Using Video in Online Coaching: A Firsthand Perspective

Last month in our Coaching in Action series, a teacher discussed the success she had participating in a blended professional learning model. This month, HMH coach Shveta Miller chronicles her positive experience incorporating video recordings of teachers' lessons into her coaching sessions.

As an instructional coach using a student-centered coaching model, I’ve seen again and again the impact that a teacher’s honest reflection has on student learning. In face-to-face coaching, I observe teaching and learning live. Then, I partner with the teacher to unpack what works and could work better in a lesson. We collaborate to identify achievable goals for students and brainstorm action steps that will lead them to success. 

Rapport is easy to establish when we’re working side by side, looking at student work samples, and recalling oral responses offered by students we both know by name. 

In an online coaching session, it can be challenging to develop that same coaching partnership without access to the live classroom. Online sessions were most beneficial when working with teachers who came to the session having already reflected on the lesson and ready to receive feedback. But what happens when this doesn’t occur?

One of My Experiences as a Coach

I recently worked with two teachers online who were missing these essential habits of honest reflection and openness to feedback, and I worried that we wouldn’t be able to have a meaningful impact on student learning. I ultimately discovered, however, that integrating video recordings of their lessons into our sessions was the one key factor that would make the difference.

The two teachers I worked with each taught a small class of long-term English learners. The primary objective of the class was to increase the quality and quantity of students’ academic language. The teachers were so convinced of their students’ competence that they began the coaching process unwilling to articulate any goals. They seemed to believe their students were so successful that there was no need to set goals for further achievement!

After a brief chat about their school and their experiences teaching, I asked what they would like to see their students strive for. They were vague. When provided with a wish list of specific academic learning behaviors we’d all like to see each student develop, they marked off every single behavior as already accomplished. I asked if they would share samples of student work so we could brainstorm goals together based on what students were currently demonstrating. They did not have samples to share online.

Without access to their live classroom or to their students’ work, and with 50 minutes remaining of a one-hour session, I began to sweat a little. How could I turn this session around so that teachers were motivated to reflect on their students’ skills and their own practices?

Despite having worked with nearly 100 teachers across the country, I briefly wondered if these were the two teachers in the universe who had mastered this job. Perhaps they had led all of their students to peak academic performance. I was about to ask for their autographs and call it a day. But if they were achieving such impressive results, wouldn’t they be able to describe them in detail?

I decided to dig into my reserve of coaching questions and give it another try.  “I hear you saying that your students are very successful. Can you describe one response in more detail, and explain specifically what was strong about it?”

A pause. Could it be that they were reflecting? I held my breath, almost positive that I was about to change the course of this session.

“Well,” answered one teacher, “I don’t really remember what they specifically said . . . but I know each student used the academic language frame successfully, just like I wanted them to.”

Their lack of specifics suggested overconfidence to me. I followed up with, “It sounds like you have established clear expectations that all students use response frames when speaking in class. Would you say that students are ready to elaborate and provide additional ideas beyond the frame?”

“Well,” she responded, “they do that already.”

And the session continued like this until the hour was up—I peppered them with questions, trying to guide them toward identifying a student learning goal they could work toward, and they deflected each one with a “We’ve got this” retort. It was like trying to rally in a game of tennis with a partner who keeps hitting the ball into the net.

Why were these teachers so resistant to coaching?

The Final Session

From my experience with face-to-face coaching, I knew that we could have an honest conversation about what students were and were not accomplishing if we had evidence of students’ skills in front of us. We had one final session remaining. I asked both teachers if they would be willing to record at least ten minutes of a lesson and share the video with me prior to our final session. At the very least, I would be able to see these stellar students demonstrate their skills and appreciate these consummate educators in action.

I was excited that one teacher did, in fact, share a video. I was hopeful that the camera lens would be just the tool to elicit the reflection we needed to impact student learning. With video clips for reference, would the teacher finally be able to identify a learning behavior she’d like to see more students demonstrate?

To begin, I asked her why she chose this particular lesson task to record and what she was hoping to learn from it.

“Oh, this was just the last ten minutes I had before our session,” she admitted.

Not the reflective response I had hoped for, so I asked her what her goal was for students during this task and to describe if students achieved it.

“I wanted students to be able to know the difference between what is a significant detail in a text and what is not. Most, but not all, of them were able to say something after I pushed them.”

I suggested we watch a portion of the video where a few students responded orally. I asked her to narrate while we watched. Her narration turned into reflection almost immediately. With the video at hand, her prior declaration that everyone was successful was now replaced by, “So, here is Miguel’s response. He, well, he usually speaks in complete sentences, and I normally ask them to do that, but, um, he didn’t do it here,” and “Yeah, Greg takes a long time to think of an answer, and I didn’t want to move on, so I waited and helped him, yeah, I’m giving him a bunch of clues. Wow, for almost five minutes!”

I asked what she might want to see each student accomplish if she were to teach this lesson again. She had a lot to say. We had goals!

How Video Impacted Our Coaching Sessions

Before we included video in our session, my coachee described student behaviors with phrases like “They do that most of the time” and “They’re good at that.” With video, she observed that three out of twelve students completed the task independently, successfully identifying significant details in the text, but they did not use complete sentences with academic language. She compared this with their performance two months prior, when no students were able to identify even one significant detail in the text.

With the time and a medium that allows for deliberate attention to students working, this teacher was able to see a logical next step for them. She wanted to increase the number of students responding in complete sentences to seven, and she wanted to achieve this by the next unit.

As partners, we re-watched the video to brainstorm instructional practices that could increase students’ comprehension of the task. I asked her to talk about her reasons for using a specific instructional strategy that, we now both saw, had underwhelming results on student outcomes.

She admitted, “I didn’t really have a good reason for that. I guess I just thought it would help, but I see that it took a lot of time.”

We wondered together about alternative ways to achieve the desired outcome. We turned again to video for more insights. This time, I showed a clip of a model lesson of the same task. I asked my coachee to notice how much time passes as the instructor sets up, models, and monitors the task. We also counted how many students offered responses using academic language.

After viewing the model lesson, I asked the teacher what two action steps the instructor in the video used that made efficient use of lesson time and led to strong outcomes for all students. She easily identified four. The excitement in her voice was unmistakable as she announced, “I really need to watch those model videos more often! I knew they were there, but I just never really knew how much I could be doing differently. I know my students would be just like those kids in this video if I tried that.”

Without a recorded video of a lesson, this teacher was not able to reflect on her own instructional routines and honestly assess her students’ performance. She did not see the value in online coaching beyond receiving validation for what was going well. With video, she was able to carefully observe what her students were and were not accomplishing. She set an achievable goal for their academic learning. She identified action steps she could take to support their progress. And, most excitingly for me, she showed a renewed passion for continued professional learning.

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The integration of video within the coaching process helped Shveta and this teacher reach their goals and is an integral part of HMH’s new blended professional learning model. Learn more about HMH’s blended professional learning offeringhere.