SVVSD Opens Educational Third Eye with Video Coaching
St. Vrain schools have utilized iPads, authorized by a mill levy in 2012, to enhance teaching and learning through technology and improving the way students are taught with Edthena—a video coaching tool.
SVVSD’s initiation of iPads and the use of video coaching was an approved technology resource to better teacher practice. When first receiving iPads four years ago, the video recording function on the iPad was one of the applications they quickly considered using.
“If we don’t use technology to better ourselves and to hone our craft, then we’re going to be missing out on all the different ways that we can help students use technology to increase their knowledge and skills,” said Diane Lauer, Assistant Superintendent of Priority Programs and Academic Support for SVVSD.
That led SVVSD on a path towards exploring different options with a tool that was going to support their work and support their teachers. “If students are using technology to better their learning and to support their learning, and teachers are using technology to better their teaching, why aren’t we using technology to better our practice?” added Patty Hagan, Teaching and Learning Coach for SVVSD.
Before SVVSD spent any mill levy money, they gathered a group of teachers, principals, and parents from all across the district to have a series of meetings that became a learning technology steering committee. Its purpose became finding different ways students could learn. It developed into a process of looking at how they could meet the needs of not only students but also teachers.
“We looked at what was the best practice, in what ways can we use technology to help students become producers of knowledge, not just the passive receivers of content,” said David Baker, Professional Development Coordinator for SVVSD. “How do we help students learn more effectively? It wasn’t let’s go buy them a blank, it was how do we help students and teachers carry through the learning in ways that are more effective?”
SVVSD’s motto is, “Academic excellence by design,” striving for kids to graduate with skills that are going to be marketable for their future, and academic technology is a big part of that. “By investing in technology, which is going to last them, those skills to further their education, whether they’re going to take online classes in college, or they’re going to need to be able to use technology in any kind of job,” Lauer said.
Before they started using the camera video recorder on the iPad, most SVVSD schools used VHS cameras. The librarian kept it in an office and each teacher could check it out. Teachers could use it for a day, and possibly another teacher could use it the next day, an often long-winded process. With Edthena, teachers can operate it instantly. “You can see it so easily in so many different ways. You can share it flexibly. I can take it out of my iPad, put it on my laptop so I can really see it and think it, and I don’t have to get seven cords to plug it in. I can share it digitally,” Baker said.
This new school year, SVVSD welcomed 230 new teachers. Around 50 to 60 of those teachers are brand new. That’s where the district decided to break the ice and chart new territory with video coaching. The district wanted to help new teachers accelerate with confidence and receive as much feedback as possible in the process with matched mentors or similar types of teachers. “We’re not just using it with our first-year teachers, we’re also using it with our experienced teachers as a tool to facilitate dialogue and learning for both parties,” Hagan said.
Edthena has provided the ability for teachers to reflect on aspects of their teaching that they might not have seen before or would ever see. When watching video of the lessons they facilitate in classrooms, they have the ability to reflect on teaching practices and improve classroom instruction.
“By using Edthena, I am able to watch and rewatch lessons, pausing to think about strengths and areas of improvement for both myself and my students,” said Kelly Addington, 5th Grade Math Teacher at Longs Peak Middle School. “As a mentor teacher, I improve every time I watch video of someone else. I am constantly trying to grow and learn as an educator and peer observation allows me to borrow ideas from other teachers and implement them successfully into my own classroom.”
Edthena allows teachers to jump to specifically marked areas in a video to show students their performance, including verbal and non-verbal communication during group projects and presentations. “When students see their own behaviors, it helps clarify what they are doing well and where they need to improve within their group roles and responsibilities,” said Sherie Dike-Wilhelm a Literacy Teacher at Columbine Elementary. “Even with years of experience, and eyes in the back of my head, videos always capture information that I otherwise might have missed.”
Through SVVSD’s induction program, teaching and learning coaches assist new teachers by partnering them with a mentor. Teachers continue through coaching cycles, and video coaching is part of those cycles. Typically within one coaching cycle, they have recorded themselves a minimum of two times, and there is an opportunity for three to five videos to be passed back and forth between teachers. Mentors will ordinarily engage in three coaching cycles per year with new teachers.
“That’s just one cohort of teachers that use the tool. We also have teachers who are using it with a colleague to reflect on their own practice,” said Karen Smith, Teaching and Learning Coach for SVVSD. “People are initiating, and self-initiating as well, with other cohorts across the district.”
SVVSD also teaches professional development classes and have built a video requirement into those classes for the application of learning. “I have a classroom management class where teachers are required to video the implementation of certain strategies for their self-reflection,” Hagan said. “It’s really for them to reflect, and we guide them in reflecting. It’s an opportunity to take that learning and apply it to the classroom, and demonstrate learning through that.”
Teaching and learning coaches also pair the video observation protocol with other tools and resources across the district. They pair the video with a certain type of content and focus on a particular element of instruction. For example, they have a new math curricular adoption happening in every elementary classroom across the district. “Teachers now have the opportunity to pair video with this tool so that they can observe themselves teaching this program, and they can see what their instruction looks like with this tool,” Smith said.
With the iPad app, malfunction has virtually become an obstacle of the past. Teachers, mentors, and coaches can re-record immediately afterward if an unfortunate mishap were to occur. “I had one video that didn’t work well, because when I was videotaping I put my hand over the microphone. There was this great video with no sound. Well, that was easy to fix, because that was user error. We knew right away it didn’t work,” Baker noted.
Although some school districts currently record teachers for the entire duration of a class, SVVSD does not have any future plans to do so. “That’s cumbersome. That almost makes it like, ‘I don’t have a choice. This is forced upon me, done to me as a gotcha.’ It’s our goal that we really want to shift the perception from gotcha to this is about you, this is about your own growth. That’s where it has to grow organically,” Smith said.
The camera isn’t always on the teacher during the video coaching session. Some of the best feedback teachers collect is when the camera is turned on the students to discover what they are learning. “We have to be responsive to where our students are in the world that they’re living in,” Smith said. “If I’m a high school teacher, I need to be responsive to that. I need to start learning about the tools that technology or that this iPad or that this phone has to offer. As an office of professional development, we need to be responsive to that as well. As the tools continue to evolve, our use of those tools evolves with that as well.”
Most parents can remember when they were students, when the principal or supervisor sat in on a class, watched quietly, and scribbled listlessly on a legal pad. That still happens. SVVSD’s biggest hope when they started video coaching four years ago was that teachers would get used to videotaping themselves to establish a habit that could be used throughout their entire career. “They did that on their own, and they didn’t have to wait for me to show up in their classroom,” Baker said.
SVVSD places confidence in the concept that video coaching has the power to help teachers accelerate their growth, as opposed to teachers that do not use video coaching. “It can be really, really empowering,” Lauer said. “Everybody wants to be the best that they can be. Video is something that surgeons use to reflect on their practice. Athletes use it, whether it’s basketball, or golf, or baseball. People, they watch their swing over, and over, and over again. They can tell if their shoulder is in the wrong place. They can tell by their stance. As education professionals as well, to be able to have that kind of technology to help ourselves improve is exciting. It is groundbreaking technology.”
Many teachers coming in from different universities and colleges already have experience videotaping themselves while teaching, as well as plenty of other teacher-prep programs. “As technology continues to evolve, so do the norms around using technology,” Smith said.
Educational technology has come full circle. It isn’t uncommon for students in college courses these days to sign in on their computer and interact in a virtual classroom setting with other students and teachers.
“Our memories fade. Video is concrete. It lasts,” Lauer said. “That doesn’t mean you want to videotape yourself every single day, all the time, but when you have a question and you are wondering. It’s just another eye that you can use to help you reflect.”