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November 1, 2019
Vol. 77
No. 3

Using Video to Showcase Great Teaching

To create a robust video coaching culture at your school, keep it upbeat and low-stakes.

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Listen to an audio version of this article.
We carry the technology in our pockets to film great lessons, so why is this not a general practice in most schools? Part of the reason, in my view, is that the popular understanding of the purpose of filming teachers teach is flawed. We overemphasize teacher self-reflection, when instead we should focus on building a collection of videos showcasing teacher best practices. Instructional coaches can then use these videos for coaching and professional development, for both macro- and micro-learning.
In my four years as a middle school English department chair, I have filmed, edited, and uploaded 27 videos of our teachers to our Google site for use in professional development. This compilation has helped our staff observe each other teaching and better understand and apply the instructional focus we are working on as a school. Every member of my department has had at least one video uploaded to the site, even though they are under no obligation to do so. As a result, my department implemented our instructional focus with more fidelity, as measured by student voice surveys and student-performance gains on our district assessments. I attribute this in part to our increased ability to show teachers what we wanted them to do.
While the process of taking and uploading video is relatively easy, there are still some challenges you will likely have to overcome in capturing good video of teachers. I want to share some of the obstacles, logistical as well as interpersonal, that I ran into, and give some tips on how to develop a process where you can easily film, edit, and upload lessons in your school—and raise and amplify the practice of your teachers.

Don't Ask for Volunteers

I have learned that teachers will never ever ask to be filmed. They will, however, agree to have a great lesson be recorded. Approach your first teacher by saying something like, "That was such a great lesson! You are so skilled in facilitating student discourse. I would love to come in and film you doing this."
I have never had a teacher say no to this request, although I know they would never approach me about filming them. It may be that to volunteer for such a thing feels arrogant or vain. It may be that teachers are busy and they just never think (or have time) to let us know when they will be teaching an interesting lesson. Whatever the reason, it is clear to me that if you want to film a teacher, you need to go to them.

Don't Make Videos About Self-Reflection

This may sound counterintuitive, but don't approach video coaching primarily as an opportunity for the teacher's self-reflection and improvement. Filming specifically to look at what works and does not work in a lesson is time-consuming and will discourage many teachers from participating.
Instead, focus the process on showcasing best practices. If we build a culture of filming at our schools, then teachers will become used to seeing their own lessons, and they will begin to critique themselves naturally. In other words, the teacher's experience of being filmed and seeing herself teaching will be an opportunity for reflection in itself, even if that wasn't the stated or only intention.

Perfect Your Filming Technique

When I began filming teachers four years ago, I assumed that bringing a camera into the classroom would be much more disruptive than it actually is. The students typically do not say anything about it—perhaps they are used to video in their lives. That said, there are a couple of tricks that I have learned to capture more authentic video. First, when filming with a cell phone, I hold it low so I can get in close unobtrusively. If you hold the phone up to your face while you shoot, you look like a person who is filming something; if you hold it low, you get a better angle and it's less likely that students will even register what you are doing or act unnaturally. As an added precaution, when possible, look toward a part of the room that you are not filming. People tend to think that what is being looked at is what is being filmed, so they won't be as self-conscious if they aren't sure what you are focusing on.

Edit It Down

When I first started this practice, I asked the teachers in my department meetings to watch whole lessons. These were 45- to 60-minute lessons, and while they were good sports about it, these teachers did not need to sit through this endless footage.
Ten to fifteen minutes at most should be sufficient to showcase whatever practice you want to share. Remember that the purpose of the video is to highlight a small-scale instructional technique. It should connect to an instructional focus or a teaching skill that you want your department or your building to master. Avoid trying to capture something general, like "classroom management" or "high expectations." Instead, concentrate on a technique or an aspect of a particular technique that can be viewed fairly quickly.
Usually I will include the teacher framing the lesson at the beginning and then one or more examples of this technique in action. Everything else gets cut. I typically use an iPhone to shoot the video and iMovie to edit directly on the phone. I then post the video to YouTube, embed it into our Google site, and write a short description.
It is important to be clear with teachers how this video will be shared and in what context. I upload each to YouTube in Unlisted mode, meaning that the video can be accessed by anyone with the URL, but it will not appear in a search list. I then share the link with the teacher and ask for permission to post the video to our Google site. I tell the teacher that the purpose of sharing it is for others to see how to employ this skill and do it as well as she does it—not for critique.
Having this video collection on our site means that I can easily build video examples into professional development experiences for my department. I can show teachers what I want them to try in their own lessons. Having several videos of different teachers showcasing the skill means they have choice in whom they wish to see and to emulate. It also is useful when I conduct a classroom observation and want to give a teacher feedback. I can easily send them a link to a video to give them ideas on how to stand when they give instructions, manage small-group discussions, or use wait time. While there are already great teaching videos on sites like Teaching Channel, in my view it is much more powerful to see examples of your colleagues teaching your students.
For us, this process has been impactful and simple. So why not get started today?

David O'Shell has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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