Video had been such a powerful coaching and collaboration tool in my teaching practice that I intended to fully utilize its potential when I began coaching teachers about two years ago. I believed video would enable me to overcome scheduling constraints and even allow me to coach teachers remotely. I found out very soon that video in itself imposed constraints I had not recognized earlier.
Video-recording a class required so many things to be in place, such as a tripod or a videographer, setup time prior to class, time after the class to upload a rather large file, and enough memory on the phone or recording device, that the teachers either didn’t go through with it at all or were focused on it more than they were focused on teaching and learning. This is when I turned to audio recording, a tool that had already worked wonders for me in the context of teaching young children to read. This has now become a go-to tool in my coaching work.
The fact that there is no need for a tripod or a videographer who knows what to focus on is a boon in low-resource environments. The teacher presses “record” at the beginning of the class and leaves the phone on her desk or carries it in a sling bag as she walks around. Once students leave, she stops recording and immediately shares the file on WhatsApp or email. Audio on phones these days is good enough even to pick up student answers from the back of a small classroom.
Audio Recording Allows for Targeted, Efficient Coaching
The teacher is able to record only the part of the class that showcases the one area that they have decided to improve on with the help of the coach. In an in-person observation, doing this efficiently would mean the coach steps into or leaves class in the middle and all the complicated scheduling that comes with it. In a video recording, the students would notice the entry and/or the exit of the videographer or the teacher’s actions to start/stop the camera recording, plus time spent on editing later.
In an audio recording, the teacher is able to seamlessly start and stop with just one click on the phone without disrupting students’ attention. No extra time is spent by the coach in waiting around for the selected part of the class to begin. The coach can listen to the recording at their own convenience and prepare for the next instructional coaching meeting.
Unique Access to Teacher Actions and Thoughts
Something I didn’t expect but was pleasantly surprised by was how audio blocks out distractions from everything else and lets the coach intently focus on the teacher. I am no longer looking at multiple inputs such as student behavior, charts on the walls, board work, or slides.
I assumed this was a drawback of audio, but the ups and downs in the teacher’s voice; the impatient breathing when they perceive something is taking too long; the unsure pauses when they didn’t see a misconception coming; their attempts at rephrasing something; and the tinges of regret that underline those rephrases, which silently scream, “Why didn’t I think of this before?” are all now intimately accessible to me in ways they never were before I started using audio recordings. This helps me keep my coaching process-oriented and input-focused better than ever before.
Additionally, audio recordings easily eliminate the privacy concerns of sharing videos in which students are visible. One always worries that a classroom video may land in the wrong hands, but that concern is lessened with audio recordings. And, unlike with video, I find that both teachers and students are less self-conscious during audio recordings. They tend to forget that they are being recorded after a few minutes and are more likely to be themselves.
I have even started to use audio to model strategies for teachers when a meeting in person or online is not possible immediately. After a teacher sends me something such as a lesson plan or an example of student work, I can make a quick three-to-four-minute audio recording to guide them in the next step of the process. That way, if we don’t have a meeting set up for several days, they can begin implementing the new strategy right away. This method is faster for me than sending an email and allows us to focus on bigger-picture issues during our in-person meetings.
Of course, audio cannot fully replace in-person observations and coaching. Neither is it my first choice when I have better kinds of access to the teacher’s classroom. It can’t achieve many things video can, such as tracking the movement of the teacher in the classroom or catching a student who is bored or has disengaged silently. But knowing what it can achieve can help us use audio intelligently. It can eliminate a few disadvantages of other modes of observation, save time, decrease turn-around times that sometimes render coaching too infrequent to be effective, and augment other methods of observations and data collection to make coaching more efficient with almost zero cost.