The teacher on video stood motionless before the class, his forehead shiny under the fluorescent lighting, his face a little green. He droned through a word map of the term hierarchy while scribbling under a document camera. I felt bad for him and immediately thought, “Bueller? Bueller?”
Just the same, I took copious notes over the next 30 minutes of the lesson. I wanted to offer some specific suggestions for improvement. Beneath the discomfort of appearing on camera, he had a solid plan. The delivery just needed some finesse.
Fast-forward two years to the Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers Conference (ECET2) sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I was a panelist reflecting on the Measures of Effective Teaching Project. I revealed to the audience that Lurch – I mean, the fearful teacher I had watched – was me. Despite my initial nerves, I had jumped at the chance to film my class for the project and help researchers visually define effective teaching. I became a student in my own class. And what an eye opener it proved to be.
First Check Out The Teaching Channel
After the panel, I attended a workshop where I discovered my new favorite resource: the Teaching Channel. Facilitated by Sarah Brown Wessling, the 2010 National Teacher of the Year who serves as the channel’s Teacher Laureate, the breakout session showed me how much teachers can learn when they analyze videos of their instruction. The site has a growing library of high-quality clips edited and polished to provide an edumentary-style look into teachers’ classrooms.
Wessling guided us through brief analyses of several videos: a Kindergarten morning routine, a high school English lesson called Interactive Stations, and a couple of her own, including a clip of her grading essays via iTunes podcasts. The discussion at my table was rich and specific. I left the session and the conference with two of the weekend’s mantras echoing in my thoughts: Blow the doors off of your classroom. Make the implicit explicit.
I had an idea. I would start a video PLC at my school to replicate this powerful analysis, and fast.
Start Your Own Video PLC
Two years ago, an educational technology company called Teachscape provided each of Hillsborough County’s MET Project sites with a 360-degree camera that allowed teachers to focus on nearly any portion of the room while maintaining a second camera shot of a bulletin board or projector screen. One could play back video isolating teacher voice or those of students, who had a second microphone capturing table conversations.
I was elated to find out that my school still had the camera, and it was collecting dust in the media center. Hillsborough’s MET Project Supervisor, Danni Resnick, showed me another of my district’s untapped caveats: Teachscape XL, a virtual workspace where teachers can upload video clips and lesson artifacts, write in a journal, discuss the videos, an even provide feedback aligned with our evaluation rubric.
Armed with access to these resources, I recorded three sample videos and conducted a small tutorial on navigating the workspace for some of my department teammates. I uploaded a lesson plan and chose areas of our rubric from a menu where I want feedback. Once I clicked on “New Observation,” Teachscape XL e-mailed my chosen contacts with an invitation to view the video.
My colleagues can now watch the clips and timestamp them, adding comments in a discussion thread. Long hampered by the same conference period, we can watch each other tackle the same content and talk about it on our own time.
Life is messy when you’re constantly trying to improve. I’ve had to stage my classroom for lighting and sound, with a couple of cave-like videos demonstrating my shortcomings as a director of photography. It’s also a challenge to sell some of my more veteran colleagues who are “doing just fine, thank you very much.”
But the early benefits are many. We’ve eliminated the barriers of time and space from our professional learning. The conversation now stays focused on information needed for student learning, not water cooler gossip. We are building a library of our own practices. Perhaps most importantly, I can expand my PLC beyond the confines of my own building.
So why not start your own? Don’t have a sophisticated workspace like Teachscape? Try uploading to Voicethread or a private channel on SchoolTube. Missing an expensive 360-degree camera? Those old Flip cameras work fine, as does a smart phone or iPad. The equipment is the easy part. With a few like-minded teachers in your personal learning network, and maybe some popcorn, your video PLC can change the game.