Fresh from the Oven


Musings on the art of effective teaching brought to you by the SmarterCookie team

It's time to give thanks!

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and Team SmarterCookie wants to know what you and your students are doing to celebrate and learn this holiday season.

Record a “Thanksgiving Moment” in your classroom and share it on SmarterCookie to be entered to win a $50 Amazon gift card!

What is a Thanksgiving Moment?

Perhaps students are...

  • Writing about what they’re thankful for in their own lives
  • Learning about the history of Thanksgiving
  • Volunteering at a local food bank
  • Hosting a Thanksgiving community dinner

How do I enter the contest?

  1. Record a video (any length) of a Thanksgiving Moment and upload it to SmarterCookie by 11:59pm (EST) Sunday, November 30.

  2. Share the video with thanksgiving@beasmartercookie.com.

  3. You’ll be entered into the drawing to win a $50 Amazon gift card!

We’re so excited to see how SmarterCookie teachers and their students are celebrating Thanksgiving across the country.

Keep calm and gobble on! 

Your Showcase is live on SmarterCookie!

Ah... Fall. A time for change: colorful leaves, cooler weather, and SmarterCookie.

Wait, what!?

You read that correctly!

We have a big change to announce at SmarterCookie! Our team has been hard at work (and play) putting the final touches on the Showcase, a compilation of institutional videos highlighting exemplar teachers at your own school!

We’re so happy to announce that the Showcase feature is fully launched!

Check out the one minute video below to get started celebrating great teaching and get ready to learn and grow from exemplar videos:

We’re so excited to help you showcase awesome teaching to drive instruction in meaningful, relevant ways at your school.

If your school is interested in learning more about incorporating SmarterCookie into your instructional coaching framework, please contact us!

Happy Showcasing!

-- Sand and the SmarterCookie Team

What’s Best for Students: Charter-District Collaboration

At SmarterCookie, we love when our school partners push boundaries in the name of student achievement. Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy (BVP) in Rhode Island is one such partner. Their staff thinks outside of the box - or outside their building walls, to be exact. BVP is a network of three public charter schools, and its staff share instructional videos on SmarterCookie with teachers in two nearby district public schools, Central Falls High School and Kizirian Elementary School.

SmarterCookie In Action: Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy

With so much heated focus on the chasm between charter and traditional public schools, this unique partnership transcends the divide, enabling charter and district teachers to collaborate and learn from each other. Piera Caruso, BVP’s music teacher and director, said, “When I share videos with traditional public schools and they share videos with me, not only do they get to see what we’re doing in the classroom, but I get to see what they’re doing.” In other words, learning from one another is a two-way street, because regardless of the type of school, every teacher has expertise to share and room to grow. In the end, it really comes down to what’s best for students. Kyle Quadros, BVP Head of School, eloquently stated this goal of the partnership: “all our scholars, regardless of what city, town, school, race, or socioeconomic status, are getting a quality education, because we’re learning from each other.”

BVP teachers, leaders, and students graciously offered to share their experience of this partnership and their use of SmarterCookie as the subject of this video case study. We hope you enjoy watching it and learning from BVP as much as we do! Special thanks to Carina Sitkus for coordinating logistics at BVP, and to Kyle Quadros, Joy Souza, Piera Caruso, and Jonathan Acosta for taking time out of their busy days to share their SmarterCookie stories. And thank you to Ani Simon-Kennedy and Cailin Yatsko of Bicephaly Pictures for creating this beautiful video.

At SmarterCookie, we’re thrilled to continue working with BVP, Central Falls High School, and Kizirian Elementary to break down barriers and promote teacher learning. If your school is interested in learning more about charter-district partnerships, or if your school is already participating in one, please get in touch!

 

- The SmarterCookie Team

What we can learn from first-year teachers

I spend a lot of time talking to leaders - principals, instructional coaches, district administrators - about professional learning and coaching in their schools. But lately, I’ve spoken with several new teachers who are just finishing up their first year in the classroom. While I was once a new teacher myself, it’s been a little while, so these conversations have served as a reminder of just how difficult that first year is. But additionally, I’m continually inspired by their stories and how much they’ve accomplished in less than ten months. Below I’ve shared some insights from first-year SmarterCookie teachers who are taking the driver’s seat in their own professional learning.

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Michelle Bigony is a first-year Spanish teacher at Delcastle Technical High School in Wilmington, Delaware. While math and English teachers can learn from several teachers at their school, language teachers are often one of a few. Additionally, instructional coaches or school leaders might not understand the language and struggle to provide instructional feedback. This describes Michelle’s experience, which made her eager to improve by watching other Spanish teachers’ lessons. Using SmarterCookie, she was able to share videos with other Spanish teachers near and far to collect ideas for her own classroom. One video she watched was particularly inspiring for her: Pati, a Spanish teacher at a different school, asked her students to act out a funny play, which kept her students fully engaged and practicing the language. Michelle looks forward to implementing a similar activity in her own classroom. She continues to ask other Spanish teachers, even those who taught her Spanish, to record their lessons so she can become the best Spanish teacher for her students. 

Travis Rodgers is a first-year first-grade teacher at Glenmount Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland. The first time he recorded a video of his instruction, he immediately saw how it helped him stay attuned to his students’ perception of the lesson. He now records lessons consistently, and sometimes, he even involves his students in the process. As a class, they watch a clip of a video of a lesson, and students self-reflect on how they could improve their own contribution as a member of the class. To explain the camera to his students at the beginning of the year, Travis told his students, “We are the best class in Baltimore, and other students want to learn from our example.” Travis also enjoys seeing how far his students and his own practice have come by using SmarterCookie to compare videos from earlier on in the year to now.

Chris Jennings is a first-year science teacher at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Maryland. He considers himself fortunate to receive a ton of feedback both on SmarterCookie and in-person from mentors and coaches. At first, he only recorded video of his instruction because it was required by his graduate program, but he soon began to record more often and upload to SmarterCookie to enable him to break down instruction minute-by-minute. For Chris, both video and feedback is not about criticism; instead, it allows him and his coaches to identify what’s going well and areas where he can improve for his students.

It’s true: new teachers are learning how to stay above water, but they also have a keen sense of the most effective levers that move their instruction forward. For these three first-year teachers and others, video is the tool that has helped them make huge leaps in the classroom.  

- Tess Brustein, SmarterCookie CEO & Co-founder  

Highlights from the SmarterCookie Webinar Panel

Last week we hosted a webinar featuring three very impressive instructional leaders from across the country. They discussed best practices for coaching teachers with video on SmarterCookie. Here’s a bit about each of them:

Charlie Friedman is the principal at Nashville Classical Charter School in Nashville, Tennessee. His teachers share one video per week and then discuss this video in a weekly coaching meeting. Each week he reviews the videos and chooses a couple clips to highlight as “Bright Spots.” He aims to “catch” teachers doing something great.

Andrea Yee is an instructional coach at the Reach Institute for School Leadership in San Jose, California. She coaches new teachers who are working to earn their credential. Teachers participate in a monthly coaching cycle, which includes capturing instructional video of their class and receiving specific feedback from Andrea.

Denise Colley is an instructional coach at McFarland Middle School in Othello, Washington. She works with 40 middle school teachers on a volunteer basis. Denise records teachers’ lessons and then meets with them to discuss goals for improvement. Denise also records her coaching conversations to continuously improve her own practice.

 

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

What do teachers use to record instruction? Where do they set up the camera?
Teachers use all different video recording devices, but our leaders like using the SmarterCookie app on their iPhones or iPads because it makes it easier to record and share videos. Setting up the camera on the side of the room has been successful, keeping the profile of the students and teacher in the camera view.

How do teachers explain the camera to students?
Most teachers are transparent with their students, telling students that the video camera is used to help them become better teachers. After a while, students don’t even notice that there’s a camera present.

How do I provide feedback on a video?
Start with the things that are going really well; teachers are often critical of themselves, so it’s important to point out those “bright spots.” Look for students’ reactions. Focus on specific evidence and use common language to discuss. Generate next steps and concrete actions that the teacher can take.

It’s nerve-racking seeing yourself on camera. What helps?
All teachers are hesitant to record themselves at first, but once they start watching themselves and receiving feedback, they see the benefit. As an instructional leader, you can record yourself first to model how to watch the videos. Additionally, starting with short videos helps.

How has video coaching impacted teachers?
Teachers are able to see exactly what needs to improve in their instruction, and they can set concrete goals that make a big impact in the classroom. Teachers can see their growth over time by watching videos that span a year. Additionally, watching someone else’s video can clearly model how to implement a skill or lesson in the classroom much better than trying to just talk about it.

 

If you missed the webinar last week, you can still get a glimpse of the discussion in detail. Just email us at team@beasmartercookie.com, and we’ll send you our notes. And due to popular demand, we’re planning more webinars to enable the SmarterCookie community to share video best practices. We never stop learning and improving!