Reading Specialist & Instructional Coach
Ann teaches reading skills to high school students and coaches teachers to embed literacy strategies into classrooms in New York City.
Instructional Coach Ann Leghorn applauds teachers for their adaptivity and shares three positive changes occurring in the culture of teacher observations – largely due to the virtual format brought on by the pandemic.
It is no secret that the landscape of education has changed dramatically since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been more changes in the last 10 months than in the last eight years of my career.
However, as a former English teacher, Reading Specialist, and now an Instructional Coach, I am continually impressed at our teachers ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of remote instruction. With all the changes going on, it feels like we are restarting our first year of teaching all over again.
That being said, this time has also led to an increase in openness to feedback and a greater interest in conducting observations a bit differently at my school. Remote teaching and online education has opened the door to using our digital learning platforms and new technology to embrace video observations.
Overall, these shifts in the culture of teacher observations brought on by the virtual format could be summed into three themes.
1. Teachers Becoming More Open to Recording Lessons
As an Instructional Coach during in-person instruction, I would ask teachers about their willingness to record lessons to use as a growth and coaching tool. Many teachers shied away from videotaping their classrooms for a host of reasons, including the vulnerability factor, fear of judgement, and the natural hesitation to try something new.
Having been coached using video observation myself, I would cringe when listening to the sound of my own voice, the volume at which I spoke, and the drama with which I waved my hands when delivering a lesson or directions to a group. For these reasons, as an Instructional Coach during in-person instruction, I did not push back when a teacher gave me the usual “I’d rather just read your feedback on the lesson than see myself on tape” response.
It relegated us to more directive coaching sessions using my low-inference notes taken during the observation and our memories from which to identify strengths and plan next steps. It felt like a very traditional form of coaching.
The remote learning world has increased our teachers’s willingness to record parts or all of their lessons and use these within more collaborative coaching sessions.
2. Video Observations Shift the Culture of the Observation Cycle
There has been a culture shift that has allowed for more openness to use video as an authentic artifact during coaching. During the fall, I had the opportunity of attending a three-part professional development series with Laura Beacher, Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at the School of Education at Hunter College, City University of New York, where I learned more deeply about the benefits of video observations in coaching.
I encourage you to read her writing around the topic to better understand how video observations can shift the culture and experience of the observation cycle in schools (start with one of her blogs from May 2020).
Using video observations when coaching allows the teacher to more deeply reflect on what happened in the classroom and unveils areas of growth that they may not even have known they had. Professor Beacher presented this in terms of The Johari Window (Luft & Ingham, 1961) in which we can, sometimes inadvertently, hide our blindspots or not be able to identify them at all.
The increased opportunity for video observations during remote learning flips the observation debrief conservations from the coach speaking 80% of the time and the teacher speaking 20% to a more balanced or teacher-driven reflection process. Our conversations now focus on what teachers want to prioritize and see as opportunities to grow their practice rather than nodding along as the observer reviews the notes and next steps without truly owning the process themselves.
After all, teachers should be empowered in the coaching process to self-reflect and set the course for growth in service of their students.
3. More Opportunities for Peer Observation & Group Coaching
As teacher interest in video observations has increased, so too has our opportunities for peer observation. I believe that teachers often learn best when learning from their colleagues. They are eager to see best practices in action with students in other classrooms and determine how to bring those practices into their own classrooms.
During remote learning, this eagerness has grown as even the most veteran teachers learn to navigate the virtual world. During in-person instruction last year we worked to set up team learning walks so that peers could see each other in action.
However, we sometimes struggled to match up prep periods or find necessary coverage. With video observations, more teachers can witness another teacher’s classroom without needing to shift their schedule considerably.
Using online video tools embedded into our platforms also make the logistics easier. We plan to share these videos across grade levels and departments so that more interdisciplinary observations can occur.
We are also designing a small group coaching pilot program in which teacher to teacher observations will play a pivotal role. This will allow our coaching program to reach groups of teachers, no matter their content area and schedule, as opposed to solely participating in one-to-one coaching.
I will certainly not pretend that the newfound interest and access to video observations has solved all of the concerns that remote learning has served us. However, I feel privileged as an Instructional Coach to utilize video observations to work in partnership with a teacher as we watch, analyze, and plan using authentic, real-time snippets from their own classrooms.
Virtual observations have proved to be another way to support our teachers in finding opportunities to work collaboratively in service of a better learning experience for our students.
The abrupt shift to remote learning pulled the rug out from under us all. I have found it helpful to identify the silver linings for myself and grow those into my daily practice. I hope that the increasing teacher and coach use of video observations is one such pandemic practice that is here to stay, allowing for a more connected and collaborative education landscape.
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