Focus on Teaching: A Day with Jim Knight

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending “A Day with Jim Knight” learning about the use of video for Instructional Coaching. Jim is the president of the Instructional Coaching Group and has authored a number of books about coaching and high impact instruction. He blogs here, tweets here and you can read more about Instructional Coaching here.

Many schools use teacher observation in their professional learning program as a method for improving teacher performance. Teacher observation can be extremely useful because, as Jim points out, we can easily fall prey to the concept of ‘habituation’. That is, when you do something over and over again you stop noticing what you do. We can become oblivious to what is actually happening in our own classrooms.

In most cases, teacher observation mostly takes the effect of a colleague sitting in the back of the room taking notes on the practice they observe and can be recieved by the teacher as a subjective evaluation of their teaching practice and can easily be disregarded rather than being used to improve their teaching practice. The lack of objectivity waters down the effect of the feedback received.

The use of video, however, can radically change the whole value of teacher observation. What it provides is a clear picture for both the teacher and the observer (who we will call the coach) to view and analyse what’s happening in the classroom.

So what were my biggest take aways yesterday?

  • Nobody likes to watch themselves on video and this is possibly because we compare ourselves to TV and Movie stars who we watch performing under stage lighting, wearing make up in professional studios.
  • Video gives a clear picture of reality. It interupts a culture of taling and it makes it a conversation about doing.
  • you need tools to help you acheive your goals – Checklists that help to gather data about how many questions the teacher asks compared to the number of questions from students; the number of open vs closed questions; the amount of instruction vs non-instruction time; identify consistent correction of student behaviour (eg putting hands up to speak); the number of disruptions; number of positive interactions with teachers and so on, enhance the teacher learning. (There are examples of proformas/checklists here)
  • Building trust with the teacher you are videoing is essential in getting maximum value
  • Teachers need choice. Any form of evaluation – video, student surveys, teacher observation – will have the greatest benefit when the teachers are wanting to be part of it rather than being made to do it.
  • Part of being professional is taking part of continuous improvement of practice in the classroom.

So, what would I like to do now?

  • I’d like to have one of my lessons recorded to understand what the process is like before asking someone else to go through the process.
  • I’d also like to create a guideline for the use of video that has a range of classroom practices that can be observed and analysed so teachers can choose what they’d like to focus on.
  • Read more about Instructional Coaching as a tool for teacher improvement.

Professional Development – Is it worth it?

Just recently, all staff at my school received an email from our Professional Development (PD) coordinator  indicating that the budgets were already stretched half-way through the school year and that further PD would only be approved if it was essential. After reading a blog by Dr Ash Casey,  I’ve been thinking about how useful PD is and how much of what we actually do at these events is actually put into action?

I know from my own experiences with PD that you often come away with a handful of great ideas but once you get back to work the next day, you have a mountain of emails to sort through, lesson notes etc stacked on your desk and by the time the dust has cleared the things you have learned have already been stored away and you slip back into what is comfortable.

It has lead me to believing that if we head to these days and just come away with a good feed (and sometimes not even that) and a nice cruisy day away from students, and we never change our teaching methods to introduce what we’ve learned, we are in essence wasting money that could be spent better on other things.

So, as head teacher of a department, what can I do to make sure that my staff are using what they’ve learned at a PD course to not only improve their teaching but more importantly, improve the learning of the students we teach. As a result, I’ve decided to create a document that staff will fill out when they return to school that will assess what they learned at the course as well as how and where they can implement it into their teaching. This can then be followed by a review of their practices in say 3 months time to see whether they have used what they learned.

But what should I include exactly? My starting questions are:

  • Identify the practices/ideas from the PD course that you attended that you feel you could/would be helpful to introduce to your teaching
  • For each practice you have listed, identify areas/topics/units that they could be employ

The follow up will probably include questions such a:

  • How well do you feel that you have integrated the information learned at the PD course into you teaching?
  • Indicate, which of the practices/ideas you have tried, which unit it was in, how effectively it worked and how you could alter it so that it would be more effective.

I’m interested to hear what people think. What else could I include? Do you use anything similar? How successful is it?