Intervisitation is a best practice that allows teachers to learn from observing their peers. By using a digital video platform, a New York middle level school in the Bronx has found a way to innovate this practice—all while eliminating the time constraints teachers face and enabling them to actively engage in this work.
When There’s No Time for Best Practices
As I prepared to take over as principal of Equality Charter School (ECS) five years ago, I knew I wanted to revamp my school’s current practice on intervisitation. Our practices were grounded in research, but they were time-consuming. Often I would hear, “I love getting into other teachers’ classrooms, but I also need to plan lessons, grade papers, and provide additional instruction.” Our intervisitation process was taking up teachers’ already busy preparation and planning period.
We considered doing classroom observations during instructional time, but that meant curriculum pacing would falter, and it would cut into time students have with their teachers. I knew there had to be a way to maintain the practice of intervisitation without asking our teachers to do more during school hours.
The Shift to Video
Using video seemed like a good solution, but more questions arose. Who would film? Where would the videos be stored? How would we be able to provide staff with access to multiple videos?
We needed to find the simplest way to implement the initiative. By chance, one of our board members had learned about a new digital video coaching platform called Edthena, which supports teacher prep programs to bring digital learning to students. After a two-minute web demo, I knew video coaching was the solution I was looking for.
How Does Video Coaching Work?
With video coaching, teachers no longer need to be physically present in classrooms to conduct observations. Instead, teachers can capture video of their classroom instruction using their mobile devices and quickly upload it to the Edthena platform (or use the platform’s recording feature). They share those videos with peers and coaches who watch and provide feedback.
The Road to Implementation
School leaders must be intentional with the implementation of any new process, and an initiative that has the ability to memorialize classroom observations requires particular care. With that in mind, I designed a four-year rollout:
Get comfortable with others watching you on video (and comfortable watch-ing yourself).
The goal for the first year focused on getting teachers comfortable with the idea of video observations and the Edthena platform. In order to move this initiative forward and set a foundation for engagement from teachers, I focused on three specific points:
- Start with low-stakes activities.
- Provide opportunities for teacher choice to support a level of autonomy.
- Ground the new initiative in our existing work.
My primary responsibility was getting teachers on board with being recorded and using the platform. So, I knew I needed to keep stakes low to get teachers in front of the camera. The first part of the year focused on building familiarity with the platform as teachers engaged in classroom tours and completed an informative recording on a classroom-management strategy. In September, teachers were given flexibility and autonomy when taping their classroom tours. They could take us to the parts of their classroom they wanted us to see and could script their own information.
For October through December, we increased the structure of the program while still providing room for teacher choice and a low-stakes activity. We provided an outline for the information teachers would share about a classroom management strategy, but teachers chose the strategy that spoke to them. Teachers again were able to script the information they shared about the strategy, which lowered stress.
From January through May, teachers were asked to let the camera be a “fly on the wall” observer to their co-planning session. This allowed their first unscripted video session to be grounded in a practice they engaged in regularly.
We finished the year by asking teachers to showcase their practices around vocabulary instruction, which was the instructional focus for that school year. This allowed teachers to capture video footage that was aligned to the support they had received all year. Teachers were relieved to know that we were not going to ask them to put their problems of practice on video display that first year.
Build confidence and strengthen the coaching relationship.
The second year focused on building momentum around video and video coaching. This meant focusing on two additional points:
- Differentiate support.
- Limit the viewing of recorded problems of practice to the teacher and their coach.
To prepare for these two points, I needed to effectively onboard my instructional coaches. They had dabbled with the platform and were adept at using their observations to help teachers set goals and improve instruction. Now, the coaches needed to understand how to take the lead in making opportunities for teachers to create intentional recordings and use the platform to manage their feedback.
I worked with coaches to develop a plan to differentiate the professional development tied to video coaching and our use of Edthena to include two tracks—new staff and returning staff. We knew we had to give new teachers that opportunity to engage in the low-stakes activities their peers had done the year before—but, because there were only a handful of teachers, we were able to accelerate their rollout from 10 months to five.
Focus on peer feedback.
In our third year, we were ready to shift the majority of intervisitation to video. Our teachers were comfortable with the platform and sharing their practice within the school community. The first two years of implementing the program were successful in creating a culture of trust, and this allowed our teachers to be open to move from sharing their recording with just coaches to their peers.
Even though we were in the third year of the rollout, we asked teachers to record a low-stakes practice around classroom procedures and expectations. These videos would just be shared with the teacher’s grade team and their coach. This allowed teachers who shared and provided feedback to have a greater context for the work, given that they worked with all the same children.
When we moved into our work for the second half of the year, we increased the length of the video and focused the content around our instructional focus for that year—critical thinking. The teachers were nervous to share their videos with other teachers within their department. So, to support them, we referenced our work from Year One and Year Two as well as our school values around achievement and progress. The recording that their peers saw allowed our teachers to celebrate the growth of colleagues while encouraging collaboration through feedback.
Use teachers as models.
We successfully transitioned our coaching and intervisitation practices from solely in person to a healthy balance of in person and digital. We could have stopped there, and I would have been satisfied with our work. Instead, my team of coaches pushed for us to use the digital platform as a means of sharing and archiving effective teaching practices.
A Focus on Refinement
The 2018–19 school year was our fifth year using video coaching. While new teachers are still onboarded to the program, onboarding is no longer necessary for our returning staff. Video coaching and intervisitation have become a staple of our school.
My teachers and coaches not only opened their classroom doors, but they also helped our school develop a library of teaching videos. I am proud of the impact this video coaching and intervisitation has had on the growth of our staff—and our students.
Amanda Huza is the middle level principal of Equality Charter School in the Bronx, NY.