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Stacy Cohen's guest comments on using a Flip Camera during coaching

When Jim first handed our coaching team Flip cameras and told us to use them with teachers, I was very skeptical that these could provide more information than the paper and pencil data collecting tools we had already been using. I was wrong. The cameras serve as a mirror for teachers to examine and reflect on their own teaching practices in a very powerful way.

In February, I targeted several "good" teachers to video record. I told them I knew they were already highly effective teachers, but I thought they might be able to learn something new about their teaching or their students by participating. Every teacher I asked agreed to participate.

One new teacher agreed to let me tape two different periods of the same course. I taped about an hour of both 90-minute classes (a limitation of my Flip camera) and burned DVDs for her to watch on her own. I gave her Student Assessment and Lesson Self-Assessment forms to fill out once she had watched each video. The first assessment asked her to look at the behaviors of her students and the second required her to analyze her own practices. I also asked her to note the times of any parts of the video that she wanted to discuss. The classes I taped were very good in terms of student behavior and teacher instruction. The few areas of concern I jotted in my notes were the same she had found by viewing the videos on her own. We discussed a few minor changes that she implemented the next day. Throughout most of the meeting, I tried to ask probing questions to help her reflect deeper on the decisions she had made at various times during the lesson. I asked her what she thought went well, and I shared with her the parts I thought were particularly strong. We also examined a few weak areas. I was fortunate that these were good lessons because it made the dialogue easier, and I built her trust.

The second two classes she invited me to tape did not go as well. Amazingly, I didn't even have to say a word about it. As soon as we met, she noted how boring the classes had been. She said she felt so horrible after viewing the videos during her plan time that she rushed home that night and rewrote all of her lessons for the rest of the week to make them more engaging. When we met, we discussed her specific concerns in each lesson and how she could have made the boring lessons more interesting. We also looked at specific parts of the videos related to her Student Assessment and Lesson Self-Evaluation sheets. Throughout our meeting, I made her do the thinking and reflection by asking questions and giving her time to process. I’ve watched her grow as a teacher by participating in the video coaching with me. Although watching videos is time consuming and testing season is hectic, this teacher continues to invite me back to tape her classes because she sees value in the process.

 I have concluded that videotaping is an excellent way to move teachers from "good" to "great." We know that “good” teachers already analyze their lessons and make an effort to do what's best for kids. The videos provide a closer inspection of what's really happening to enable them to reflect and make changes in their practice. Another teacher I worked with said he learned a lot more about how to improve his teaching through this coaching approach than by receiving feedback from administrators during walk-throughs. I have yet to try this process with a really “bad” teacher. I'm wondering if weak teachers can reflect as well. Will they really see the problems or will they be in denial or make excuses about the kids? This will be my next challenge. Still, I’m finally convinced the power of video outweighs just using data collected through coach observation.

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