of the formal classroom observation process. Since teacher evaluation and professional learning should work in tandem, we have welcomed this opportunity and have found it to be powerful, not only for teachers, but for ourselves as administrators. For some teachers, a video recording device is less intimidating in a classroom than the physical presence of an administrator. The video, then, may capture a more realistic picture of the classroom environment.
Video recording also provides a grounded and objective depiction of the classroom around which a follow-up conference and discussion can be framed. When conducting a video observation, we each typically watch the video alone before the follow-up conference and ask the teacher to do the same. Then each party comes to the conversation with two specific segments of the video to watch and discuss together—one clip that displays something to celebrate and one clip that will evoke discussion and allow for constructive feedback.
While teacher choice is essential, we believe that one component must be enforced whether video is used for individual reflection, group study, or supervision. Teachers must be asked to identify the positive aspects of the lesson captured, which serves as the foundation for conversations. While the adage that we are our own worst critic is true in most circumstances, it is often intensified when watching yourself on video. Intentionally helping teachers to identify positive aspects of their recorded lesson and instructional delivery is essential to building a positive experience that results in lasting learning.
Turning the Spotlight on Students
Because watching yourself on video can be uncomfortable, especially at first, it can be helpful to encourage hesitant teachers to focus on students rather than themselves (either by angling the camera on students or by zeroing in on them during reflection). A 3rd grade teacher shared, “What I’m doing is only as good as what’s being reflected out in the kids, so I need to see what they are doing, too.”
Focusing the recording on students can be a simple way to test the waters. Often times, we have found that it results in a spark of curiosity, creating a gateway for teachers to then use video to analyze their teaching. Again, the Swivl or a similar device can be a useful recording tool because it follows a teacher’s movements around the classroom, capturing the students as well. The complexities of teaching are vast, and even teachers with a highly developed sense of “with-it-ness” cannot capture and process every single classroom event that occurs while teaching.
Teachers have reported learning a great deal about student engagement, behavior, and learning from watching video of their classrooms. One teacher noticed a student demonstrating leadership in an independent group setting that was captured on video. She had never noticed that particular quality in the student before and was able to intentionally help him build on those skills. Another teacher recognized that a student was having a more difficult time staying on task than she had realized. After seeing the video, she employed strategies that helped the student achieve greater academic and social success in the classroom. These types of insights can help teachers strengthen their relationships with students and more effectively meet their needs.
Room to Grow
Ultimately, teacher leadership is the key to maximizing the impact of video for teacher-led professional learning. Rather than rolling out yet another mandated, schoolwide initiative, we suggest that school leaders work to foster an environment in which the process of video-based professional learning can grow and develop organically. Begin by identifying a small group of teachers who are genuinely intrigued at the prospect of using video. Allow them to experiment, work at their own pace, and use video in ways that suit their professional learning needs. Often, as school leaders, the best thing we can do is to simply ask good questions that encourage teachers to keep learning and offer our assistance along the way. Then, we must encourage those teachers to share their story with others in the school building and beyond. While we have provided teachers with structured opportunities to share their experiences using video-based reflection, such as in faculty meetings or professional learning communities, often the most meaningful conversations occur informally, in the teacher workroom or over lunch. Together we learn more; and when we share our stories, we empower others to share theirs.
Few things are as powerful as a meaningful learning experience shared between colleagues. When a core group of teachers has developed a true appreciation for the value of using video for professional learning, it can ignite a genuine interest among others that spreads naturally, keeping teachers as the true leaders of their own learning. At each of our schools, teacher-led video reflection has been a catalyst for both instructional and cultural change. Teachers have implemented new instructional strategies and used video to hold themselves accountable for monitoring the effectiveness of those techniques with their students. Video-based PLC conversations have fostered greater levels of trust among colleagues, coaches, and administrators. And perhaps most important, video-based learning has helped shift the mindset that professional development is an ongoing process rather than an isolated event. After engaging in a series of video-based lesson reflections, a 2nd grade teacher shared the following: “The more I watch, the more I’ll learn. Everyone has room to grow.”
› Do teachers in your school commonly use video for self-reflection and professional learning? If not, what obstacles stand in the way and how could they be addressed?› As a school leader, how could you help initiate or enhance this practice (while ensuring that it’s teacher-led)?› What advantages might video-based reflection have as a form of professional learning? How could it improve instructional practices in your school district?
November 2018 | Volume 76 | Number 3
When Teachers Lead Their Own Learning Pages 50-54