As teachers, we aren’t always the best at recalling exactly what happened in our classrooms on a given day or assessing how a lesson is going in real time. Maybe we thought that the way we explained a concept made things click for our students, only to realize later that it left them more confused. Or maybe we were proud of a question that we posed but learned later that students didn’t even understand what we were asking.
For us to grow and develop as professionals, we need to accurately understand the impact of the countless decisions we make every day. This is part of why many teachers find peer and coach observations so helpful. An extra set of eyes in the classroom can help us see, and understand, much more than we could on our own.
Unfortunately, synchronous peer observations can be logistically difficult and time intensive. They just don’t happen as often as they should in most schools. Fortunately, video recordings of our classroom can help. Video can literally give us another perspective on our teaching and can be a great resource for our professional growth. But when we’re just starting out with using video for professional learning, it can seem daunting. The good news is that a few easy steps can make the shift to video easier to manage.
A 5-Step Process
1. Build a team: Classroom video can be a great way to invite your colleagues into your classroom. Each colleague is likely to bring a unique perspective to the table, which means that they will see, understand, and make sense of things in different ways. Even when teachers use the same lesson plans or curricular materials, classrooms can look very different based on the various decisions they make while teaching. Teachers have different strategies and approaches to asking questions, responding to students, facilitating discussion, and supporting student collaboration. Our own decisions may be difficult for us to see, let alone analyze and reflect on, without help from our peers.
2. Start small: Don’t make video recording into something bigger than it needs to be. Try recording three-to-seven-minute segments of your teaching using a cell phone, your laptop, or videoconferencing software. In our work with teachers, we find that even short video clips can produce rich and thoughtful discussions and analysis. Your school is likely to have policies regarding the capturing, storing, and sharing of classroom video, so be sure you learn those rules before getting started.
3. Establish goals: Consider an area of your teaching practice that you’d like to improve. Maybe you want to get better at helping students collaborate, getting more voices to participate, or encouraging students to build off of each other’s ideas in discussion. Whatever it is, getting specific about your goals will help you select video clips and be intentional in your discussions of clips with others.
Once you’ve established your goal, consider something new you may want to try in an upcoming lesson that may help you make progress toward your goal. If you want to improve your ability to support students to collaborate, you could try a new student-led norm-building activity before your next team task. If you’re working on helping students build off each other’s ideas during discussion, maybe you’ll try introducing new talk moves to your students that encourage listening and responding to classmates, or you’ll try having them call on each other rather than having all the talk go through you.
4. Focus on dilemmas: While it may be tempting, the point isn’t to create a highlight reel of your teaching. Capture video clips of moments in your teaching when you have a legitimate question about your practice. Teaching is complex, and videos of our teaching can help us dig into that complexity. In any given episode of teaching, we are constantly making decisions. Sometimes we’re sure that the decision we made is great. Sometimes we’re sure it’s terrible. Even after the moment has passed, sometimes we’re left with questions about what we could have done differently. These moments are usually ripe for discussion with a team—they make the best video clips to share.
5. Analyze, don’t criticize: Instead of calling a particular instructional decision “good” or “bad,” try understanding its benefits and drawbacks. Most teaching moves aren’t all good or all bad. Instead, any given move you make as a teacher usually opens up a few doors of opportunity for teaching and learning, while closing a few others.
Ask yourself: Which doors did this move open up? Which doors did it close? How do I feel about that? Be curious and creative. Ask members of your team how they make sense of the situation within the video and what they might do if they faced a similar situation. Discuss and analyze the various possibilities, and consider implications for your future teaching practice.
Turning a camera on yourself isn’t always comfortable, but we know that powerful learning experiences often involve some level of discomfort. Ultimately, we want to do what we can to make a positive difference in the lives of young people. To do that, it’s important to look for ways to improve our practice.