Best Foot Forward: Video Success in Classroom Observations

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Teacher Video Observation

Allowing teachers to submit videos in lieu of in-person classroom observations improved the experience for both teachers and administrators, a recent report from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University found.

When teachers are invited to put their best foot forward by recording their own lessons, teachers perceive the evaluation process as more fair, less adversarial and more useful in identifying aspects of their practice needing change. Moreover, the use of video allowed administrators to do their observations during quieter times of the day or week.

In a randomized controlled experiment, half of the more than 400 participating teachers were asked to tape themselves regularly, select only the videos they felt represented their best instruction, and submit those for evaluation instead of the traditional drop-in observation. In addition, the observer conducting the evaluation had the benefit of watching the lesson at more convenient times of day and as many times as needed in order to give useful, actionable feedback on the lesson.

Teachers were also able to submit videos to external peer coaches for formative purposes. Athletic departments have used video for coaching purposes for decades.  Research findings from the study demonstrate that the use of video increased teachers’ willingness to open up their instruction to peers and other instructional experts, compared to teachers who were not randomly assigned to use video.

“No one enjoys being videotaped,” said the study’s director Miriam Greenberg. “However, we found that handing control of the camera to teachers, and allowing them to substitute video for in-person observations, was an attractive option for teachers. These findings open very exciting possibilities for more effective and targeted coaching and actionable feedback for educators.” The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has allowed teachers to submit video for decades.

Administrators found that the videos were just as authentic as drop-in observations for measuring teacher effectiveness.   (That is, teachers’ scores in the videos they did not submit were highly correlated with the scores on the lessons they did submit.) Though they spent more time observing instruction, administrators could also review the footage at any time.

The study team also released a freely available toolkit with practical guidance for teachers and school leaders interested in piloting video observations. The kit includes advice and a suite of resources for leveraging video technology for teacher development, choosing the right technology for the classroom, and protecting the privacy of students and teachers.

Read the full report >

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In 2013, the Best Foot Forward Project was launched to investigate whether video technology can make the classroom observation process easier to implement, less costly, and more valid and reliable. The project was piloted in 100 classrooms in New York City, Georgia, and North Carolina. More than 400 teachers and their administrators from districts in Delaware, California, Colorado, and Georgia joined the impact evaluation from 2013 ­– 2015.