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Visibly Better: Reflections

This past week I (Steven) had the incredible opportunity to travel to Harvard University to work with the Center for Education Policy Research on a project called “Visibly Better: Using Video for Teacher Development.” My dissertation research focused on teachers’ perceptions of using video for self-reflection and professional development and since that time, I have continued to use video with teachers at my school as an optional component of classroom observations. To say that I was humbled to be invited to work with such an esteemed group of researchers and educators in the reputable setting of Harvard University would be an understatement!

During the two-day working conference, we had great dialogue about a range of topics related to video-use, leading change initiatives, giving feedback, coaching, and improving schools. I had opportunities to share what I learned through my research and continued video use with teachers, and heard from many others who are using video in both similar and vastly different ways in schools across the country. I was challenged, encouraged, inspired, and in many ways, overwhelmed with the experience and the knowledge I gained.

Reflection was one of my main priorities in beginning to blog. While it’s impossible to fully summarize everything I learned over the past week, I have tried to synthesize my learning as it relates to our core beliefs on this site and as “The Education Brothers” in the following four points...

Focus on the goal - growth and learning!

The purpose of this working group was to discuss and further the use of video in education. Although video-use in education is far from new, emerging technology has created a resurgence of opportunity to integrate video more easily. So, even though we were all gathered around the concept of video technology, I am grateful that many times throughout the two days, someone would stop the conversation and ask, “What is our end goal? Is the goal video-use itself or is the goal teacher and student growth, with video simply being a possible tool?”

In most areas of education, it can be so easy to become distracted and lose sight of our end goal - learning. Even in this setting, there was a constant temptation to simply focus on video-use. But ultimately, our goal must remain on creating opportunities that further growth and learning in schools, for students and teachers alike. Sure, I believe there is great value in developing systems and processes that utilize video to drive that learning. But video itself isn’t the goal. Growth and learning must always remain the target!

Power of Diverse Collaboration

One of the most unique parts of this experience was the diversity of participants in the working group. We all came from different educational contexts with different experiences and perspectives. Since the majority of the two-days were spent in small working groups and discussions, I had a lot of opportunity to interact with others. I’ve found that the discussions that have impacted me the most were the ones rooted in respectful disagreement! When we are presented with viewpoints that differ from our own, one of two things happen: (1) our perspective is widened and reshaped, or (2) our core beliefs are resolidified. Both outcomes ultimately lead to growth! It is easy to want to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals who see things from the same perspective, but there is great danger in doing so. I am grateful that this experience allowed my thinking to be challenged! Similarly, in our own school settings, what if we learned to better embrace differing ideas and perspectives, to allow ourselves to both grow and deepen our convictions?

Tell less, ask more.

Different school settings use video for a variety of ways, including instructional coaching, guided self-reflection, collaborative group discussions, teacher evaluation, and more. Much of the discussion of our groups centered on how to help teachers use video productively. One idea that came up repeatedly, that really took root for me, was the power of asking questions. So often, especially as a leader, it is so easy to just tell people what we want or think they should do. And for many, many years that has been the expected role of an administrator. They visit a classroom, observe, and then meet with the teacher to tell them what they thought went well and what needs improvement.

However, we also know that the deepest learning (especially for adults!) comes internally - as a result of intrinsic motivation and a sense of problem solving. Sure, I can tell a teacher how to “fix” something in their classroom; but, it only makes sense that the deepest, most powerful learning would come as a result of self-reflection. If our ultimate goal is truly LEARNING, then supporting self-reflection is always better than giving a “quick fix” solution. The best way to accomplish this, I believe, is to “ask” and not “tell.” Video, especially, provides great opportunities for teachers and administrators to watch the happenings of a classroom and “wonder together” at ways to support continuous growth.

It all comes back to one thing…

One of my biggest fears in trying to encourage more schools to utilize video for teacher development is that it will be forced and mandated in a way that does not support the professionalism of teachers. The discussion of building trust with teachers and creating a culture of learning was another repeating theme from the working conference that I want to be sure we are shouting from the rooftops! Fostering a positive school culture that esteems risk-taking, trial and error, growth, and learning for all is the absolutely critical foundation for effective video-use; and the core of any positive school culture is intentionally cultivated relationships among all stakeholders.

On social media, I have often seen a quote that says something to the likes of, “I care more about the people my students become than the scores they earn on tests.” Amen! And similarly, educational leaders must maintain the same outlook for the adults in the school building. Our desire for teachers to utilize video cannot overshadow our commitment to them personally, and to their individual growth and learning. Another well-known truism in education summarizes this idea, and I hope continues to be the living mantra of educators everywhere: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

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