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Self-Observation: Using Video/Audio Recordings as Professional Development

One of the best forms of professional development I've ever had was watching myself teach. As part of the new teacher program in my district, one of the options for work with my mentor was to record a lesson, which we would both watch, and then come together and analyze for various things that had been identified as needing improvement in previous formal and informal observations. While watching myself teach made me really uncomfortable at times, it was in those moments that I realized: If I'M uncomfortable, some (or all) of my students might be as well. This increased my sense of urgency around correcting and improving my practice to ensure that the NEXT time I watched a video recording of myself would be less cringeworthy. Below, I've detailed the 5-part approach, heavily rooted in common data collection and analysis practices within qualitative research, and pulling from the collaborative dialogue-heavy critical and culturally relevant approaches to instruction that I place my work within. The photos you see in each section are also posted on my instagram account: @drcourtneyrose.

Step 1: Recording

The first step is to choose the lesson, meeting or session you want to record and analyze. For teachers working in self-contained classrooms, I suggest you choose the content area that you feel least comfortable with or find you have the most challenges. Secondary teachers should start with the class that you feel challenges you the most, whether that is student engagement/participation, relationship-building, academic performance, or you just don't feel you have the same energy or connection with students. However, throughout the year you should aim to do this at least once with all of your classes/covered content so you have a holistic picture of your practice. Administrators and Coaches should choose a meeting/session that is either all-school or with a team that is experiencing the most urgent challenges. Again, this could be related to academic performance, student engagement/behavior, instructional delivery, or cohesiveness and collaboration among the teachers themselves.

The lesson/meeting/session should be between 30-60 min and should be able to capture the whole room or the full range of potential movement from the teacher/facilitator. This may require multiple cameras or a third party to record to capture as much as possible. I recommend BOTH a video and audio recording as you may notice nuances in speech/tone/dialogue that you miss due to focusing on visuals. You can accomplish this by recording on a phone or audio recording device in addition to a camera OR simply listening to the audio of the recording WITHOUT watching the video during part 2. Also, although the focus should be on the teacher/facilitator it may be useful to capture what students/participants are doing as this can help identify areas of success and improvement in the analysis phase. Finally, the use of bluetooth lapel mics can help to capture dialogue more clearly, especially one-on-one or sidebar conversations, which will make the analysis process easier.

Step 2: Watch/Listen

The next step is to actually watch and listen to the recordings. It's definitely a good idea to do this more than once as you can focus on or may notice different things each time. Here are some things you may choose to focus and take notes on as you watch/listen:

  • Lesson Delivery: How clear are directions and expectations? Are materials and examples relevant and applicable in the lesson/meeting/session and beyond? How smooth and timely are transitions? Is the lesson/meeting/session paced appropriately to allow adequate coverage of topics while holding engagement and interest?

  • Talk Management: Who does most of the talking and how does this impact clarity, engagement, interest and pacing? How are off-topic convos addressed and handled? Are students/participants able to talk and share ideas with each other? Are students/participants asked to lead or facilitate any portions of the lesson/meeting/session? How does that impact flow, clarity, interest and engagement and contribute to the ?

  • Engagement/Participation: How are students/participants encouraged to participate and engage with content and materials? What types of activities and materials are being used and how effective are they in engaging students/participants and meeting the aims of the lesson/meeting/session? How does the teacher/facilitator elicit responses? Is there effort to ensure as many students'/participants' voices, perspectives and ideas are heard/shared as possible or are the same few people dominating the conversation?

  • Circulation: How is the space utilized to enhance the delivery of and engagement with content/materials? Does the teacher/facilitator walk around or get proximate to students/participants? Does the teacher/facilitator spend equal amounts of time addressing and engaging with as many groups/individuals as possible?

  • One-on-One Interactions: If the teacher/facilitator interacts one-on-one are they largely on-topic or off-topic? Do they lean more toward corrective/deficit-based feedback or productive/asset-based redirection and collaboration?

  • Tone: What is the overall tone throughout the duration of the lesson/meeting/session? How does this correspond with the aims and goals of the lesson/meeting/session and the culture/climate of the classroom/school or personality of the teacher/facilitator? How does it impact engagement and interest from students/participants?

To really push you in your analysis, try doing one viewing/listen with students, a close (but critical/honest) colleague or session participant. They may be able to catch things that you don't or help you figure out how to address an issue you're unsure about (more on that in part 3). If you chose to use a lapel mic and engage in any one-on-one dialogues throughout that shouldn't be heard by others be sure to cut them before viewing with others. Also, when viewing/listening with others give them as much insight as possible as to WHY you're engaging in the self-observation process, what your goals or aims are and any SPECIFIC areas you think would benefit from their insight in particular. Above all else, make sure it's clear that the emphasis is on what YOU could be doing better or differently not so much what the students/participants are doing, although their responses to various instructional/facilitation practices shed important light on overall effectiveness.

Step 3: Analyze

The third step is to review and analyze the notes you took and feedback you received if you included others in the process. Identify 1-3 areas of strength and 1-3 areas of improvement. Then, develop a plan of action with some solutions and approaches to improve or change your practice to amp up the areas of strength and address the areas in need of improvement.

This is another time where including dialogue with students/colleagues/participants is helpful because you may not be able to easily identify effective solutions or changes. Listening to diverse perspectives, ESPECIALLY those representing the group for whom you're developing your practice, is a critical step in ensuring the practices have the desired outcome of being relevant and engaging. I pull this idea largely from the concept of critical friends, which I was introduced to while going through the process of collecting and analyzing data for my dissertation. It's a great practice to help you work through any cultural blindspots and add more depth to your analysis and suggestions for future practice.

Make sure the action steps are concrete, and feasible. Start small and build up if necessary. You want to be sure to set yourself (and your students/staff/clients) up for success, so set high expectations for yourself but not at a level that could cause frustration or burnout. Small steps are better than no steps. Tiny changes add up to big results with time and consistency!

Step 4: Take Action

Over the course of 2-4 weeks (or some other more reasonable timeline depending on your teaching/facilitation schedule) implement the action plan created in step 3 with fidelity! For accountability purposes and to track progress you may want to do one or more of the following:

  • Reflect on the practices you've changed or incorporated and how they're going on a daily or weekly in a journal or log.

  • Have students/participants complete a short exit ticket or survey to provide feedback at designated checkpoints throughout the action phase.

  • Meet with a colleague/critical friend to discuss what you're doing and get suggestions and feedback

The key point of this action phase is that it's not about just randomly trying things out. They should be fully-informed based on the analysis in part 3 and continuously reflected upon and adjusted throughout the action phase.

Step 5: Re-Record and Re-Analyze

The final step brings the whole process full-circle. At the end of the pre-determined timeframe for the action phase (part 4) you should re-record another lesson/meeting/session. For continuity, you should do it in the same class, content area or with the same participants if possible.

Follow the same protocol as in phases 1-3 above. It should go much quicker because you'll be looking for VERY specific things as outlined in the plan and action steps in steps 4 & 5. Watch and analyze on your own, noting any improvements and continued work needed in the areas of focus. Then, just as before elicit additional feedback from students, colleagues, and participants (it should be the same people you spoke with after the first recording).

If you notice there are still things that need to be improved repeat steps 4 & 5, creating a new plan of action and implementing it in a new action phase, perhaps ramping up the collaborative effort with students, colleagues and outside resources. Then, do another round of recording and analysis. If it is mutually agreed upon that things are much-improved, reflect on how to take things to the next level, or perhaps focus on another aspect of your practice, content area, class, issue with staff/clients.

Try It Out & Share Your Results

So that's the plan folks. A lot of districts already use the video recording in their process of formal and informal observations, as was the case with the district I used to work in. However, I found that there was an overall lack of collaboration and dialogue other than between the teacher and the mentor. The approach I've listed here requires the line between teacher/facilitator and student/participant to be blurred to create a sense of shared responsibility. So, I hope some of you try it out and if you do please come back to this post and share how your thoughts about the process, and of course any suggestions for improvement!

Let's build & grow together!

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