During a recent Twitter chat discussing the new Washington State teacher evaluation system (TPEP), the issue of videotaping instruction arose. A number of participants mentioned they’re worried administrators are overwhelmed with all the “scripting,” or reporting, they’re required to do during their observations. It’s like administrators have become more like stenographers than evaluators. In theory, each evaluator should observe their assigned teachers four times throughout the school year. In a large building like my high school that has over a hundred faculty members and only five administrators, do the math and you realize what a herculean task this becomes.
“Why not have teachers videotape themselves and submit their best work to their administrators on a server?” one participant asked. I tweeted that my union is adamantly opposed to this. They worry if teachers are constantly videotaped, the district could catch them in a vulnerable moment and use the video for disciplinary purposes.
Then I got this response:
@TPSBooth point is coaches and athletes study film all the time to improve their craft. Why can’t teachers do the same? Putting aside the politics over this issue, hypothetically, how would this work? Yes, there are online resources like Teaching Channel and BetterLesson that have hundreds of videos of teachers in action. But, our time is already limited. To data mine video applicable to our individual practice could take a considerable amount of time and effort. We need a way to simplify the process. We need a way to watch just the highlights of a specific lesson. We need a SportsCenter for TPEP.
(Cue the highlight music): “Dun, Duh, Dunt! Dun, Duh, Dunt!”
DUNCAN: “Hi, I’m Education Secretary Arne Duncan.”
COLEMAN: “And I’m College Board President and Chief Architect of the Common Core David Coleman.”
(In unison) “This. Is. TeachCenter.”
DULCET-TONED ANNOUNCER: “This week’s Top 5.”
COLEMAN: “At number 5, watch Evin Shinn, English/Social Studies teacher from Seattle connect a scene from ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ to a lesson on writing resumes. See the way he smoothly transitions here from the clip to his students’ writing.”
DUNCAN: “He must be a steam roller because that was soooo smooooooth.”
(Both do a fist bump).
DULCET-TONED ANNOUNCER: “Number 4.”
DUNCAN: “At number four is Maren Johnson, Science teacher from Chimacum. Observe how she introduces her learning target at the beginning of the lesson and then calls on different students to check for understanding throughout her instruction.”
COLEMAN: “Y’know Arne, I think Maren should be an operator.”
DUNCAN: “Why’s that?”
COLEMAN: “Because everybody is getting called on.”
DULCET-TONED ANNOUNCER: “Number 3.”
DUNCAN: “At number three, Math teacher Saraswati Noel from Seattle is pure aluminum.”
DUNCAN: “She knows how to instruct the algebraic strategy FOIL. Watch as she models the strategy herself, then has the students work in groups to solve an equation, and finally calls students up the white board to model FOIL to their peers. That is true scaffolding.”
COLEMAN: “If I were her principal I’d call her I-Beam.”
COLEMAN: “Speaking of I’s, watch English teacher Nathan Lemanski from Auburn at number 2, show his students how to use the authoritative I in their essays. See how he is reading student examples and having the students apply this strategy to their own writing.”
DUNCAN: “Nathan should change his name to Mike because he’s giving his students some real student voice.”
DULCET-TONED ANNOUNCER: “Number 1.”
DUNCAN: “Our number 1 highlight tonight comes from elementary teacher Hallie Mills from Kent. Watch how Mills has her students reflect on their work in their writing portfolios, by analyzing their progress, and make Smart Goals for their next writing assignment.”
COLEMAN: “Way to bring meta-cognition to your classroom Ms. Mills. In my book, you deserve the Pulitzer.”
All kidding aside, we need ways to both reflect and celebrate our practice. Imagine at staff meetings we could work in PLCs and give feedback to each other by analyzing our video lessons. Skeptical? It is already being done. Ask any National Board Certified Teacher applicant. As part of your portfolio you are required to submit a video of two of your lessons. When I was an applicant in 2009 analyzing the video was some of the scariest and most informative professional development I had ever done. Scary because as a profession in which we do our craft after closing the door to everyone except our students, watching video of your instruction with other teachers makes you feel almost naked. But, rewarding because everyone had to take the same risk and we truly got to learn and grow by watching our peers in action.
Finally, sharing video instruction will eliminate what I call the “Battleship Effect of TPEP.” I recently met with my evaluator to fill in the gaps she had not observed on the rubric during her four observations throughout the school year. I honestly felt like I was playing the kids’ game Battleship. It was like all the thirty-one requirements on the CEL 5D rubric were on a grid and I had to hit a target of each one during my lessons. “Nathan, you demonstrated CCE3 during my observation (hit!),” my administrator said, but added, “But, I did not observe PCC4 (miss!).” I felt like screaming, “You sunk my Battleship!”
Eventually, I scrambled to find worksheets or student work that filled in the gaps. If I had a video database of my teaching, however, I could show my evaluator video clips that could serve as authentic artifacts of me meeting standard while I was instructing my students.
True, what I am suggesting is mired in the rhetoric of politics. But, ask Vince Lombardi if he ever imagined instant replay as an integral part of football. Even police officers now wear body cams. We have the technology to do so, what we need is the will and the courage to implement it.