What’s quality teaching? Depends on your point of view. When you ask a teacher, “Are you doing a good job?” they answer, naturally, through their filter of reality. Ask me the same question and I’ll do the same thing: answer through my own filter. We all do this; that is the point. To determine the true answer to the quality question for teaching, or any performance-oriented occupation, we need another point of view, a different perspective.
A video camera is the best different perspective. Historically, we have depended on other humans—principals, supervisors, peer coaches and the like—to provide the different perspective. One problem with this solution is that our perspectives are filtered by past experience and prejudice. Research has proven that eye witnesses are not very reliable because everyone “sees” what they have been trained to see.
Another problem with human observers is that their presence has an effect on the environment in which they are observing. It is hard for an outside observer to become unobtrusive, let along invisible. The small, digital cameras of today, however, can disappear quite easily.
Wait a minute! Am I suggesting we put cameras in classrooms? The answer is yes, but not in the Vegas camera-in-the ceiling, pervasive manner (though that’s an interesting topic for another blog!). I’m suggesting that teachers will be better teachers if they can see themselves teach through the unfiltered lens of a video camera. Think about it. Just about every other performance-oriented occupation uses video to improve effectiveness. For example, a benchmark behavior of professional athletes is their ability to consistently and critically evaluate their performance as recorded on a video.
Here is how I suggest a teacher get started.
- Be sure to communicate with the parents and the students that you are recording your class and the reasons you are doing it.
- Place the camera in a location where both you and the students are in the picture. (Sometimes the most important learning for a teacher is what the students are doing or not doing.)
- Videotape a lesson.
- Watch the video tape alone and take notes of things you “see” that are new.
- Watch the video with someone you respect as a teacher and listen to what they say they see and compare it with what you saw.
- Develop a plan to adapt your teaching to what you saw.
- Implement the plan and video tape a new lesson.
- Watch the video to see if you have made an effective change.
From my personal experience, I can guarantee that if a teacher follows these steps, better teaching will result. Since the most effective way to improve student learning is to provide good teaching, why not? It’s inexpensive. It’s easy. Pair the process with a comprehensive, research-based instructional strategy training program and you’ve got an even more effective way to improve teaching. Try it.