Archive for the ‘Self-Coaching’ Category

Finding Thinking Prompts

Friday, July 12th, 2013

This is a column I wrote for a different blog a few years back.  

I recently received an email asking a great question:  “Where can I find good Thinking Prompts for my math class?”  Thinking Prompts, in case you don’t know, are provocative objects we share with students to create lively conversations in the classroom. In fact you can download a mini-manual for Thinking Prompts at this link, and read about and download other mini-coaching manuals at the Big Four Ning

Coincidently, the day I received that email, I was talking about the very same topic with Laura Parn, an instructional coach in Lincoln, NE.  Laura was looking for a video to use as a Thinking Device for her elementary students to talk about measurement.  What Laura did helped me understand how I could find good Thinking Prompts.

Laura told me she sat at her computer and took a few minutes to think about things students needed to measure and convert to other forms of measurement.  She said she wanted something that would be very familiar to her students, and she came up with something simple: pennies. So, she just Googled “pennies” and “video” and a bunch of options came up.  In less than a minute, she found a great thinking prompt for a lesson on measurement; you can view it here.

I decided to try out her strategy on a higher-level topic, and I chose statistics.  Again, in less than a minute, I found a famous, but great Thinking Device for my topic.  You’ve probably seen it before, but watch it again as a way to introduce statistics in a high school algebra class.  You can view it here.

So here’s my advice. If you’re looking for video Thinking Prompts, all you have to do is go on You Tube, search for your topic, poke around a bit, and you should be able to find appropriate Thinking Prompts.  And if you find any great ones, we’d love to see you post them on the Big Four Ning.

By the way, a simple way to download video from You Tube, if you haven’t tried it out, is Kick You Tube.

You can also find a checklist for evaluating Thinking Prompts from my most recent book, High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching, here

The Everyday Leadership of ‘Tempered Radicals’

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

This is a guest post by Dennis Sparks, Emeritus Executive Director of the National Staff Development Council, now known as Learning Forward. Dennis’ blog, “Dennis Sparks on Leading and Learning,” can be found at

“Radical learners” may sometimes feel like outsiders even when they hold important positions withing their schools.  Debra Meyerson uses the term “tempered radicals” to describe such individuals, and it is also the name of a book she wrote based on studies she has done on TRs, as she calls them.

Drawing on Meyerson’s Tempered Radicals and a 2005 interview I did with her for the JSD, I offer a set of attributes about “everyday leadership” so that “radical learners” can be even more effective in using their unique talents and perspectives to serve students and their school communities.

Who are “tempered radicals”?

“‘Tempered Radicals,'” Meyerson writes in her book, “are people who want to succeed in their organizations yet want to live by their values or identities, even if they are somehow at odds with the dominant culture of their organizations. …  Tempered radicals are likely to think ‘out of the box’ because they are not fully in the box. As ‘outsiders within,’ they have both a critical and creative edge. They speak new ‘truths.'”

Meyerson also sees TRs as “everyday leaders” who are “… quiet catalysts who push back against prevailing norms, create learning, and lay the ground work for slow but ongoing organizational and social change.”

Here are five attributes of tempered radicals who are effective “everyday leaders”:

They speak their truths, even when afraid: “[M]ost conflicts,” Meyerson wrote in Tempered Radicals, “are not created by tempered radicals; but tempered radicals are often the ones who speak ‘truths’ and raise issues that have been suppressed. … Such acts of deviation …,” she writes, “require self-knowledge and conviction to overcome enormous pressure to conform and to suppress beliefs that challenge the majority.”

They have strong support networks: “Allies remind you that your struggles are not yours alone,” Meyerson wrote in her book. “Having people with whom you can compare your experience helps you identify larger patterns outside yourself that need to change. . . . The biggest advantage of working in concert with others is that collectives have greater legitimacy, power, and resources than individuals.”

They have a bias toward action, especially “small deviant actions”:  “Sometimes [TRs] inspire change simply by behaving differently, and their small deviant actions challenge norms and set an example that others emulate . . .,” Meyerson wrote in Tempered Radicals. “Often tempered radicals lead change more deliberately by initiating small wins that result in new relationships, understandings, and patterns of behavior.”

They have clarity about and a laser-like focus on their most important goals: “Effective agents of change at the grass-roots level know who they are and what they are trying to accomplish,” Meyerson told me in our JSD interview. “Effective tempered radicals hold on to their deepest goals, which enables them to push through their fears and to choose their battles effectively.”

They promote, through their example and advocacy, experimentation and deep professional conversations: “Tempered radicalism is sustained through the daily interactions that occur within a supportive context …,” Meyerson told me in the JSD interview. “That’s done when teachers experiment, have some success, and have deep conversations with one another about the things that are working. … Experiments become the stimulus for conversation and the vehicle for professional learning.”

A final thought…

Tempered is an apt adjective to describe the radical learners who are drawn to this blog because of the inspiration and guidance it provides.

The attributes I described above are intended to provide yet another thread in this tapestry of ideas and practices to enable radical learners to better serve their school communities through countless acts of everyday leadership.

The Power of Clear Explanations

Friday, March 15th, 2013

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. Oliver Wendell Holmes

 If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you watch Joe Smith’s four and a half-minute explanation of how to use a paper towel.  His simple explanation changed my life.

What makes Mr. Smith’s explanation so effective?

There are at least four strategies Mr. Smith uses to make sure we know exactly what he is describing. If we apply his strategies to our own explanations, I’m convinced we can be much clearer as teachers, instructional coaches, or presenters.

Why: How to use a paper towel is not that sexy of a topic, but in just a few words, Joe gets our attention and explains why we should care about what he’s describing.  One paper towel per person per day would save 571,230,000 pounds of paper in a year.  Wow.  Even if I’m not that concerned about the environment, I would find it hard to resist those numbers. If nothing else, Joe has captured my attention at the start.

Simple:  Smith doesn’t give us a lot of extra information.  In fact, his talk is built around two words:  shake and fold.  By telling us only what we have to know, he makes it extra easy for us to learn and remember what he is explaining.

Modeled:  Mr. Smith shows us several times how to do this. He even sets up a little sink on the stage so that we can see exactly what to do.  Some of the viewers the TED website give him grief for using too many paper towels during his explanation, but I think he does exactly what needs to be done.  He makes sure we get it by overdoing it.  Too often modeling is cut too short and people are left a little confused. Joe leaves no doubt in our mind how to do what he’s describing.

And, for the record, I’ve already saved dozens of pieces of paper thanks to his explanation, so I’ve made back the few he used up modeling.

Memorable.  Smith helps us remember his explanation in simple ways: getting the crowd shouting out “shake and fold,” displaying a sense of humor, connecting the twelve shakes to twelve to the twelve apostles, twelve zodiac signs and so forth.  After less than five minutes, he makes it almost impossible for us to forget what he has to say.

These are simple strategies, but they are powerful. If we (a) explain why, (b) keep our explanations simple, (c) model, model, model, and (d) make our talk memorable, more people, (children and adults), will remember what we say. Our explanations might just change people’s lives.

Joe Smith changed mine.

The Most Important Part of Instructional Coaching? Setting a Goal

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

For most of my career, I’ve been studying teacher growth. I’ve found, as I’m sure many readers have found, that one-shot workshops and other quick-fix forms of professional development often have little impact on teaching and learning. For that reason, my colleagues and I have spent more than a decade studying instructional coaching.

Our research has uncovered that one factor plays an incredibly important role in successful instructional coaching. When coaches set measureable student goals with teachers, and provide effective support, coaching can really make a difference. When coaches and teachers do not set goals, coaching can be a waste of time.

Successful goals have three characteristics

We’ve found the following to be essential characteristics of effective goals:

1. The goal has to be based on a clear picture of what is happening in the classroom. The easiest way to do this is just to video record the class. Coaches can also gather data such as Time On Task or Ratios of Interaction if that is what they prefer, but teachers need to see the data as reliable.

2. The goal must be a student goal. If coach and teacher set a teacher goal, they can’t be sure that the goal will make a difference. When a student goal is set, coach and teacher keep working until something significant happens for students. Setting a student goal also takes the focus off of the teacher, which often helps the coaching relationship.

3. The teacher has to care about the goal a lot. If the teacher doesn’t care about the goal, not much is going to happen.

How the Process Works

We usually complete the following steps to set goals:

1. The coach video records the teacher’s class or gathers some other data.

2. If video is recorded, the teacher and coach watch the video separately. The teacher might watch the video using the surveys “Watch your students. Watch yourself.”

3. When they meet after they have watched the video, the coach asks a few questions to help the teacher identify a goal, such as the following:

• On a scale of 1-10, how close was today’s class to your ideal?

• What would have to change for it to be closer to a 10?

• What would your students be doing if that change happened? Describe what the students would look like.

• How would we measure that change?

• Is that a goal you would like to try to achieve?

• Which teaching strategy can we use to achieve that goal? We offer a list of teaching strategies from High-Impact Instruction that teachers can choose from, but coaches could use other books or instructional frameworks such as Robert Marzano’s Art & Science of Teaching, or Jon Saphier & Mary Ann Haley-Speca’s Skillful Teacher

4. Once a measurable student goal is established, the coach should confirm that the teacher really is committed to implementing the goal, by asking questions such as “Is this a goal you really want to achieve? Does this matter to you?”

If the teacher is committed to the goal, then coach and teacher move forward. If the teacher isn’t committed, then coach and teacher revisit the goal until one is identified that matters to the teacher.

Our research on instructional coaching has led us to many insights into the importance of modeling, effective questions, effective communication skills, how to explore data and so forth. In my opinion, our most important finding is that goals are incredibly important. When teachers set a measureable student goal, there is a good chance the coaching will really improve instruction. When there is no goal, there is a real danger that coaching will have no lasting impact.

How a Good Girl Faces the Real World

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Sharon Thomas is an outstanding teacher who truly inspires me with her deep commitment to students.  She is also one of the most positive people I know.  I asked her to write this column about what it takes to choose to see the world from an optimistic perspective, and she was kind enough to write this guest blog.

I have always been a Good Girl. I play by the rules. I meet expectations. I am punctual. I like pleasing my superiors. I excel at following directions. Being a Good Girl helps me to be a good teacher, a good employee, a good person. My principals tend to think I’m wonderful. My students often look up to me as a role model. My colleagues respect me. I have gone far in my little universe because I am a Good Girl.

Teachers usually are Good Girls and Boys. Typically, we were good students; we knew how to follow orders and bell-tones. Most importantly, we are people who want to do the right thing. But there’s a problem: The world doesn’t make sense to Good Girls and Boys.

The contrast between the way we think the world should work and the way the world actually is can break our hearts. That dichotomy makes us feel as if we are alone in upholding standards. It makes us feel as if no one appreciates how hard we work. It makes us feel as if we are fighting a losing battle—day after day, after day. The stress we feel as a result of those dashed expectations is what leads to bitterness and burnout.

To stay positive and focused in a job that can continually involve bashing one’s head up against the proverbial wall, I have found that the secret to staving off burnout is to change my expectations, to change my view of the world, to change my definition of “Good.” Bruce Springsteen1 says, “The great challenge of adulthood is holding on to your idealism after you lose your innocence.” He is right. The conscious acknowledgment that the world is not all we thought it would be is the first step in taking charge of our world. The next step is taking responsibility for it.

I changed my view of the world by taking complete and total responsibility for my own sense of happiness and fulfillment. Every morning, I make a conscious decision to be happy at work. I say to myself (usually silently, but sometimes—when I really need it—I say out loud), “I am happy. I am going to a job I love with students who need me. I am so lucky.” Sure, it sounds a little Oprah-esque and more than a little cheesy, but it works. Starting my day by focusing on what is good about my life not only keeps me directed to that side of my emotional makeup, but also it reminds me that I (and only I) am in charge of how my day goes. Only I decide whether I am having a good day. Bad things will happen. A lesson will go awry. Students will behave badly. Parents will make choices I do not like. Administrators and other teachers will not keep their eyes on the collective ball, and I will have to deal with the consequences of those decisions. I do not expect the world to treat me fairly and kindly every day.

Rather, I will treat myself kindly. I will remember why I entered this profession in the first place: to help kids have better lives by giving them better communication skills. I will remember who I am in every interaction: a human being, an educator, a public servant.  I will remember that everyone in my building and in my school system is doing the best he or she can (yes, this is really difficult to remember sometimes) and is also trying to do the right thing, even if we disagree on what that thing is. I am not alone. I am surrounded by like-minded good people. I am surrounded by students who want love and care and knowledge, and, by God, I am going to give them all I can. I am in charge here. The days are long and hard, but I have a mission. I am that mission’s leader.

As a result, I feel incredibly powerful in a job that most people view as powerless. I feel in control when so many of my colleagues feel as if they are spiraling out of control. I feel happy. I feel purposeful. I feel strong.

Sometimes I decide that I have had a bad day. I feel lousy. I text my husband that I will be needy and hungry when he gets home (and to brace himself accordingly). I call or message my best friends. I cry. And then I pull myself out of it. The next day I say, “I am happy. I am going to a job I love with students who need me. I am so lucky.” I am still a Good Girl, albeit a different kind of “Good.” I get up every morning and go to school believing in what I do and in what my students do.

I teach a unit on Holocaust literature to my 10th graders every year. That unit led me to the work of Viktor Frankl,2 a noted psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. During Dr. Frankl’s most terrifying moments in various concentration camps, he clung to mental images of his wife. He imagined conversations with her, imagined her face gazing at his. Frankl theorized later that it was his ability (and the ability he also saw in fellow prisoners) to focus the mind on people and ideas that he loved that enabled him to survive the camps. He chose how to focus his mind; he did not allow his captors to choose his focus for him.

Teaching is a difficult job. To survive, and to have our work continue to be meaningful and to be a source of happiness in our lives, we must embrace the power and satisfaction that comes from taking charge of our lives. We must chuck our images of ourselves as Good Girls and Boys in a Bad World. We must not let others choose our focus for us. In the words of Dr. Frankl, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I choose my own way every day, and I am happy. I am going to a job I love with students who need me. I am so lucky.


1Springsteen, B. (1988, 15 September). Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour [press conference]. Toronto, Ontario, Canada

2Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Steve Jobs, Radical Learner: Sell Dreams

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

The [think different] ad campaign … reveals a fundamental difference between radical innovators and mediocre copycats: the former believe in their customer’s dreams and their ability to change the world; the latter see their customers as dollar signs and nothing more.

Carmine Gallo, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs may be the most innovative creator of our generation. What separated him from everyone else was his ability to create products that people didn’t even know they wanted until they saw them.

Most people didn’t realize they wanted a personal computer, an iPod, an iPhone, or an iPad until they saw each of them, but once they saw them, they had to have them. As Carmine Gallo says in The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, “the iPad fills a gap, one that most of us didn’t know existed.”

Steve Jobs created such compelling products, Gallo writes, for two reasons.

First, Gallo says, “Steve Jobs knew his customers better than anyone at the company. He understood their needs, hopes, and dreams.

In Apple’s world, customers are … men and women, young and old, professionals and amateurs, who have one thing in common: they dream of a better life. Apple has created world-changing products precisely because they help their customers fulfill their world changing dreams.

Second Steve Jobs had exacting standards for what Apple created. Gallo writes, “Jobs is relentlessly focused on the customer and his or her experience with the product and the company. He will not tolerate anything that doesn’t meet his exacting standards.”

What can these suggestions mean for educators?

First, like Steve Jobs, teachers can strive to have a deep understanding of their students’ hopes, fears, and expectations. One way to do this is to ask questions. I’ve created a list of questions teachers can ask students to learn more about what makes them tick. There are questions for elementary, middle, and high school students.

Second, like Jobs, teachers who truly want to inspire their students, need to commit to extremely high standards. Radical learners know this. They relentlessly pursue excellence—video recording their lessons and learning from the recordings. Reading anything they can about how to be more effective. Observing other teachers. Finding and using technology to accelerate student learning. And doing whatever else they can to increase engagement, well-being, and achievement.

Jobs understood that a deep understanding of his customers and a deep commitment to excellence would lead to world changing products. For teachers, a deep understanding of students and a deep commitment to excellence can lead to life changing experiences.

Permission to Screw Up: Get-Better Goals

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

How can you motivate yourself to approach new responsibilities with confidence and energy?  The answer is simple, though perhaps a little surprising: give yourself permission to screw up.  —Heidi Grant Halvorson

I’ve been reading a great e-book by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, published by Harvard Business Review Press.  The book is a short, clear summary of some important big ideas about personal growth (goals, feedback, realistic optimism, and grit) and Halvorson provides numerous links back to studies to support her claims.  Anyone interested in personal growth, and in particular anyone who is a coach, will find the book well worth the money and time.

One of Halvorson’s big ideas is that to grow we need to focus on getubg better (get-better goals) not being good (be-good goals).  She puts it this way:

Embracing the fact that you can change will allow you to make better choices and reach your fullest potential.  People whose goals are about getting better, rather than being good, take difficulty in stride and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

People, according to Halvorson, approach any task with one of two types of goals:  be-good goals, where people want to demonstrate their mastery of something, and get-better goals, where people simply want to improve the way they do something.

About both types of goals, Halvorson writes:

The problem with be-good goals is that they tend to backfire when we are faced with something unfamiliar or difficult.  We quickly start feeling that we don’t actually know what we are doing, that we lack ability, and this creates a lot of anxiety. Countless studies have shown that nothing interferes with performance quite like anxiety does; it is the productivity killer.

Get-better goals, on the other hand, are practically bulletproof.  When we think about what we are doing in terms of learning and mastering, accepting that we might make mistakes along the way, we stay motivated despite the setbacks that might occur.

This seems like great advice for all of us, but I think it is especially meaningful for teachers.  When we try out a new teaching practice, we can mess ourselves up if we feel we have to use a graphic organizer or learning structure perfectly the very first time.  A be-good goal, in other words, can increase our anxiety and in fact decrease our interest in trying anything new.

On the other hand, if we approach new practices with a get-better goal, we reduce our anxiety and make each new attempt a learning opportunity.  The first time trying anything in the classroom, in my experience, runs the risk of falling apart.  When we give ourselves “permission to screw up,” we reduce our anxiety and increase our interest in and ability to improve.



Monday, January 3rd, 2011

“The more deeply you understand other people, the more you will appreciate them, the more reverent you will feel toward them.” Stephen Covey

Imagine a person you know, a real person, who is not a very good listener.  What is it like when you talk to him?  What does he do?  Chances are, he cuts you off in mid-sentence.  He might look bored while you talk. Whenever you start to talk, he might look as if he can’t wait to share his thoughts and words. His actions make you feel as if he doesn’t think what you say holds much meaning or interest.  He might even look as if he thinks he is much smarter than you.

Now imagine a real person you know who is a great listener.  Chances are when you talk to her, she lets you have the floor. She appears to be curious and interested in what you have to say. Her actions make you feel your words and ideas are important; she makes you feel you count; that you are valuable.

Leaving aside every other characteristic of these two people (their intelligence, leadership skills, gender, ethics, etc.), chances are you have a better opinion of the person who listens than of the one who cuts you off — just because she listens to you.

Not surprisingly, much has been written about listening.  If you pick up a book about leadership or relationship building, more than likely, there will be a chapter on listening.  We are given lots of information and recommendations for how to be good listeners.  Good listeners make eye contact; they empathize; they paraphrase; their body language reflects back the stance of the speaker. Good listeners get inside the paradigm of the speaker.  This is all good advice, but I believe the heart of listening lies primarily in making a commitment to doing it.

If we really want to hear what another person has to say, just allow him to speak and process what he says. I believe the rest will take care of itself. That is, when we reduce listening to its essence, we primarily just have to stop talking and focus on the speaker.  If we really want to hear what the other person has to say, he will know we are listening. It’s as simple as that.

Listening is important in any relationship. It is important in leadership, and it is especially important in the classroom.  When we listen to students, we

  • show our respect for our students
  • reduce behavior problems by encouraging a positive and respectful classroom culture
  • communicate our belief that students have something worthwhile to say
  • communicate our belief that our students are smart, valuable people
  • model respectful behaviors that all people should demonstrate

I have found that a Flip camera is a great tool for observing how effectively I’m listening. Any teacher can get a pretty clear picture of how effectively he or she listens by video recording a class and then watching the recording. If you don’t have a micro camera, you can record your class on a cell phone, iPhone, or iPod touch.  With the right technology, you can even listen to your class in your car as you drive home.

In my own experience, confronting the brutal facts of how I communicate by watching a recording is a profound learning experience and a real, if uncomfortable, catalyst for change.  When I watch a recording of myself, what I see is what everyone else sees every day.  It is much better to suffer through videos of myself, and ultimately improve as a communicator, than it is to go on thinking I’m a great listener when in reality everyone else thinks I’m a jerk. Or worse.

Really listening is a humble act.  If we listen to our students, we communicate that we are not the only one in the room who has something worthwhile to say.  By listening, we also have an opportunity to learn by really hearing what our children are saying.  When we really listen to our students, they often reward us with profound insights.

Push and Pull Learning

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

In his book Masterful Coaching, Robert Hargrove makes a simple distinction that I’ve been thinking about ever since I read it.  There are two types of coaching, he says: Push and Pull.

Push Coaching, Hargrove says, occurs when coaches start with a series of ideas and then try to convince others to implement them. Learning, in push coaching, is pushed along by the coach.

Pull coaching, Hargrove says, occurs when coaches ask others what they would like to do in the future.  Learning, in pull coaching, is pulled along by the goals and desires of the learners.

This distinction between push and pull learning, of course, can be applied to most other learning situations.  What is the motivation for learning:  the goals of the teacher or the goals of the learner?

In my own life, I know I learn a heck of a lot more when I am learning because I am fired up about it, because it matters to me, than when I am doing something that has been chosen for me. And I bet that is the case for most learners.

The importance of pull is also the biggest idea in Daniel Pink’s nice summary of the literature on motivation, Drive. Pink explains, after reviewing piles of research on motivation, that we are not motivated by other people’s goals, but only by our own goals. This is a pretty simple idea, and yet it is one that we all too often overlook when we plan instruction.

Our learning is driven by standards, tests, objectives and so forth. But shouldn’t we pay at least equal attention to our students’ interests, desires, and goals?  What would happen if, instead of trying to push learning on children every day our educational systems started with a simple question:  What is going to interest, motivate and inspire our students?  What if we gave as much attention to the hearts of our learners as we do to the standards on our tests?

This does not need to be a theoretical question. There are strategies we can employ today to unleash students’ interests.  We can ask our students about their interests. We creating meaningful activities that help students target their interests. We can give students choices.  We can try to deeply understand our students, and when we know them, we can build at least some learning around what we know.  We can link students up with mentors who helped them define and pursue their goals.

“People love to learn but hate to be taught,” Diane Dietz has said.  Maybe people hate to be taught because what is being learned is being pushed on them.  We will keep the desire to learn alive much longer if we create opportunities for pull learning. If we start with the student, something really powerful can happen.

Learning By Watching Part Four: Video Study Groups

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

The availability of inexpensive HD video cameras, such as iPhones or Flip Cameras, and easy-to-use, inexpensive film editing software, like iMovie, opens up many opportunities for professional learning (in fact, all kinds of learning) in schools. One powerful way to use these tools is to create video study groups.

My friend Jean Clark from Cecil County Maryland has taught me a lot about how to set up video study groups, and pretty much everything I’m going to describe here is something Jean did as instructional coach with teachers at Bohemia Manor Middle School.  Jean loves video, and if you spend much time with her, you will likely find yourself in front of a camera being filmed.

Video study groups bring together teachers who wish to watch and discuss video recordings of themselves teaching. Here are some of the elements of effective Video Study Groups (VSGs) that I have learned from Jean:


In Jean’s school, the VSG was one of several options for professional learning offered for teachers on their monthly late-arrival days.  Thus, only teachers who were open to this experience participated. (I suspect that if teachers were forced to participate in Video Study Groups, they might not be receptive to the learning.)

Common Teaching Practice

In Jean’s group, all the teachers were implementing the same teaching practice (a teaching routine to ensure students master concepts), and the VSG was a way by which they all deepened their understanding of how to teach the routine.

Recording a Class

Prior to each meeting, one teacher volunteered to prepare and share a video. To prepare the video, volunteers recorded themselves using the teaching routine. Sometimes Jean helped by recording the class, but often teachers simply set up the camera where it would catch them teaching.

Editing the Video

After recording the class, teachers loaded their videos into iMovie.  (Each teacher in the VSG eventually did this.) The teachers then edited the film, with the goal of identifying aspects of the lesson that went well and a section of the lesson that they wanted to improve.  Teachers watched the film multiple times and edited the film into a short movie. While editing the film, teachers had to watch their lessons many times, and, according to Jean, those repeated viewings led them to see many fine details of their lesson that wouldn’t have been obvious after watching the lesson just once.

Sharing the Video

At the Video Study Group, after the film has been edited, the volunteer shares her video with the group, showing each section and asking for comments.

At the very first group meeting, Jean guided her team to collaborate and identify values they would work from while discussing each other’s video. Thus, comments about lessons were positive, honest, constructive, and useful.

Usually the volunteer shares the two positive clips first. After showing each one, she comments on what she saw and asks her colleagues for feedback. During the final video, teachers ask questions as much as they commented.

The Benefits of Video Study Groups

VSGs are valuable for at least four reasons.

1. Teachers learn a great deal by watching themselves teaching, especially after they have watched several times.

2. VSGs provide follow-up to professional learning such as workshops.  We know that workshops by themselves do not lead to significant change in teaching practice. BRIEFLY IDENTIFY Marshall Goldsmith, for example, gathered data from 250,000 workshop participants and found that without follow-up, people do not change.  Members of a VSG commit to implementing a practice and then have multiple opportunities to explore different ways it might be implemented.

3. The dialogue that occurs during VSGs deepens group members’ understanding of how to teach the targeted practice and often introduces them to other powerful and often subtle teaching practices while watching others teach and listening to team members’ comments.

4. When teachers come together for such conversation, they often form a meaningful bond simply because the structure of a VSG compels everyone to stand vulnerably in front of their peers and to engage in constructive, supportive conversations.  Those bonds may ultimately be more important that all of the other learning that occurs.

All in all, Video Study Groups can propel teachers forward as they work to provide excellent instruction for every student every day.  If teachers have the time and the technology, Video Study Groups are an exciting alternative to more traditional forms of professional learning.