Action Replay

Michael Moody explains how video can give educators insight into their performance

The link between teacher quality and student outcomes has become clear in both research and practice. It’s now widely accepted that teachers are the most important influence on student achievement, and with two-thirds of states adopting more comprehensive and rigorous observation and evaluation systems, policy has shifted significantly in response.

Despite the consensus on the importance of teacher efficacy and the amount of resources now devoted to accountability initiatives, the real connection between educator-effectiveness systems and measurable improvements in instructional practices is still missing in most districts and schools.
Observations and evaluations should not be just acts of compliance, but rather, opportunities to promote teacher growth through meaningful and actionable feedback.

This missing connection is particularly problematic in specific content areas like foreign languages and literature, as well as in classrooms with English language learners. Observers in these cases must have a deep understanding of both the content and context of lessons, but such specialization is rare. When feedback is provided by observers without the relevant backgrounds, it’s often irrelevant to teachers and doesn’t adequately promote growth.

In a recent poll conducted by Insight Education Group and SmartBrief Education, nearly 70% of teachers reported that they do not receive meaningful and actionable feedback on their instructional practices from current observation and evaluation systems.

It’s not hard to understand why so many teachers feel this way. However, there is a solution that may improve the situation: video.

The use of video technology is commonplace in many industries — perhaps most notably, sports. Reviewing practice and game film has been identified in sports as one of the most effective methods for enhancing performance. Peyton Manning, perhaps one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play, is known for spending hours reviewing tapes of every pass he throws. Just like great teachers and school leaders, great athletes and coaches are always looking to improve, working on specific skills together, and discussing ways to find the winning edge.

Video technology is effective in sports for the same reasons it’s effective in education.

Brandon Carpenter, a successful principal and coach from Carter County, Tennessee, used game film for years with his basketball team to help connect feedback and learning for his players. When he had the opportunity to use video in his school, he knew he could make the same connection for his teachers. According to Carpenter, he quickly noticed that video gave teachers the opportunity to view their classrooms from a different perspective. “It is the small details, just like in sports,” he says, “that can be observed with classroom video so that teachers can receive targeted feedback.”

It’s those details described by Carpenter that matter when it comes to specialized content areas and the support teachers need to improve practices. In the same way that pitchers need different feedback than catchers, the feedback needs of language and literacy teachers are significantly different from those of physics teachers.

Interest among educators is clearly building. In a recent SmartBrief poll, over 90% of teachers indicated that they feel filming their instruction would help them grow professionally and improve their practices. In a similar poll, 85% of school leaders said that classroom video would help them provide teachers with better feedback and support.

The benefits of classroom video are becoming obvious to educators — particularly to those teaching specific content areas or unique student populations.

Providing meaningful feedback is challenging in any situation, but in classrooms where teachers and students are speaking different languages, for example, it can be even harder.

However, video supports open dialogue and can instantly provide a beneficial visual that both teacher and observer can point to when discussing practices. Additionally, the technology makes it possible for videos to be shared with content-area experts within the system and even knowledgeable third-party observers.
A district in Georgia is already making it work and seeing great results. With heightened secondary math standards and a lack of expertise on how to support teachers of coordinate algebra, Newton County School System (NCSS) leaders saw an opportunity to leverage classroom video to get teachers the support they needed.

Last year, NCSS partnered with my team at Insight Education Group for content-specific coaching. The coordinate algebra teachers recorded their lessons and shared them with a skilled and experienced Insight coach for timely and actionable feedback.

Prior to this coaching initiative, the district’s coordinate algebra pass rate was 19%. After, NCSS saw gains three times higher than the state average. Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey pointed out, “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?”

The perspective video provides is especially powerful when new teaching frameworks are introduced, and it can help guarantee that there is a shared understanding of the vocabulary used to describe effective teaching.

Serving as a common piece of evidence, video pushes instructional conversations and feedback processes past the limitations of simple communication to an authentic partnership. Imagine an observer and a teacher sitting next to each other, watching the same video at the same time, and mutually identifying strengths and struggles. With this shared experience and the open, meaningful dialogue that can be established, teachers can accept feedback and make the necessary connections to their practices.

Much of the potential of video technology comes from its versatility and variety of applications. Video can be used privately for self-reflection, with colleagues in PLCs, and even in school- or district-led professional development. These are useful opportunities for teachers to collaborate and analyze practices for quick and simple adjustments.

In Tennessee, video evidence is already used in some school districts as part of teacher-developed and reviewed portfolio-growth models that measure student learning in the arts and physical education.
As the technology spreads to more districts and schools, teachers will naturally begin exploring and experimenting with classroom video, and more innovative uses will come to the forefront.

The benefits of video are not limited to quantifiable improvements in instructional practices or student achievement, though. The technology can also impact morale and culture by promoting transparency, collaboration, and a collective focus on growth.

According to Principal Carpenter, “By using the cameras effectively and efficiently, we were able to build a trusting team atmosphere between administration, teachers, and students.”

A trusting team atmosphere is an important foundation to achieving the quantifiable improvements educators are pursuing. By using video to enhance both culture and feedback, Principal Carpenter saw the results he was looking for — moving from a level-one school where student growth was significantly lower than expected to level five, as one of the fastest-growing schools in the state.

Despite clear benefits and educator interest in classroom video for self-reflection, coaching, and even formal observation, implementation of the technology in any district or school must be carefully considered and thoughtfully planned.

In many cases, implementation should begin with only a few teachers. Those who need content-specific feedback and support the most, such as language and literacy teachers, may be the best positioned to opt in and lead the way.

As teachers become familiar with the cameras, they will see the value in video as a means to gain new perspectives and support that have never been accessible before. These early successes will set the stage for expanded use of video and empower teachers as partners and advocates in the process.
Educators are facing higher standards than ever before, but both teachers and school leaders say the systems currently in place to support teachers are not resulting in meaningful and actionable feedback. This lack of effective feedback and professional growth is particularly prominent — and problematic — in specific content areas like foreign languages and literature, as well as classrooms with English language learners.

But like when athletes analyze film to up their game, classroom video can give educators that winning edge by promoting effective instructional practices, ultimately making the difference in student achievement.

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. Contri­buting regularly to the blog, Moody is always excited to start or join a conversation about helping educators grow. He tweets at @DrMichaelMoody. To learn more about the uses of classroom video and practical resources for implementing it in your district or school, download Insight’s latest policy report: A Game Changer: Using video to achieve high performance in the classroom.