The first time I saw myself teach on video was when I pursued National Board certification. The first video I shot was a whole class lesson. Although I can’t remember the topic, I do remember the emotions I had when I watched it. I judged everything about myself from my grammar to my shoes (I wore running shoes that day – how unprofessional for those evaluators to see!). It is fairly common for humans to be their own worst critics in these ways.
It took a little longer to see my students’ body language though. They seemed passive. Perhaps they were waiting for me to quit talking, so they could do something themselves. The lesson stunk! This video was key to my understanding that my whole-class instruction needed some strategies to better engage my students.
So, in addition to the personal judgments, now I confronted unflattering evidence of my professional practice. That was actually beneficial! Seeing my students’ lack of enthusiasm provided urgency to grow. Teaching is so tied to emotion and perception that exploring our practice objectively an be tricky! However, video sets us free to be able to do just that. In addition, video of others’ teaching can also spur new ideas about what is possible in our own classrooms.
Here are just a few ways video can help us innovate our practice:
Once you get past any personal critical reactions, watching yourself on video results in objective reflection. Video is clarifying data that allows you to examine your active practice. While your personal observations are powerful for the reflection process, your emotions and memory can easily distort your reflections. Having a principal, coach, or colleague provide feedback is also helpful, but their input can distort the lesson by what they have time to write, the point-of-view they bring to your class, or what items they are comfortable sharing with you. Video gives you an unfiltered, neutral account of your class — which helps you reflect on what’s going well and where improvements can be made. Using a platform like Sibme can help you make time-marker notes in your video, so you can easily return to the evidence of where you can grow your practice.
Evidence of Student Engagement
Have you ever had a class discussion that felt lively and thoughtful to only realize later that, rather than a discussion, you actually held a conversation with only a few students. It can happen. Video shows us how all students are participating in the classroom. Simple shifts, such as providing smaller student groups with prepared questions, can result in far more student engagement. However, it is harder to make shifts in our practice without evidence that students are disengaged. Video can show us the need. Once you identify a need and adjust your practice, you can also use video again as a way to measure whether your new practices are impacting student learning or not. Video can be an effective tool for a self assessment of new strategies.
Discussion of Practice
One of my favorite activities for discussing teaching at a conference, workshop, or afterschool meeting is sharing videos of others’ teaching. Observing an “anonymous” colleague frees teachers to be able to discuss how the teacher in the video’s actions compare to their own practice. They can praise and critique openly and honestly. These discussions are powerful for examining practice in settings away from the classroom. Some of my favorite sources of teaching videos are the Fisher and Frey YouTube Channel, the Teaching Channel, Edutopia, and Alexandria City Public Schools’ Talent Development site.
Using video can change our classrooms’ dynamics. Once we can push ourselves past our fear of seeing ourselves on video, we can begin to see our students and our classrooms in new, fascinating ways. Video serves as a powerful tool for making our classes the laboratories of learning that we hope they will be.
Kenny McKee is a National Board Certified Teacher who currently serves as a high school instructional coach in the Buncombe County Schools district in Asheville, NC. His interests include teacher leadership, blended learning, disciplinary literacies, and instructional coaching. He is the co-creator of ASCD’s #EdAdvBecause chat, and he was a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. Connect with him on his blog (kennycmckee.com) or on Twitter (@kennycmckee).