At Gainesville Independent School District in Texas, we believe it’s just as important for our teachers to have growth mindsets as our students. In pursuit of that, we began using video coaching in our instructional coaching program five years ago to help our teachers observe and reflect on their teaching style — ultimately improving their practice over time.
We found that video coaching was an excellent tool in aiding teacher reflection and growth. But when we began asking our coaches to use video to improve their coaching, we saw just how powerful video could be in teacher development. Here’s how it works.
Setting expectations; centering teacher voice
When we first began instructional coaching, we emphasized the fact that everyone needs a coach, whether they are athletes or teachers. Everyone has room for improvement, regardless of what they’re doing or how skilled they are at it. We expect our teachers to work toward achieving that growth in their own practice.
As part of those expectations, however, we also center each teacher’s voice in their own coaching. Their instructional coach is there to help probe and prod and poke to find the areas where their practice can be improved, but the teachers themselves ultimately find those areas and decide what they’ll do to improve upon them. Their coach will circle back later and ask them how they followed through and how it’s working out, but teachers identify their own weaknesses and decide on actions for addressing them.
It’s actually a bit of a bonding experience for teachers within their professional learning communities because they are organized to be collaborative by grade and subject level. Teachers end up asking each other questions like, “What are you trying?” or “How is that working?” as they meet. If, for example, one teacher presents a classroom management technique they’re working on, their peers are eager to know exactly what they did to get positive results. Sometimes they even ask how specific students, whom they also have in class, reacted.
Making risks a little safer, less scary
Trying new things can feel scary. What if it fails spectacularly? But trying new things is necessary to improve at anything. To ensure our teachers felt comfortable, we decided to center risk by making “What risk are you willing to take this week?” one of the questions they answer during each PLC meeting.
It doesn’t have to be a big risk. It may be as simple as trying a new presentation style, trying a new Kagan structure or asking students to answer questions in a new way. It’s a reminder that in order to grow and improve, change is necessary — and sometimes that means stepping outside their comfort zones and trying something different.
While the risks don’t have to be bold, we do encourage teachers to look for changes that are meaningful by asking them to use the 5 Whys Strategy, which is a bit like the children’s game of asking why something is happening and then asking why in response to each answer. By asking why at each level, the hope is that they can dig down to the root of a problem and fix it once and for all, rather than focusing on the symptoms.
Vulnerability through video
It’s common for people to feel uncomfortable with the idea of recording themselves on video, especially if the plan is then to share it with colleagues or even superiors at work. One thing we do to get them comfortable is ask them to make a self-reflection video and share it with a colleague. We leave it up to them whom they’ll share it with, so they can choose someone they trust, someone whose feedback they’ll value.
Requiring these reflection videos was an effective way to get the ball rolling. After all these years, our teachers are used to their coaches video recording their sessions. We’ve been using AdvanceFeedback to incorporate video coaching into our program for five years now, so our staff is generally very comfortable with the process.
Coaching the coaches
In a similar vein, we have required our instructional coaches to make their own reflection videos. We wanted them to get more comfortable with the camera as well, but we also wanted them to understand the vulnerable position the teachers they were coaching had to put themselves in. We thought it might help them improve their coaching practice.
The process was fantastic. It was one of the best activities we’ve done in our coaching program to date because not only did all the coaches get feedback on themselves specifically, but they were able to comb through the feedback all the other coaches received as well.
The reflection videos our teachers make — and the feedback they receive on them — are private to encourage the vulnerability we are seeking, so we can’t know how effective they are for them. Reflection allows educators to identify their own strengths and weaknesses. Among our coaches, however, they have facilitated huge growth, and we’re confident that teachers are seeing a similar return with video coaching.
Improving teacher practice is hard. It requires buy-in and commitment from teachers and grace from administrators while educators try new strategies and techniques. But by focusing on a growth mindset and creating an environment in which it is safe to take risks, we can all learn better together.
LaCreasha Stille is the assistant superintendent at Gainesville Independent School District, where she uses AdvanceFeedback to incorporate video into the coaching program. Reach out to Stille via email.