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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Using Google Hangouts for Teacher Development

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

"How is your family? Whoa! What's that on your head? Is that a wig?" "Give her a mustache!" "Great pirate!" "What did you eat for your Thanksgiving feast? Nice hat!" Between the guffaws and belly laughs caused by the add-on features of Google Hangouts, we had a great family conversation and got to see my brother's family, and my son and daughters and their families spread out all over the United States.

This was my first exposure to Google Hangouts. Our children live so far away that it was a no brainer to use Google Hangouts to video chat with all of them at the same time. It was quick, easy to connect, and it was a lot of fun. While I do not suggest that teachers spend too much time putting wigs and mustaches on each other during video chats, Google Hangouts is a perfect tool to increase the level of communication and professional development in every school.

A Tool for Collaboration

We are blessed in Southside High School that every teacher in my school has an iPad. While care has been taken to group teachers close to each other according to content area, simply walking across the hallway to meet with colleagues seems to take an inordinate amount of effort. Teachers are so busy that carving out time to meet is always a hassle. Google Hangouts can help.

As with a lot of campuses in the south, Southside High School is composed of many buildings, separated by walkways, courtyards, and patios. For our teachers that teach in the ninth grade academy, the building furthest from the main campus, it is quite a walk, especially if you are carrying things. A Google Hangouts session could help save time and energy for everyone. Department meetings are hard to schedule between athletics, after school events, tutoring, and other duties. Google Hangouts can ease the burden by making more time available for conversation and planning. The app can be easily downloaded on their iPad and can immediately connect with their departments by making a Circle of Friends. In our case, that would be roughly nine teachers each (the max for connections). For departments with more than nine teachers, some teachers could meet together under one connection.

Flexibility

Don't forget however that Google Hangouts is a powerful communication tool that can enhance collaboration and increase efficiency by saving time, energy and even extending the times that teachers can meet -- they do not all have to be done during the day. Conversations could take place at home, in the evenings and on weekends when things are a little more settled, rested and prepared. After school is usually not a good time to expect teachers to be at their best -- they are tired and rightfully so. Google Hangouts allow teachers extra time to be flexible.

And actually, the most powerful aspect of Google Hangouts is one that has been around for a long time. When teachers see how they teach and receive feedback on that teaching, teaching improves. Watching other teachers in the classroom as they teach is a powerful professional development tool. I encourage all of my new teachers to observe some of my best teachers.

There is a drawback to this, though. When observers come into the classroom, they always cause the students to change their behavior. Likewise, as much as we would like to not admit it, the teacher behavior changes too. Even worse, when more than one person is trying to observe a teacher at the same time, class disruption is guaranteed. Google Hangouts may have the solution.

Virtual Classroom Visits

When I was going to college, I taught Spanish to missionaries going to Spanish speaking countries. As part of the teacher training, the Missionary Training Center had a classroom with two-way mirrors in the back of the room. Behind the mirrors was another small room in which observers would be able to watch the entire lesson and the interactions between the teacher and the students, while at the same time remaining unobserved. The point of this set up was to see the natural interactions of the teacher and the students and be able to discuss, and observe them in real time.

Google Hangouts could do the same thing. Teachers could volunteer to have their iPads set up in the classroom for recording and up to eight more teachers or groups of teachers could observe the lesson in real time, and chat with each other about it while it is happening. Of course the recording teacher would have to turn off the speakers on their iPad so the students would not hear the chatter.

New teachers could ask questions of the other observers while it is happening. Experienced teachers could call attention to excellent strategies and point out the finer details. Perhaps best of all, the video is not recorded. No messing with tapes, no worry about the video being uploaded to YouTube, and no worries about privacy or FERPA for the students.

For teachers to improve their instruction in major ways, being observed by our peers is the best way to begin the process. This type of professional development will help standardize what a campus views as "good teaching" and will help them to take that to the next level of "great teaching". The professional conversation, the trust and the unity built by first being willing to be vulnerable in front of your peers and then being open to honestly discuss individual performance, even just focusing on the positive, will bring incredible results in daily teacher instruction.

Building Instructional Practices

I can envision teachers using Google Hangouts every time they want to try out a new strategy and asking a valued peer to watch and provide feedback on it. I see it as a tool that will help teacher communities make decisions. When a professional learning community (PLC) wants to compare strategies in regards to choosing the one that is most effective, they can have two of their teachers try them out and they can witness the results in real time. For administrators, using Google Hangouts in this way would be a valuable training tool, a way to showcase your superstar teachers and begin to clone them and make more superstars.

Perhaps this is an application of Google Hangouts that was not anticipated, but, it has powerful potential and I intend to use it on my campus this week. As with social media, the point of Google Hangouts is to make a connection, now, and not save it for posterity. Even expanding on the local connections, one of the circles you can follow is the Learning Revolution found on the button marked "communities." Sharing is powerful. But locally, chat with fellow teachers, share the ups and the downs, and use Google Hangouts to create those bonds of trust and teamwork that will make a huge difference in your teaching and in your students.

I am curious about learning what you experiences are going to be in using Google Hangouts as the two-way mirror observation room or other successes you have had with it and professional development. Please comment in the section below.

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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