How video coaching helps us support teacher growth and retention

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At the Van Winkle Early Childhood Center within Jackson Public School District in Mississippi, we enroll students for one year to prepare them for kindergarten. Family engagement is critical to a student’s success throughout their academic career, so we also help prepare families to support their children every step of the way.

We believe that successful mentoring and instructional coaching sustains teachers, especially new ones, throughout the year and improves their ability to build strong relationships with students and families. To ensure that our mentoring and coaching is intentional, focused, and fits into everyone’s tight schedules, we recently began using video. Here’s how it works.

How video coaching works

Because video coaching is new to our school, I have been taking the recordings myself this year. I just ask if I can record for a few minutes so that teachers can see themselves from a different perspective.

Next year, I plan to ask teachers to volunteer to record part of a lesson. They may capture a few minutes of their class to receive feedback on an instructional practice they would like to improve or to highlight something they do particularly well that they would like to share with their colleagues. Everyone is good at something, and it’s important to focus on what teachers do well in addition to the areas where they need a little more support.

Another way we are using video this year is to improve the efficacy of model teaching. In that case, I will record the lead teacher or another teacher who excels in the instructional practice we’re targeting. Then we watch the video in a professional learning community (PLC), talk about it together, and have the teachers model the skills they saw in the demonstration. We ask them not to mimic the model teacher exactly, but to put their own spin on it. When teachers are creative and put their own personality into their instruction, they have more fun and build stronger connections with their students. We don’t want them to simply go through the motions of excellent teaching, but to make effective practices their own.

One thing I like about using video recorded in actual classrooms is that it includes all the complications and interruptions of real life. When we first began, one of our teachers felt bad that a student came up to talk to her in the middle of her recording. But that’s a classroom. Especially in a classroom full of very young students, there are going to be distractions and interruptions to deal with. Including those moments portrays the reality of the work, and sometimes they provide their own teachable moments.

Building rapport to support teacher growth

In the beginning, some teachers were hesitant to be recorded because they worried it would be used to negatively critique them. When I emphasized that the video I was capturing was only intended to help them build their capacity as teachers, they became more comfortable and, in many cases, even eager to see themselves teaching.

I already have pretty good rapport with my teachers, so there was a foundation of trust there to build on. To get the most out of video coaching, teachers need to know that you’re there to support them and give them what they need. If they understand that you’re not there to judge them, but only to help them improve so they can have a long and successful career, they’re more likely to be vulnerable and self-reflective about their practice.

To be most effective, we have found that video coaching should be consistent, intentional, and timely. Being consistent does mean that we are gathering video regularly, but it also means checking in with teachers about their progress. I like to go back once a week to see if they need any additional support on the teaching practices they are currently working on or are ready to begin targeting another area of improvement.

When it comes to video coaching, for us, being intentional means that we are focusing on one area of improvement at a time. If you give someone a laundry list of things to work on, they will feel overwhelmed and may even become demoralized. I find that it’s most effective to focus on one thing at a time, such as teacher-student interaction, facilitating center rotation activities, or small-group work.

When providing feedback, the first thing to keep in mind is that it should be timely. If you wait too long, it can begin to feel less relevant. We use Teaching Channel’s Platform to capture video for coaching, and it allows coaches and mentors to leave comments on the video itself. This helps teachers to see exactly what their coach is referencing as they watch their own video.

I have found that feedback is more effective when teachers take the lead in observing themselves. It ensures that they are working on something they are motivated to improve and helps develop a habit of self-reflection about their own practice. I like to watch their videos with them and ask them what they see that could be improved before I say anything. Then we talk together about what they might do differently to make that improvement. I keep it to one suggestion at a time, again, to avoid overwhelming them with too much to do. If it doesn’t work, we go back to the drawing board–or a new video–and come up with a new plan to improve. Once they are happy with their growth in that area, we move on to something else to improve.

Growing teacher support into the future

I believe that everyone is capable of growth and improvement, so I am working on ways to improve our coaching and mentoring techniques as well. I plan to introduce pre-assessments and post-assessments to ensure that teacher growth is translating into student growth.

I also plan to improve teacher retention by offering new teachers as much support as we can from the beginning of the school year. We’ll begin gathering video right away so that we can show them later in the year how far they’ve come.

Most novice teachers leave the field within a few years, so we want to be sure they know they are getting better at the job. Beginning right when the school year starts will also ensure that we are checking in with them to talk about the issues new teachers tend to have in an early childhood classroom. Questions like, “What do you see in your circle time? Are your rules intentional? When you have to correct a student, are you talking to them about why you have the rule?” can go a long way toward helping a new teacher feel more comfortable in the classroom and find their rhythm.

With assurance that it will only be used to support teacher growth, video coaching is a great way to encourage teachers to be self-reflective about their practice. With timely, targeted, and teacher-led feedback, it’s an incredible tool for nurturing educator growth that feels relevant and important to each teacher.

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