Magazine article District Administration

A Clearer View of the Classroom: Video Emerges as an Advanced Evaluation Tool That Offers More Depth to Teachers and Administrators

Magazine article District Administration

A Clearer View of the Classroom: Video Emerges as an Advanced Evaluation Tool That Offers More Depth to Teachers and Administrators

Article excerpt

The classroom video camera saw it all. Watching the playback, one teacher realized that she gave her students too little time to answer the questions she posed. Another teacher finally understood why her supervisor found her pacing was too slow. A third teacher used the footage to seek help managing a disruptive student who had spent the lesson bouncing a golf ball off the chalkboard.

Those educators were among hundreds participating in Harvard's recently concluded Best Foot Forward Project, which studied a new approach to teacher evaluation: Using teacher-selected classroom videos instead of the traditional drop-in observation by a principal.

As states try to bring new rigor and accountability to their teacher evaluation systems, digital video is emerging as one tool for standardizing and enhancing the sometimes perfunctory ritual of classroom observation.

Anecdotal evidence supports the approach, and preliminary results of Harvard's randomized, controlled trial are promising, says Miriam Greenberg, project director at Harvard's Center for Education Policy Research.

"Teachers got more from the feedback they got, and trusted it more," Greenberg says. "This process is really professionalizing and exciting for teachers who are seeing themselves grow."

Although statistics on how many districts are using video-based evaluation are hard to come by, superintendents who have introduced video into their evaluation systems praise its convenience and reliability, and say it enriches conversations about professional practice.

"Teachers want feedback--all professionals want feedback," says Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). "If you're doing a good job, you want to do a great job. This is another mechanism that can help us help teachers move forward."

Rewinding the tape

Classroom observations are a linchpin of teacher evaluation in nearly every state: all but six require observations, a 2013 NCTQ report found, and nearly half the states require multiple annual observations for at least some teachers. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's 2009-12 Measures of Effective Teaching study found that multiple observations conducted by multiple observers yielded the most reliable ratings of teacher performance.

Using video for the professional development of teachers is not a new idea: the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards requires teachers to include short video clips in their applications for board certification. Teacher-educator Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, relies on video in his development work.

"Teaching happens fast," Lemov says, "and having a video means you can watch a moment, roll it back, watch it again, think about it, roll it back, watch it again and study it in a way that respects the rigor of the decisions that teachers make in the classroom."

But using videos for evaluation, in place of classroom visits, is a newer development, encouraged in part by the Measures of Effective Teaching study, which found that classroom videos were reliable indicators of teacher quality, even when teachers chose which clips to show their principals, and excluding other clips.

One advantage of video is its flexibility: finding time for multiple required classroom visits can burden overstretched principals, but videos chosen by teachers and uploaded to a secure server can be viewed and scored outside of school hours.

"Some people do the observation work in their pajamas on a Saturday," says Greenberg, of Harvard's Best Foot Forward study.

Deep reflections

Using video also has greater benefits, say district leaders that use it. Teachers find themselves reflecting deeply on their practice as they view recordings of their lessons and decide which videos to send to the principal. "You learn a lot about yourself when you watch yourself teach on video," says Scott Muri, deputy superintendent of Georgia's 96,000-student Fulton County Schools, where 150 teachers participated in the Best Foot Forward study. …

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