In addition to sharing our team’s views, we’re excited to learn more about the work teachers, coaches, and district and school leaders are doing in the field. Today, we’re proud to feature Jim Thompson, director of instructional coaching services at Genessee Valley Educational Partnership, as a new voice on our blog.
In the 2013–2014 school year, I was invited to work with a half-dozen teachers in two districts to share a video of a lesson and help them reflect on their instruction. Flash forward to the 2016–2017 school year, and I have the title of Director of Instructional Coaching Services. I work with 10 districts, with a key focus on training video instructional coaches.
As I look back on this journey of creating partnerships with teachers, I’d like to share five key strategies I have learned to help teachers reflect on and improve their instruction using videos of their lessons as the Rosetta Stone of our work.
Build Trust First
Jim Knight, in his book Focus on Teaching: Using Video For High-Impact Instruction, reminds us that “People take it personally when we talk about their practice.” When we ask a teacher to not just videotape a lesson but also to review it and share it with us, they are taking a big risk. Teaching is a very personal event, and we as coaches are asking to be invited into is event—not just to observe but also to reflect together.
When I was working with teachers, I always met them face-to-face first. I wanted to know about them as people, to talk about their family pictures on their desks. This was most helpful as a bridge to engage in conversations about their practice and how I could partner with them.
A key part of this trust-building is the fact that our work is confidential and non-evaluative. Trust-building is not a linear process. It’s not something that happens with one meeting…but bringing coffee to this first meeting never hurts!
Listen More Than Talk
Teachers are thirsty to tell us their story. It might be the story of their family, their class, or of a student that is driving them crazy. Jim Knight writes eloquently about this, framing the idea as “partnership communication.”
In Evocative Coaching, Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran write, “After asking an evocative question, coaches can stop talking, lean into the space, and wait silently for teachers to respond fully.”
A key part of our work is to enable and empower teachers to reflect on their instruction. In order to do this, we need to master the art of listening.
Go Slow to Go Fast
This year, more than 70% of Byron-Byron Bergen Central School teachers have agreed to make a video to submit as part of their evaluation. This did not happen overnight. In fact, it took four years of gradually building trust, listening, validating a promise of confidentiality, and celebrating small and great victories. Speaking of which….
Celebrate Small Victories
Jim Knight reminds us that “Most people don’t know what it looks like when they do what they do.” When teachers see a video of their instruction for the first time, there can be a lot of shock and awe. They tend to point out the bad things they did. Sharing with them your reflections of powerful positive teaching that you see is an important beginning of celebrating small victories.
Sharing a Video of a Lesson is Transformational
Most teachers have never seen themselves teach. If there is a secret sauce to our work (other than building trust) it is the use of video to help teachers reflect on and improve their instruction. In Focus on Teaching, Knight shares the comments of instructional coach Courtney Horton, who says, “Using a video camera to learn about your teaching is like looking into a mirror. You get to actually see what you are doing and all of your actions. You are able to see what you normally couldn’t see with your own eyes.”
In my years of collaborating with educators, I have found that this is true for both the teacher and the coach.
Jim Thompson is the Director of Instructional Coaching Services for the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership in New York. He tweets via @Schoolguy.