Free Download: 10 Questions for Better Feedback on Teaching

By David Wakefield, Co-Founder, The Formative Assessment Challenge

I had three years of public school teaching under my belt when I learned the importance of professional development.

For me, the lesson came in the form of a shared classroom with a master teacher. Thanks to the pedagogical skills she demonstrated and the feedback she gave on my teaching, I learned as much as her students that year.

Personalized PD: Powerful But Rare

Experience has taught me that this kind of personalized professional development is both the most valuable and the most highly sought-out among educators.

Unfortunately, most teachers have never gotten the chance for such one-on-one professional development, much less to share a room with a master teacher.

Instead, professional development has traditionally come in the form of campus-wide seminars and teaching conferences that, by necessity, are one-size-fits-all.

According to a 2002 study by Bruce Joyce and Beverley Showers, only about 10 percent of in-service participants actually use their new learning when they return to their classrooms. I’m not a financial genius, but this type of return on investment doesn’t seem like a great use of scarce resources in K-12 education.

Educators preach the importance of differentiating instruction for students. Why are we not doing the same when it comes to professional learning?

The good news: Things are changing. Aided by new technology and a committed group of educators and innovators, professional development is becoming more accessible and more valuable.

For those who wrote off professional development as too expensive or ineffective, it’s time to take another look.

The Emerging Role of Technology in Professional Development

One game-changer has been mobile technology, which has allowed us to leverage the potential of a focused professional network through platforms like Twitter.

Educators can now participate and develop their own professional learning network both locally and nationally through daily and weekly chats on an education topic or subject of their choosing by following hashtags such as #edchat, #educoach, and many others.

Edcamps, a form of “unconference” designed specifically for teachers and their needs, are another professional learning trend that have picked up steam the past couple of years and are popping up all around the country.

Edcamps are nothing like traditional education conferences, where the organizers have set the topic sessions and schedule. Instead, participants at the beginning of the event create the agenda.

Instead of one or two presenters talking for hours, educators are encouraged to collaborate around educational topics that impact their own daily practice through discussion and hands-on learning, according to EdCamp.org.

Choice, Time, and Feedback

Most teachers I know want to get better, and when we empower teachers to make choices when it comes to their own professional learning, results will follow.

“Effective professional development honors the autonomy of teachers but recognizes the importance of a form of accountability grounded in that autonomy,” says Dr. Jim Knight, a leader in the professional development field. Teachers recognize that being part of a profession requires continuous improvement, a learning process that never ends.

One of the most effective ways to become a better teacher is to watch others and have others watch you, whether that means a professional instructional coach or colleagues from your department or grade-level.

“Teachers do not learn best from outside experts or by attending conferences or implementing programs installed by outsiders,” wrote Dr. Mike Schmoker in 2005. “Teachers learn best from other teachers, in settings where they literally teach each other the art of teaching.”

When consulting with other teachers, the usual response is that there just isn’t enough time in the day to focus on professional learning. This is why leveraging technology is the only way to make professional learning become a part of a teacher’s workflow.

How Professional Athletes Improve

Within the last few years, video-enhanced professional development has advanced to new heights, allowing more teachers to get personalized support and coaching anytime and anywhere.

Just like professional coaches and athletes, teachers and instructional leaders should use video consistently to reflect, assess and provide feedback on their performance.

So Why Am I Such A Big Believer In Video-Based Professional Learning?

  1. It’s easy. Video as a teacher development tool isn’t a new idea. But convenience is.The technology is finally coming around so you can forget about lugging bulky camcorders or trying to figure out whether your DVD is compatible with your video player.Advances in cloud computing and mobile technology such as smartphones and tablets, which have cameras, make it possible for schools and districts to adopt and implement video-enhanced professional development into the workflow of a teacher’s workday.
  2. It’s effective. In short, video does not lie. Video is by no means a panacea for solving all problems in schools, but when used appropriately, it’s a powerful tool that can enlighten and inform a teacher’s practice.If a teacher wants to improve his or her craft, it is essential to see what our practice looks like in action and how students are responding to and processing the lesson.Educators can’t be everywhere at once, but video stops time, allowing teachers and instructional leaders to pause, rewind, and review their practice to ensure their professional learning goals are being met.
  3. It won’t break the bank. With tightening federal, state, and municipal budgets, K-12 public schools have been under intense scrutiny to find new ways to raise student achievement.Given the limited resources that schools and districts have for professional learning, leveraging video technology is a cost-effective way to provide consistent support to teachers in a more authentic and targeted manner.
  4. It makes classroom observation more useful. While in-person classroom observations are ideal for supporting new and developing teachers, they tend to be resource intensive.More often than not, classroom observations are done infrequently and arbitrarily, or even worse, out of administrative compliance, which is hardly a recipe for improving teacher efficacy.By recording the lesson during an in-person observation, the observer can now focus on watching and processing a lesson rather than frantically scripting notes.

    After the observation is finished, the observer can review the video and provide time-stamp feedback or comments at exact moments during the lesson.

    This way the observed teacher can remotely reflect and respond to the feedback and comments at their earliest convenience, or the teacher and observer can watch and discuss specific moments of the lesson during a traditional in-person post observation.

    The teacher can also share the video lesson with other trusted colleagues for further discussion and analysis.

  5. It Enhances PLCs. Video gives colleagues working together the ability to have targeted and robust conversations around the craft of teaching, turning what was once an isolated practice of reflection into a team exercise.Lesson study has been found to be a very effective way to improve teaching practice within PLCs and video can further enhance this process.While the lesson plan is a blueprint for the lesson cycle, recording the actual execution of the lesson plan can lead to a more fruitful conversation about how to most effectively teach different content and skills.

Adapting, modifying, and differentiating instruction is an important skill for all teachers to work towards, and video can help inform teachers how to do so.

Video pulls back the curtain on the classroom and gives us the ability to focus on elements of instruction to improve teaching practices on a daily or weekly basis.

Video captures our instructional footprint without bias and allows us to leverage instructional leaders whenever and wherever they are.

When educators embrace video-enhanced professional development on a consistent basis, we will join other performance based industries in gaining a competitive advantage through informed practice, an advantage that too many of us are currently leaving on the table.

David Wakefield is CEO of Sibme.