by Paul Toner, President of the VIVA Project
Observations are a vital part of teaching practice and career development, but sometimes they can be a burdensome source of tension between teachers and administrators. So researchers at Harvard have been experimenting with new technology based on the input of teachers and administrators to improve and streamline the observation process.
Specifically, the Best Foot Forward project gave digital video cameras to 347 teachers in Colorado, California, Delaware, and Georgia, who then recorded themselves teaching over several class periods and chose a few to submit to their administrators as classroom observations. A test group of 108 administrators were then able to watch the videos at their leisure and provide time-stamped observations.
Our own VIVA Idea Exchange™ with MET (Measures of Effective Teaching) in 2013, entitled Reflections from the Classroom, showed that teachers and administrators overwhelmingly welcome new technology, not just when it comes to student success but also when it can help them as professionals.
In their report, our teachers said “The MET research makes clear that technology not only plays a vital part in how students learn, but in how educators can reflect, refine and implement new teaching practices from something as simple as a video of a lesson to creating new ways for teachers to share, communicate, and reflect with each other.”
And the results from the Best Foot Forward project at Harvard bears that out. The teachers who participated felt as though their observation evaluations were more fair, and that their supervisors were more supportive. They even reported fewer disagreements and clearer steps to improve their teaching practices.
Also, administrators were able to observe teachers whenever their schedules allowed, instead of during predetermined class periods, and reported that teachers were less defensive during their post-observation conferences.
It’s just another example of how listening to educators—in this case, their ideas about improving observations with video—can lead to better practices and results, not just for students, but for teachers and administrators as well.