When Newport News Public Schools had to close schools because of COVID-19, our Instructional Technology Coach (ITC) Department had to quickly determine how to best support our teachers as they learned a new way to deliver instruction. While we needed to provide some ‘how-to’ technology training (for instance, how to use Zoom securely with students), our focus was on providing teachers with best practices for distanced teaching and learning. This included how to cultivate and maintain student engagement in an online environment, as well as how to effectively monitor student progress and provide targeted feedback to promote achievement of learning goals.
We partnered with our curriculum and development peers to coordinate our efforts to effectively support teachers and students as we moved from traditional learning to virtual learning. During the first three weeks of school closures, we provided examples via synchronous sessions to model effective instructional practices that support learning at a distance. Over the past two years, members of the ITC team have been using video coaching and video-based reflection to support teachers as they identified teaching and learning practices they wanted to master. Because of the comfort they developed as a result of our video coaching work, some teachers were able to make an easier adjustment to incorporating the use of video into distance learning.
The value of video coaching
Video-based reflection, and the use of video coaching, is changing the way we facilitate professional development for teachers.
“The unique thing about video is that rather than having someone else determine what a teacher should learn, it focuses on the teacher and her practice,” says Lisa Clarke, director of improvement at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
And that makes all the difference.
When teachers video themselves, they get an accurate picture of what happens in their classrooms based on the answers to such questions as: Did the instruction I designed result in the outcomes I wanted? Are students engaged in the learning process? What unconscious biases or behaviors am I exhibiting? Sometimes the video reveals to teachers that what they thought occurred did not. Such insights, often gleaned with the help of a coach, have been powerful motivators to improve instructional practice.
The boost to intrinsic motivation is one of the powerful aspects of video coaching. At the 2017 Learning Forward Conference Jim Knight, senior research associate at the University of Kansas, said next to the computer and the Internet, video is the most important professional development tool for educators of our time.
“When you push that button, something happens,” he said. “The teacher says, ‘I can’t handle how disengaged the kids are. I’ve got to do something about that.’”
Cameras, action, and more
Our ITC Department has used video coaching for two years. What began as a departmental initiative to help coaches refine their skills, soon evolved to include the teachers we work with in our district.
Implementing video in our 28,000-student district, located right down the road from Virginia Beach, was a simple process. The ITC Department invested in a video platform from Edthena, a company that makes video technology for professional development. Coaches and teachers videotaped themselves with cell phones, laptops, or tablets. Then, using the platform, ITCs gave and received feedback on their coaching through time-stamped comments or questions. The platform also allowed ITCs to track their progress over time.
Much like what teachers experienced watching their performance on video, ITCs were motivated to improve their coaching and relationship building skills. This was especially critical when we had to transfer from the physical to the virtual space. When we first started using video coaching, the coaches gathered together to watch videos of teachers with whom they were working and determine effective strategies to support each teacher.
This process of collaboratively reviewing video recordings proved beneficial to the coaches as well. As colleagues viewed each other’s recorded coaching sessions, they made observations, posed questions, and offered suggestions for improvement. Recording oneself can be anxiety-producing for teachers and coaches. Sharing the fact that athletic teams routinely record their practices and games, and watched ‘film’ to make improvements, helped ITCs and teachers work through their anxieties by focusing on the benefits of video reflection. Some camera-shy ITCs chose to start by audio recording their interactions with teachers.
Watching videos of themselves in practice was an experience in self-improvement. ITCs discovered opportunities for improvement in their training, co-teaching, and questioning skills.
“I used video to determine how effective my questioning techniques were or how I might tweak them to promote effective change during the next lesson,” said Mary Norris, one of our ITCs.
Using video, ITCs were better able to zero in on areas where teachers struggled and provided targeted coaching support. They helped teachers define their motivation and goals in manageable pieces which led to rich discussions that produced specific strategies teachers could use to achieve their goals.
Finally, our team’s experience with video coaching helped us to adjust how we use the tools in our ITC professional development toolbox. ITCs fully understand the role that ‘sit and get’ professional development plays in introducing teachers to a tool or strategy. Following up such PD with sustained coaching sessions with video, motivates teachers who may be reluctant to integrate the tools and strategies with success.
A tool for collaboration
Because of the size of our district — we have 27 ITCs working with 44 schools that are spread over 120 square miles — collaboration can be a challenge. The use of video with the Edthena platform helped us overcome this challenge. The platform made sharing asynchronous feedback more efficient and gave us the ability, at our convenience, to link comments and questions directly to specific moments in the video. This made it easier for all viewers to participate in and benefit from collective reflection and growth. For example, coaches could ask questions such as, “From second 30 to second 45, what motivated you to move to the back of the room and what decisions were you making?” or “How satisfied were you with the students’ response to the question you asked at marker 2:30?”
Coaches and teachers could also use debrief discussions to reflect on questions like “How would you rate this lesson on a scale from one to 10?,” “What would you do to make this lesson a 9 or 10?,” and “What would you do to make this lesson a six instead of a four?” The teacher, in partnership with the coach, determines the actions to take to improve the lesson specifically and the teacher’s skills more broadly.
During distanced teaching, we built in time for video-based collaboration. We have virtual ITC office hours; ITCs also participate in teachers’ virtual lessons and office hours. After virtual co-teaching lessons, the ITC debriefs with the teacher to reflect and share plans to cultivate and sustain student engagement, explore, and make plans to implement specific distance learning practices to improve the students’ experience.
How video created a cycle of improvement
When we started using video coaching with teachers, they were often surprised by what the video revealed. Comments like, “I can’t believe I did that!” were not uncommon.
The revelations included seeing habits like focusing exclusively on one side of the room, asking closed-ended questions, and discovering the need to alter their teaching strategy to better engage their students. It was through video coaching that one of our teachers realized her preferred teaching style of lecturing left some students bored and prone to wasting time. After seeing her students’ disengagement, she decided to incorporate a student-centered approach in her instruction.
Video coaching has made a significant impact on teacher practice. The excitement our teachers feel when they are successful fosters their desire to continue to improve. This was beneficial during school closures when we were able to support teachers who did not need basic technology training, but wanted to focus more on transferring their skills building productive relationships with students to a virtual environment. Six ITCs were able to use the consultancy protocol to support these teachers. We now have a bank of videos of us working through this protocol with teachers and are using these videos to build our capacity to continue to support these — and all — teachers as they focus on building relationships with students regardless of how we start the school year.
Video coaching enables teachers to enhance their skills and knowledge in ways that directly impact their success and therefore the success of their students. Video coaching is a professional development tool that can be used to support teachers whether they are teaching in classrooms or remotely. While COVID revealed some warts in the system, we were able to experience the individual and collective strength of the ITC team. Adjusting to working in these unprecedented times, we have developed skills and processes that are producing good results for our teachers and students, and simultaneously building the collective capacity of our ITC team.
Billie Hart is the instructional technology supervisor at Newport News Public Schools. Delrose Adkinson is an instructional technology coach for Newport News Public Schools.