Moving From ‘Gotcha’ to ‘Growth’: Using Video in the Classroom for Effective Teacher Feedback

Vanessa Belair

The current climate of standardized testing and accountability has left many teachers feeling unsupported and undervalued. The transition to Common Core State Standards and focus on educator effectiveness calls for new instructional skills and knowledge that educators often aren’t given the time and resources to develop effectively. They feel stuck in a “gotcha” environment in which they are unfairly judged for any shortfalls.

To keep up with the pace of change, professional learning and resources must also evolve to address individual abilities and interests and help educators meet their goals. New video technology provides opportunities never before possible for teachers to receive the personalized, objective feedback they need to grow.

Video-based teacher observation, evaluation and coaching can enable continuous improvement when implemented effectively. As opposed to a tool to catch teachers doing something wrong, video can provide a beneficial visual of instructional and classroom management practices, foster an open dialogue between observers and teachers, and help teachers accept and grow from feedback.

As Principal of Delta Elementary Charter School, I am enthusiastic about the potential of video to enhance observations and support teachers. As we work to plan and transition to video, our staff has embraced the idea of the technology and teachers are eager to use it as a tool for professional growth.

Located in a small rural community of northern California, Delta has faced stagnant student achievement among certain student populations. As a result, our school leadership and school board prior to the 2014-15 school year examined ways to inspire teachers to propel learning forward for all students. We determined a significant step in achieving that goal was to individualize teacher professional learning and implement a rigorous growth-centered teacher observation and evaluation process. Incorporating video as a key component of the process can enable us to foster fair and productive teacher feedback, greater self-reflection, and a more collaborative environment than would otherwise be possible.

Key Benefits

Through our initial research on video to support growth-centered teacher observation and evaluation, we’ve seen the value it offers and are eager to realize its full benefits in our school.

Research from Harvard University’s Best Foot Forward Project indicates video offers the ability for educators and administrators to build a supportive, productive relationship in which feedback is objective, helpful and readily accepted. Video also prompts teachers to be more self-reflective when they are able to see their practices and identify areas for improvement. Similar to the study participants, once our school began using video, our staff showed greater support for its use in observations by the end of the year as the benefits were clearly noticeable, and teachers quickly overcame any hesitation they had.

Establishing a Framework

Before we could observe and evaluate educators via video, we needed to define the actions effective teachers take to engage their students. Given that the Common Core establishes new standards for students that essentially require them to learn and think differently, we also needed to set new benchmarks for teachers to address the necessary instructional shifts. To build a shared understanding of what that teaching looks like, we used the Insight Core Framework, which consists of five core instructional practices and 14 indicators that describe what teachers can do to help students master the Standards and develop skills and habits of mind needed for success beyond graduation.

Core Practice 1: Know the discipline well

Core Practice 2: Prioritize evidence over opinion

Core Practice 3: Grow and improve students’ knowledge base

Core Practice 4: Assess progress toward mastery

Core Practice 5: Promote intellectual risk taking and persistence

Because instructional frameworks are the centerpiece of successful teacher effectiveness initiatives, we worked closely with the Insight Education Group team to design and implement a comprehensive teacher evaluation system. Together, we determined what would comprise the overall evaluation system, such as a schedule of observations, student growth data and student perception surveys.

Building the Runway

Instead of trying to implement the new evaluation system and video all at once and risk overwhelming teachers, I made the decision to take implementation slowly, one step at a time over two years. During a summer professional development program, teachers were introduced and able to react to the new instructional framework, evaluation system, and video approach. Every teacher established personal learning goals associated with each Core Practice prior to the start of the school year, enabling them to take ownership over their professional development.

We used the first half of the school year to work out any challenges that arose and conduct observations in a low-stakes environment in which scores were not used for formal evaluation. The second half of the school year we focused on formal observations and evaluations.

The trial run gave teachers the time to gain a better understanding of the expectations for each Core Practice and discover how the system fostered meaningful, objective feedback.

Putting it Into Practice

We also started using Insight’s ADVANCEfeedback to easily share growth-centered observations and feedback. The platform also supports classroom video and robust reporting options. It will also enable us to send videos to instructional coaches to provide additional content-specific support to teachers.

Teachers received myriad professional development sessions, peer coaching, and models of effective teaching based on the goals around their Core Practices and the feedback shared through ADVANCEfeedback. I conducted weekly observations and provided concise, though meaningful feedback that teachers could immediately incorporate into their classrooms and keep them on the path toward mastery of key competencies.

Moving forward in year two of our implementation process, video will provide a fuller and clearer picture of teaching practices and classroom dynamics so that observers and coaches can provide specific recommendations for improvement. Because video creates a concrete, reliable, and accurate piece of evidence, the subjective nature – and therefore apprehension – around teacher observation is stripped away and the focus can be on growth, not the “gotcha” feeling.

Used in conjunction with the Insight Core Framework, Delta’s video-based teacher observation and evaluation system will inject consistency, objectivity and transparency into the process, bolstering accountability measures to ensure our students excel.  By taking the time to strategically and purposefully implement the system, we have been able to codify best practices for new and existing teachers to help them make informed instructional decisions in their classrooms.

“My favorite component of the report was the student feedback section. I appreciated how it broke down the information into specific strands and corresponding scores. This gave me the ability to reflect on how to meet the social-emotional needs of my students as much as their academic needs.”  – Laura Andrews, 4th Grade Teacher

While this potential is exciting, I encourage all school leaders considering implementing video technology to scale slowly. If it’s done right, the transition should take time and ensure teachers are comfortable at each step. Select a small group of willing teacher leaders to be advocates and pilot video to help others see the benefits in practice. Talk to teachers to ensure they are making connections to their own instructional strategies and growing professionally. Look at the data to identify needs and monitor progress toward goals. And most importantly, be present throughout the process. Lead with persistence and confidence that video observations will propel your staff – and students – farther.

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Vanessa Belair is principal of Delta Elementary Charter School in Clarksburg, CA.

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