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May 1, 2014
Vol. 71
No. 8

What You Learn When You See Yourself Teach

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Using video cameras in a way that recognizes teachers' professionalism can have a dramatic effect on teaching and learning

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Bill Gates provoked an explosion of commentary when he suggested in his May 2013 TED Talk that a video camera should be in every teacher's classroom. Many people recognized that video cameras, if used effectively, could dramatically improve how teachers teach and how students learn. Others realized that if video cameras were used as tools for control, they could profoundly damage teacher morale and decrease the likelihood of any positive change occurring in schools. The truth is that both sides are right.
For the past five years, I've been studying how educators can use video cameras. At the Kansas Coaching Project at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, I've been involved in two research projects (Bradley et al., 2013) that explore how coaches and teachers can effectively use video as part of the instructional coaching process. At the Instructional Coaching Group, my colleague Marilyn Ruggles and I have conducted more than 50 interviews with teachers, instructional coaches, and principals who are using video every day to improve teaching.
Our biggest finding? Video cameras, when used in a manner that respects the professionalism of teachers, can have a positive effect on teaching and learning, as the following examples illustrate.

How It Can Work

Using Video with Coaching

When reading specialist Jody Johnson from Beaverton, Oregon, agreed to collaborate with instructional coach Lea Molzcan, Jody knew which class she wanted to target, but she wasn't sure what she wanted to work on. Lea started the coaching process by video recording Jody's 8th grade class, then she and Jody watched the video separately, meeting afterward to discuss what they saw.
Jody saw a lot. Students took a full 10 minutes to settle down before the reading lesson could actually begin. Ten minutes each day for a whole school year was an awful lot of wasted time. However, the video also showed Jody that students were very engaged during guided reading. In fact, both Lea and Jody saw that the students genuinely loved reading such books as those in Lincoln Peirce's Big Nate series or in Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. The video, then, was both encouraging and discouraging. The students could be engaged and embrace reading, but it took a long time to get them there.
When Jody and Lea met, Jody decided her goal was to get students ready to learn within three minutes of the start of class. They identified two things Jody could do. First, she would move guided reading to the beginning of the period and tell students that they'd only get 10 minutes to read, starting when the bell rang, and that class would only start when everyone was settled and ready to learn. Second, she would explicitly teach her expectations for how students were to behave at the start of the class.
After Jody initiated these changes, the students blew away the goal. Class began to start in less than two minutes, which added eight minutes of instruction to every class. The orderly beginning also positively affected what happened during the rest of the class.
Because of these two small changes that the coach and teacher identified when they discussed the video, the students became actively engaged throughout the class, and, most important, they were learning. Lea told me that although none of the students had ever before achieved proficiency on the state reading test, almost all students in Jody's class were proficient at the end of that year.

Using Video with Teacher Evaluation

In spring 2013, when Chad Harnisch, a principal at Rice Lake High School in Wisconsin, considered the 60 teacher evaluations he had to complete, he wasn't happy. Chad had found that conversations during teacher evaluations rarely led to meaningful dialogue about teaching. "The conversation," Chad said, "always has an element of confrontation because the teacher is remembering what she thinks happened from her perspective, and I'm remembering what I think happened from my perspective, and there can be a disconnect between those two remembrances."
Chad decided to try to improve these conversations by integrating video into his teacher evaluation process. He asked Amy Pelle, an accomplished English teacher at Rice Lake, if she would be interested in volunteering. They met to ensure they both agreed on how to use the evaluation tool—which happened to be about Domain 3, Instruction, in Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching (Danielson, 2007). Chad video recorded a lesson, and he and Amy met twice, first to talk about the lesson as seen through the filter of the evaluation and a second time to talk about Amy's goals.
Chad was incredibly impressed by Amy's class. Had he done a traditional evaluation, he said, they wouldn't have had much to talk about. He would have simply written down on the evaluation form, "distinguished, distinguished, distinguished." But after watching the video, they were able to have a real conversation about how Amy might engage one student who concerned her.
The principal and the teacher didn't spend their time talking about their various memories of the classroom—they spent their time talking about teaching. According to Chad, "the video allowed us to have a more professionally rich conversation." He plans to offer this option to all his teachers.

Using Video with Teams

Principal Cyrus Weinberger and clinical professor Rychie Rhodes at Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colorado, were convinced that video could accelerate professional learning in their school, so they established teams of teachers who volunteered to participate. Before each team meeting, Rychie recorded a teacher teaching his or her lesson, edited the recording down to about 15 minutes, and copied this video clip to a DVD. She then sent a copy to every teacher on the team. Team members watched the DVD before the next learning team meeting.
To prepare for the team discussion, each team member took notes while watching the video, using a template the principal had developed. The template focused everyone's attention on (1) the learning activity, (2) what the teacher was doing, (3) what students were doing, and (4) the feedback they wanted to provide. The use of video and the template led to practical, deep dialogue. Said Rychie, "It's amazing how much more objective and richer the dialogue is after teachers have had time to think about the video."
During team meetings, the person who was video recorded usually started the conversation by answering the first question on the template ("What is the learning activity?"), followed by other team members who talked about what they had seen. The group worked through the questions on the template, and Rychie took notes that she shared afterward by e-mail. At the end of the discussion, the person who was video recorded summarized what he or she had learned. The whole conversation usually lasted no more than an hour.
Rychie told me that the staff at Red Hawk has begun to share teaching practices in a way that hasn't happened before. One team, for example, watched a 2nd grade teacher lead students through activities designed to familiarize them with the components of nonfiction texts. The team spoke positively about the teacher's pacing, use of wait time, consistency of routines, use of visuals, and movement around the room. Although the students seemed engaged, the teacher had concerns about how much she talked. She decided to shorten the teacher talk by permitting some students to move into independent work a little earlier, freeing up time for her to provide extra support to those who needed it. Feedback from the team helped the teacher deepen her understanding of the lesson, but everyone learned by watching the teacher lead her students.
During team conversations at Red Hawk Elementary, the use of video prompts teachers to think about their own practice, learn new ways to teach from their colleagues, and implement the new practices themselves. Rychie noted that "there have been a lot of really rich 'aha' moments."

Using Video So Teachers Can Coach Themselves

Kimberly Nguyen, a special education teacher in Delton Kellogg Schools, Michigan, was part of a group of teachers studying my book High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching (Corwin, 2013). She decided to use video to analyze her practice. She watched a video of two classes she taught: the group of students that was most engaged and the one that was least engaged.
Kim was surprised to see that she was a different teacher in each room. "With the engaged group," Kim said, "I'm much more animated, and I interact more. With the second group, I struggle with my mood, and my response time is lower. In that class, I'm really boring."
After watching the video twice, Kim reported that, for both classes together, 41 percent of her comments were positive, with only 17 percent of them involving effective, specific praise. She also found that 59 percent of her comments were negative, with 17 percent of those interrupting the lesson so significantly that it stopped the lesson.
The video gave Kim a crystal-clear picture of her reality, and she was able to set a specific, student-focused goal derived from real data for both individual students and each class as a whole. Kim told us,
Children this age [grades 1–4] need a lot more activity. … My kids do really well with direct and explicit instruction, but they need the components of freedom and movement. So it will be a challenge to figure out how to put those things together and start using more cooperative learning strategies [along with the] explicit learning strategies. I think that's going to be the best combination.

A Clear Picture of Reality—And a Goal

Three decades ago, Robert Fritz (1984) provided a simple but powerful explanation for the dynamics of professional growth. To grow, Fritz explained, we need two things: a clear picture of current reality and a goal we want to achieve. The difference between our reality and our goal creates a tension that we can only resolve by either achieving the goal or giving up. A compelling goal makes us discontented with our reality; it pulls us forward to a better version of ourselves.
When it comes to professional practice, getting a clear picture of reality is easier said than done. The instructional coaches and teachers we interviewed are often delighted by what they see in their videos, and in other cases, they're disappointed. But in almost all cases, they're surprised (and in many cases, shocked). Watching yourself on video is similar to hearing your voice on an audio recording but amped up to the power of 10.
There are at least three reasons why we don't have a clear picture of what it looks like when we teach. First, teaching is such an all-encompassing intellectual task that it's hard to step back and reflect on exactly what's happening in a given moment. Second, teachers, like all human beings, are prone to get used to what they see everyday—psychologists refer to this as habituation. Over time, our understanding of our class can become less accurate. Finally, all of us are prone to seek out data that support our preconceived understanding of reality—what psychologists refer to as confirmation bias. Consequently, most teachers really don't know what it looks like when they teach. Video reveals an accurate picture of what's going on in the classroom.

Six Guidelines for Success

Because video is so easy to use and because it can lead to measurable, positive changes in student attitude, behavior, and achievement, education leaders and policymakers might be tempted to push its use in a heavy-handed, compulsory way. That's a recipe for disaster.
Before moving forward to create their own video program, leaders should consider the following guidelines.

1. Ensure psychologically safe environments.

People who choose to teach invest a lot of themselves in their work. For most educators, teaching is a major part of their identity. When something like a video recording of our lesson causes us to rethink "the story we tell ourselves about ourselves" (Stone, Patton, & Heen, 1999, p. 112), it can be disturbing. "Relinquish[ing] a cherished aspect of how you see yourself," Stone and colleagues wrote, "can be a loss that requires mourning just as surely as the death of a loved one" (p. 114).
Watching ourselves on video can truly be unsettling. First, people are never satisfied with their appearance. (I've yet to hear someone say, "I'm much younger and thinner than I realized!") More important, though, watching a video of themselves forces people to rethink who they are and what they do as professionals. As education consultant Jean Clark, from Cecil County, Maryland, explained when we talked about how her school district used video,
It's painful to realize that what we thought is reality isn't reality, that who we thought we were is not who we are. That's a powerful realization that changes the direction of where we are going. This is very hard to do because you have to be vulnerable. But it's authentic … and that's the way we become adults.
Because watching video is so emotionally challenging, people will not embrace its use unless they're in psychologically safe environments. As management expert Amy Edmondson (2012) explained,
In psychologically safe environments, people believe that if they make a mistake, others will not penalize them or think less of them for it. They also believe that others will not resent or humiliate them when they ask for help or information. This belief comes about when people both trust and respect each other, and it produces a sense of confidence that the group won't embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up. (pp. 118–119)

2. Make participation a choice.

No doubt some leaders will be tempted to make video compulsory across a school or system. This is problematic. First, telling people they must do something almost ensures that they won't want to do it. As Timothy Gallwey (1974) has written, "When you insist, they will resist."
Second, making video compulsory could damage school culture and decrease trust. Almost all teachers feel stress and anxiety when they're first asked to record themselves and share the video with others. Making video compulsory could lead to resentment, hostility, and resistance; and that doesn't sound like a psychologically safe environment.
Finally, when leaders take away choice, they decrease the professionalism of teachers. Ensuring that teachers have choice about their learning doesn't mean that educators should have the option of choosing not to learn. Continual improvement is a defining characteristic of professionalism, so teachers who want to be considered professionals must continue to learn. By the same token, if we want our children to be taught by professionals, we must treat teachers as professionals, and that means giving them a lot of choice about what and how they learn.

3. Focus on intrinsic motivation.

The way a school uses video will depend on how leaders understand motivation. Leaders who believe that teachers will only change when they're pressured, extrinsically motivated, or, in worst-case scenarios, embarrassed, may wish to use video as a tool to pressure teachers to change. Such a primitive understanding of motivation will likely make things worse.
Teresa Amabile (Amabile & Kramer, 2011) and a host of other researchers (see Pink, 2009) have found that for complex work like teaching, extrinsic motivation actually decreases effectiveness. After reviewing thousands of data points from surveys, interviews, and observations of corporate teams, Amabile summed up her findings as follows:
Managers who say—or secretly believe—that employees work better under pressure, uncertainty, unhappiness, or fear are just plain wrong. Negative inner work has a negative effect on the four dimensions of performance: People are less creative, less productive, less deeply committed to their work, and less collegial to each other when their inner work lives darken. (Amabile & Kramer, 2011, p. 58)
When video recording is shared in a way that supports each educator's intrinsic desire to improve, it can be a powerful tool for rapid, significant improvement. Because it accelerates professional learning, video can awaken or deepen a teacher's desire to achieve his or her personal best.

4. Establish boundaries.

When I discuss video with teachers, the most common question they ask me is, "Who's going to see it?" Teachers usually recognize that they can learn a lot by watching a video of one of their lessons, but they want to be assured that they won't have to conduct that learning in public, especially because they can't be sure what the video will reveal. For this reason, districts should adopt the policy that a video recording belongs to the person being recorded, who alone should determine whether it can be shared.
Leaders need to establish clear boundaries because boundaries create the rules of the game. Some possible boundaries for those who watch a video might be to focus on data, be nonjudgmental, respect the complex nature of teaching, be positive, be respectful, be supportive, and offer suggestions for improvement only after being asked.

5. Walk the talk.

One of the most powerful ways leaders can promote the authentic use of video is by using video themselves. Instructional coaches can video record themselves coaching and then use the video to identify goals for improving their practice. The instructional coaches involved in our Kansas Coaching Project unanimously said that the most important type of professional learning for coaches to experience was watching themselves on video.
Principals can record themselves leading a school meeting or professional development session to identify ways to improve. Coaching expert Steve Barkley suggests that principals video record themselves teaching a lesson in a classroom, use the video as part of a staff meeting, and then set up for themselves a coaching conversation with an instructional coach. Simply put, when principals record a lesson and agree to be coached, they send a powerful message that they're not asking anyone to do anything they wouldn't do.

6. Go slow to go fast.

When it comes to change, the temptation is always to try to go faster and do more, rather than take the time to do things right. This can result in a reckless implementation that doesn't lead to sustained change. A poorly implemented innovation decreases people's readiness for change and can ultimately make things worse.
Leaders should start with a few volunteer teachers, ideally informal leaders in the school. Those volunteers should receive sufficient coaching and time to really learn from their videos. At the same time, leaders need to repeatedly communicate a few simple messages: People only need to use video if they choose, those who are recorded on a video own that video, and no one has to share anything unless that person is comfortable doing so.
Most important, leaders have to communicate that in a professional culture, everyone must be learning. By providing a clear picture of classroom teaching and a way to measure progress toward a goal, video can make professional learning have a real impact on student learning.

Amabile, T., & Kramer, S. (2011). The progress principal: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Bradley, B., Knight, J., Harvey, S., Hock, M., Knight, D., Skrtic, T., et al. (2013). Improving instructional coaching to support middle school teachers in the United States. In T. Plomp & N. Nieveen (Eds.), Educational design research—Part B: Introduction and illustrative cases (pp. 299–318). Enschede, the Netherlands: SLO. Retrieved from http://international.slo.nl/publications/edr/contents/c15

Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Edmondson, A. C. (2012). Teaming: How organizations learn, innovate, and compete in the knowledge economy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fritz, R. (1984). The path of least resistance: Learning to become the creative force in your own life. New York: Ballantine Books.

Gallwey, T. (1974). The inner game of tennis. New York: Random House.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books.

Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (1999). Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most. New York: Penguin.

Jim Knight is a founding senior partner of the Instructional Coaching Group (ICG) and a research associate at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has spent more than two decades studying professional learning, effective teaching, and instructional coaching.

Knight has written several books and his articles on instructional coaching have been included in publications such as The Journal of Staff Development, Principal Leadership, The School Administrator, and Teachers Teaching Teachers.

He directs Pathways to Success, a comprehensive, district-wide school reform project in the Topeka, Kansas, School District and leads the Intensive Instructional Coaching Institutes and the Teaching Learning Coaching annual conference.

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