Fresh from the Oven

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

Sharing SmarterCookie just got sweeter

At SmarterCookie, we know there’s nothing quite like sharing a batch of freshly baked cookies among friends! We also realize the profound impact sharing SmarterCookie has on instructional coaching and professional learning at other schools. By introducing SmarterCookie to other learning communities, you’re helping create a growing network of teachers, administrators, and coaches committed to developing impactful pedagogies for students across the country. 

That said, we’re excited to announce the SmarterCookie 10-10-100 School Referral Program! Until May 31, 2015, we’re offering: 

  • 10% off your school’s SmarterCookie Premium licenses for the 2015-16 school year for each school you refer who signs on with us

  • Each new school you refer will also receive 10% off their licenses

  • Our Friends at Educents will give you $100 credit to spend on affordable educational products for your classroom! 

Better yet, this offer is cumulative which means if you refer 10 schools that purchase SmarterCookie Premium accounts on or before May 31, 2015, your SmarterCookie access for your school is completely free for the entire 2015-16 school year.

So, we’re asking for your help! Share the news with educators, school and district leaders, universities, and educational non-profits with whom you’re connected. Let them know that SmarterCookie makes it easy to share videos with colleagues and coaches to help teachers drive their professional learning. 

Let’s spread some instructional love! Each day, we feel privileged to help facilitate action-oriented instructional coaching reflections and are humbled by the personal growth stories we hear from teachers and coaches at schools we partner with. 

Happy teaching! 

- Team SmarterCookie 


Fine Print: The referred school must mention your name or your school’s name (we’re not psychic!) and sign a contract by May 31, 2015 for this offer to apply. The referred school may not be a current SmarterCookie customer. For each school that signs on with us from your referral, your school will receive a 10% discount (up to $500 per school) on its SmarterCookie Premium license for the 2015-16 school year, and you will receive $100 credit to Educents. Each new school you refer will also receive 10% off their SmarterCookie Premium license (up to $500) for the 2015-16 school year. Now that’s a sweet deal!

SmarterCookie in the Mile High City!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Denver, Colorado and connect with a few of our partner schools in person. It's always nice to see our educators, instructional coaches, and staff in action; it's what brings meaning to the work we do each and every day. I was able to observe classes, sit-in on coaching conversations and lesson debriefs, and hang out with some students which is always fun! 

The trip was incredibly special since I was also able to visit my 9th grade English students at STRIVE Preparatory Schools and participate in a Leadership for Educational Equity organizing conference downtown. It was quite the packed four day weekend and I want to share some highlights!

At Rocky Mountain Prep, instructional coach Jenni Reese uses SmarterCookie to ground her coaching conversations with teacher Emily Dorn and they determine next steps collectively. Check out this video featuring the two of them in action.

It was pretty remarkable to see how detailed, focused, and efficient the classroom observation and in-person debrief were. Both Emily and Jenni were super productive and excited about implementing the strategies they discussed in subsequent lessons! 

I also got to spend some time at Metro State University, where students in the School of Education use SmarterCookie to develop their pedagogical skills and practice self-reflections.

One student, Hilary Bowdey, recorded, completed a self-reflection, and shared each video with her instructional coach after each lesson she taught. Check out her candid reflection on using SmarterCookie during her program: 

I have to admit: SmarterCookie was a little intimidating at first. I thought it would be embarrassing or awkward to record myself, but after my first lesson I didn't want to stop recording to enhance my professional development! 

By uploading videos using my iPhone, SmarterCookie made it easy to share videos and receive constructive feedback from my professor without her having to be physically present in my classroom. We're all busy and having the ability to efficiently improve my instruction has been essential to my continued development as a teacher and lifelong learner. 

Recording an entire instructional unit helped me establish and held me accountable to pedagogical goals because I was able to execute a new teaching strategy each lesson. After trying something out, I watched the video and completed a self reflection and noticed significant changes in my instruction. For example, my body language improved dramatically throughout the unit.

My personal goals involved being more open and upbeat as opposed to crossing my arms and speaking with a mellow demeanor. I also realized how many times I said the word "ok" which was upsetting. I made an effort to say "ok" less and repeat what my students said by rephrasing for the whole class instead. The effects of these small changes were quite profound and students appreciated the extra effort I made.

 I want to continue to personally observe and alter the way I teach to drive my instruction forward. Recording my lessons helped build the skills and confidence integral to teaching and I plan to record myself in the future to continue improving my instruction.

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.