Using Video to Improve Instruction: Strategies for Administrators and Coaches

The Harvard University Center for Educational Policy Research (CEPR) released the Best Foot Forward Project (BFF) in 2013. Since then, Professor Thomas Kane and his team have evaluated the impact of video-enhanced coaching and collaboration. These four instructional coaching strategies from CEPR are among the easiest and most meaningful ways to improve instruction by allowing teachers to reflect on video footage of their own instruction.

Video-Enhanced Coaching Changes the Way We Work

The advent of video-enhanced coaching and collaboration has changed teaching, and it has also changed the work of instructional coaches and school leaders. Traditional observations have required the observer to describe his or her perception of the instruction before any coaching can take place. When video footage of the classroom enters the conversation, you can skip this step. 

While this is a tremendous opportunity, it also creates a “now what?” moment for the coach. If you are having trouble determining what to say next, or if you just want to try something new, these strategies leverage video and lead teachers to reflect on their own practice, identifying key opportunities to improve along the way.

4 Guided Noticing Strategies

Harvard CEPR’s Best Foot Forward Project identifies these four strategies as a great place to start if you feel uncomfortable using video to observe and coach teachers. Each strategy allows both the coach and coachee to focus on something specific, which can help teachers overcome the fear they may feel when seeing themselves on video. 

Additionally, the coachee does the heavy lifting in these strategies, leading to greater buy-in from the coachee when the time comes to identify goals for improvement. In fact, many times the coachee will take the lead after the Guided Noticing process and drive the conversation on next steps.

1. Narration

This practice will give you a clear picture of what the teacher sees in his or her own practice, which can be an incredibly helpful diagnostic tool. Ask the teacher to watch the video and describe what he or she sees. This can happen in one of two ways:

  • Voiceover: Ask the teacher to watch the video on mute and describe what he or she is doing throughout the video.
  • Total recall: Ask the teacher to watch small segments of video and then retell what he or she saw in the video immediately after watching it.

This practice is designed to answer two questions. From the teacher’s perspective, what did he or she do/see, and what was the plan? According to one resource from BFF, “By having teachers retell what happened without judgement, both parties in the coaching relationship gain additional insights into the underlying rationale in a particular teaching moment.” This conversation-starter can take place verbally or with a time-stamped commenting feature in a platform like Sibme.

2. Questioning

Since the coach no longer has to spend time describing what he or she sees in an observation, there is now an opportunity to ask more questions.

Some of the questions Harvard CEPR recommends include:

  • What made you decide to . . . ?
  • What were you thinking in that moment?
  • How did you match up to what you expected?
  • When you say X, what do you mean?
  • How do you think that went?
  • Tell me about your decision to . . .

Of course, tone of voice will be crucial with this strategy. It’s important to maintain a neutral tone when questioning an educator’s practice. The question “What were you thinking?” can sound very accusatory when framed in the wrong tone. Think carefully about the questions you ask and the ways in which you ask them to make sure you elicit a thoughtful response instead of a defensive one.

3. Coding and Counting

While coding and counting is an age-old practice for observers and coaches, the advent of video footage gives teachers the power to do the work themselves. Harvard CEPR has an entire project focused on training teachers to use quantitative methods to identify key focus areas in instruction. While that may be an opportunity for future exploration, the simpler method of counting seems like a good start for now.

By using a simple counting strategy—asking teachers to identify times they see evidence of a specific practice—you can calculate the frequency of certain proficiencies easily to initiate a conversation. Additionally, you can ask teachers to count the:

  • Number of engaged students
  • Questions per minute (count student responses)
  • Teacher talk time
  • Student talk time

The list can go on. By asking a teacher to hone in on a specific, evidence-based practice to count in a video, you keep the conversation focused on that one issue, rather than letting it wander to the myriad other things happening in a classroom. This allows both the coach and coachee to stay focused on the task at hand. It also allows you to use evidence-based methods to track growth over time and help teachers reflect on their improvement in addition to their practice.

4. Pivotal Pausing

This strategy allows a teacher to literally stop time when reflecting on their instruction. In this practice, the teacher pauses the video at a “moment they consider pivotal” to the goals of the lesson. Pivotal pausing allows the coach and coachee to take action on specific moments, again providing focus to the conversation that takes place around the video. Rather than discuss vague, overarching themes from a longer clip of video, the close attention to micro-moments of instruction allows the teacher to find one thing to change, which will lead to measurable improvement if undertaken with enough frequency.

This strategy is an answer to one of the objections many coaches raise when they begin considering video-enhanced coaching. It can be daunting to record and view video footage of an entire class. By using pivotal pausing, the coaching pair has an opportunity to ignore much of the footage and focus on the first pivotal moment that comes up.

Of course, with video that can be stored permanently in a cloud-based solution, you can always return to the video at a later time to evaluate the next pivotal moment after you fix the first problem. This can lead to much greater improvement from a single video, again maximizing your effectiveness as an instructional coach.

Change the Conversation

Countless researchers—including Thomas Kane, Jim Knight, and Deborah Ball—agree that video-enhanced coaching can vastly improve the experience of instructional coaching for the coach and coachee. 

That doesn’t mean that the change will happen immediately. Both teacher and coach need to rethink how they view instructional coaching and professional development. Take some time to look at the many resources Harvard CEPR has made available to help you re-imagine your practice. These four strategies are among the easiest, but there’s plenty more to explore when you’re ready!

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