Fresh from the Oven

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

Ready, set, coach!

It’s hard to believe it’s almost March and Team SmarterCookie wants to offer some helpful tips to ensure you’ve established accountable instructional coaching routines to finish the 2014-2015 school year strong.  

Who will record and upload videos?

Determining who will be recording and uploading videos is the first and arguably most integral part of establishing an accountable structure. Allocating appropriate roles and responsibilities for everyone involved in the coaching cycle ensures each person has a clear understanding of what’s expected, and a visible timeline will guarantee teachers are aware of when observations are scheduled and/or when a video upload is due. This transparency is essential as it truly cultivates a productive and accountable workflow.

In a recent post, I highlighted two schools where coaches tend to do the majority of the recording and uploading. While this is a great way to structure observation rounds, it simply may not be feasible for some coaches and administrators to do on a consistent basis. Thankfully, SmarterCookie makes it easy for teachers to record and upload their own teaching videos. We’ve seen plenty of structures where teachers are truly empowered to drive their own development and frequently upload videos to solicit feedback from coaches as well as peers. Stay tuned... I'll be highlighting a few of these schools in future posts. 

A little goes a long way…

Regardless of who is recording, I highly recommend focusing on one distinct portion of the lesson (around ten minutes) to really maximize the impact of a teacher’s self-reflection and feedback provided on the video. The shorter and more specific the video, the easier it will be to find time to provide individualized feedback tailored to a teacher’s growth goals.

Uploading the video immediately after you’ve recorded ensures you don’t forget and guarantees the lesson is still fresh in the teacher’s mind. If you have an iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) use the SmarterCookie Uploader app to record and upload your videos to the online platform immediately. They’ll be ready to view in no time.

The power of self-reflection

Once the video has been uploaded by and/or shared with the teacher, it’s often helpful for the teacher to complete a self-reflection shortly thereafter to ensure the lesson is still relevant. This is an essential practice for teachers as it allows them to dig deep and engage in a reflective self-evaluation. When teachers are able to take a step back and view their own pedagogy from a learning standpoint, truly transformational growth can occur. Furthermore, as an administrator on the account, you will be able to evaluate how the teacher is thinking about her/his development and tailor your in-person or virtual feedback.

Checking in

A check-in or debrief can happen asynchronously (via 1-1 Feedback or Group Discussion tab) or in person. This check-in is incredibly impactful if it happens within a day of receiving notification of the teacher’s self-reflection. Again, the quick turnaround ensures relevancy and rapid progress towards pre-established goals.

If this meeting doesn’t happen in person, don’t fret! Find the time to give some feedback on SmarterCookie during your lunch break or a transition between meetings. The feedback process doesn’t have to take longer than watching a short five to ten minute video and a few time-stamped, actionable comments will definitely go a long way.

As always, if you want to talk through some ideas for establishing routines at your school or need some more inspiration to kickstart effective protocols, please don’t hesitate to reach out!


Establishing effective instructional coaching routines with SmarterCookie (Part two)

Our second feature school is Rocky Mountain Prep, an innovative, public charter school in Denver, Colorado boasting a blended-learning curriculum for students grades Pre-K-5. Let’s find out how Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Jenni Reese (JR) and her coaches and teachers implement SmarterCookie at Rocky Mountain Prep!

SC: What structures have you established to hold everyone accountable for recording and uploading videos and providing consistent feedback? 

JR: SmarterCookie is an integral part of our coaching framework at Rocky Mountain Prep. Coaches use it to provide consistent feedback as well as to establish common language around advice they relay to teachers. Typically, coaches record each lesson they observe and immediately upload the video to SmarterCookie. Then, teachers complete a self-reflection and refer to the video as a tangible artifact during the in-person debrief. Teachers are able to work toward specific goals and use SmarterCookie as a tool for self-reflection and resource/feedback sharing with one another. Although coaches do the majority of the recording, teachers will also videotape themselves and analyze their progress during and as a follow up to strategic professional development. 

SC: How has video helped ground coaching conversations?

JR: We typically use video as a way for teachers to see what we see and drive their own development to establish individualized goals. Let's say I observe a lesson with too much teacher talk and I want the teacher to work on increasing student talk and engagement. We can view the video together and I can ask a probing question to drive the teacher to recognize the area of growth and establish a relevant goal grounded in the teacher’s own reflection. 

SC: How specifically have you used video to drive instructional growth? Have you differentiated based on teaching experience?

JR: Video is a great way for teachers to view their lessons from an outside perspective; doing this allows them to notice actions and outcomes they weren't able to while teaching. Coaches also use video as a proof point for when teachers aren't self-reflecting on their practice accurately. Teachers have really appreciated being able to re-watch their lesson, pause, and reflect with their coach. Based on teaching experience, some teachers do more self-reflecting while others participate in more consistent guided reflections alongside their coach. 

SC: Have you seen remarkable growth in educators that can be attributed to video coaching?

JR: The most remarkable growth has been with teachers struggling with behavior management as they often didn’t notice when students were not meeting expectations. With video footage, they are able to clearly see who is not meeting expectations. The use of video has pushed teachers to recognize and successfully address the undesirable behavior to increase the achievement of all students. 

Establishing effective instructional coaching routines with SmarterCookie

At SmarterCookie, we recognize how challenging it can be to develop accountable and enduring coaching structures in schools. We also know how important it is to establish these routines to drive professional learning! That’s why we interviewed school directors at two of our partner schools to learn how they use SmarterCookie to drive consistent observation and debrief cycles.

Our first featured school is University Prep, a tuition-free, K-5 public charter school in Denver, Colorado. Let’s find out how Head of School, David Singer (DS) and his instructional coaches and teachers successfully implement SmarterCookie. 

SC: What structures have you established to hold everyone accountable for recording and uploading videos and providing consistent feedback? 

DS: We’ve built SmarterCookie into our existing observation and feedback loop at UPrep. Each teacher is observed once weekly by a specific coach. The coach records and uploads every observation to SmarterCookie and shares 1-1 feedback highlighting a series of glows and grows from the lesson so the teacher has a growing video library.

An in-person meeting is scheduled within 48 hours of the observation. This meeting allows the teacher and coach to collaboratively review class data and hone in on specific feedback. After the check-in, the teacher and coach determine a new goal, or decide to continue working toward a goal in progress. With video, teachers are prepared to debrief the lesson and engage in a productive, action-oriented conversation.

SC: How has video helped ground coaching conversations?

DS: Video helps ground us in conversation around discrete teacher actions and scholar outcomes. For example, if a teacher says, "I need to see eyes tracking the speaker", a coach can isolate this moment during the check-in and ask a teacher to pause and scan the room before jumping back into instruction. Teacher actions impact achievement and it's essential that teachers see the power of their words, body movements, and tone; all these details matter. 

Video also helps illustrate increased rigor by allowing teachers to push scholar thinking. For example, we can ask a teacher to capture everything s/he said during a specific exchange and a scholar's response. We can then ask the teacher to decide and justify who's doing the "heavy lifting" based on video evidence. This type of grounded reflection and key data it provides pushes teachers to really understand how what they say affects every aspect of learning.

SC: How specifically have you used video to drive instructional growth? Have you differentiated based on teaching experience?

DS: Our coaching cycle relies on teachers having the ability to constantly reflect on their practice, observe their actions, and analyze scholar outcomes. Therefore, a significant percentage of the glows we're pushing teachers to hold on to and the grows we encourage to develop are directly tied to what they can see themselves doing. 

The frequency of observation/feedback may vary based on teaching performance, but rarely varies on experience. Regardless of whether you're in your first year or fourth year at UPrep (we're only four years old), video analysis is a regular part of professional development for all teachers. We may move from weekly to bi-weekly feedback cycles for folks who have a strong track record of performance and we may see folks leverage video independently of their observations as they hold themselves accountable to grow at a faster rate.

In terms of whole staff or team-based (grade level or content) professional development, we edit video to illustrate key learning everyone needs to practice. For example, a recent professional development for all teachers focused on Economy of Language. We edited and uploaded video featuring three teachers from three distinct grade levels and content areas. Each of them demonstrated strategic word choice which allowed scholars more work, talk, and learning time. Those videos were all downloaded from our SmarterCookie video library, which our whole leadership team has full access to.

SC: Have you seen remarkable growth in educators that can be attributed to video coaching?

DS: To isolate teacher growth based on a single variable would mean we have to control for all other supports already in place (i.e. lesson plan review feedback, modeling lessons, practicing lessons, peer-to-peer observations, PD sessions, and school visits). There is no question that folks seeing what they're doing and how it impacts the focus/learning of a room and is a powerful tool in the development of a great educator. Imagine taking video analysis away from the National Football League – coaches would be in an uproar. We need to see and hear exactly what's happening, analyze the data that the actions we're observing are producing, and make changes accordingly to build great teachers.

2014 Year in Review and a Sneak Peak at 2015

2014 has been an exciting year of growth, new and improved product features, and continuous learning at SmarterCookie. We are inspired to do this work because of the courageous teachers and instructional leaders who give their best each and every day in schools across the country. In the end, it’s all about helping students reach their potential, and we’re humbled and appreciative to the schools and organizations that choose us to be a part of this learning journey.

Here are some highlights from 2014 and what we’re looking forward to in the year ahead.

The launch of the Showcase enabled teachers to see what great teaching looks like at their schools and beyond. 

A critical part of developing your practice as a teacher is seeing examples, many examples, of what great teaching looks like in action. Observing classrooms similar to yours, even teachers teaching your students in your school, is incredibly powerful in improving your craft.

In 2014, we launched the Showcase, which enables your school to build an ever-expanding video library of great teaching. The beauty of the Showcase is that it’s never a finished product; instead, it keeps growing just as teachers push their practice forward each and every day.

We’re inspired by the schools and organizations that have already begun building and utilizing their Showcases. In particular, Vista College Prep in Phoenix, AZ, has hit the ground running with over 190 videos of best practices!

In 2015, we’re excited to see more videos of great teaching shared within schools and also between schools. We’ve already helped schools and organizations partner to share Showcases across buildings and even state lines. We see the potential of sharing best practices across the SmarterCookie community to make us all stronger and more effective educators for students everywhere. 

We strengthened the SmarterCookie learning community by hosting our first webinar and launching this blog.  

At SmarterCookie, we firmly believe that 1) there is expertise in your school building and teachers you can learn from locally, and 2) with 3.8 million educators in the U.S., it’s our duty to learn what others are doing effectively in their classrooms. 

To help educators near and far learn from one another, we held our first community webinar -  “Strategies for Coaching Teachers with Instructional Video” - featuring three amazing instructional leaders across the country. We also launched this blog with the goal of sharing what works in schools related to effective teaching, coaching practices, and learning from video.

In the year ahead, we’re excited to offer more chances for the SmarterCookie community to connect and learn from one another. Look out for more blog posts profiling our partner schools and their teacher coaching practices. Additionally, we’ll be holding more webinars on effective video coaching and collaboration to help us all keep learning and improving.

The SmarterCookie site got a design refresh.

As former teachers, we know that classroom technology should be intuitive and easy to use. With this goal in mind, we began a site-wide design refresh in 2014, starting with the video library page and the way you sort and find videos.

In 2015, we’re continuing to update the design and interface on all site pages based on your continued feedback. We’ll keep you posted on design updates in the near future.

Over 60% of SmarterCookie videos were uploaded via the iPhone/iPad app

Since first launching the SmarterCookie Uploader app for iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches, we’ve seen a growing number of educators use it to easily upload and share their videos. We’ve continually improved the app’s stability, making it the best and preferred way that educators upload video.

One of the most frequent requests we receive is to build an Android app, and we’re happy to say that we’re excited to begin work on the Android Uploader app in 2015. Stay tuned! 

- Tess and the SmarterCookie Team

And the winner is...

A couple of weeks ago, we launched our Thanksgiving Moment Contest as a way to celebrate the wonderful work you do as educators all over the country!

It was truly inspiring to watch the videos we received of students engaging in Thanksgiving-themed lessons, expressing gratitude for their teachers, and sharing meals as a school community.

Today, we're excited to announce the winner of our Thanksgiving Moment Contest: Alysha Stimpson, a 5th grade math teacher at Blackstone Valley Prep in Rhode Island. Congratulations!

Curious to see how Alysha incorporated some holiday spirit in a highly relevant, rigorous lesson? Check out her video here!

Thank you again for all of the hard work you do!

-Team SmarterCookie