When Denise Duewell left the classroom to become a coach, she jumped at the opportunity to step into a new role as the coordinator of professional development and induction at Turlock Unified School District.
Duewell spent the majority of her decades with the district serving as a high school English teacher, but she said the four years she spent as an instructional coach impressed upon her the need for additional support among new teachers. “Aside from refining my own practice and learning so much from my mentees, I found that I really enjoyed working with new teachers to help them unlock their potential and grow into the best teachers they could be,” Duewell wrote in an article recently published by eSchool News. “I also saw firsthand that our newest teachers needed additional professional development and support in their first few years in the classroom.”
With new California state standards for teacher induction being drafted as she stepped into the new role, however, Duewell’s first order of business was to write the district’s new teacher induction program.
Writing the program as the standards were released gave Duewell a head start that allowed Turlock to become the first district to win provisional approval of their induction program, which, like the new standards, had twin focuses of individual learning paths and mentoring.
The secret weapon that allowed her new teachers (and their mentors) to thrive was video.
Encouraging New Teacher Self-Reflection
In relaying the story of a new teacher who was hesitant to record her own classroom practice, Duewell shines a light on the power of video in encouraging self-reflection. After struggling to get the teacher to submit her video for some time, “It just took one video and the opportunity to reflect on it, and she was hooked,” Duewell wrote. “Once she started looking at her videos, she was able to say, ‘Oh my goodness! I did this really well right here as I applied this strategy. But you know what? I missed those two in the back. I need to pay more attention there.’”
That fits a pattern Duewell has observed among Turlock USD’s new educators. “In the beginning, as teachers talk about their first videos with their coaches, they give a play-by-play, almost narrating the video as if you’re not sitting there watching it with them,” she wrote. “But as they keep doing it, they get more comfortable and you can just see them growing and the reflection becoming deeper and deeper. As that happens, they begin to see behaviors they didn’t before, and they learn to deal with those in the classroom. It becomes truly empowering for them.”
Empowering New Teacher Mentors
But video wasn’t just a key to unlocking self-reflection for teachers fresh to the classroom. Duewell said it empowered her mentors to improve their own practice as well, and even helped her to identify those with a talent for coaching new educators.
Duewell doesn’t want her coaches to function as instructors telling their mentees what to do, so mentors set their own goals, such as remembering to pause or paraphrase what their new teachers have said to them. As part of their training, mentors practice with each other, but, according to Duewell, “role-playing just isn’t the real thing. Reviewing video of mentoring sessions gives them an opportunity to truly reflect on their practice. When they actually see themselves, they’ll often realize, ‘Oh, you know what? I had an opportunity there to just be quiet for another minute and let them speak more.’”
Duewell firmly believes that seeing their performance outside of the moment and assessing how well they’ve actually met the goals they’ve set for themselves has brought her mentors further along than the district’s regular training.
Furthermore, sharing mentor-created videos with the whole coaching team for debriefing has helped to supercharge collaboration and make them all more effective. “We can’t always do that [debriefing] in person, but the platform we use, Insight ADVANCE, allows us to collaboratively consult with one another via video as well,” Duewell explained. “This is marvelous because it has allowed me to identify talented mentors who have become wonderful role models for our other mentors. On the flipside, it has helped me to see who’s struggling a bit with mentoring so we can work more personally to address those issues.”