Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Districts Rising: A Panoramic Approach to Professional Growth

March 17, 2016

Top athletes study video footage of their performance as a way to refine their practice and up their game. What if teachers used the same strategy to become more effective in the classroom? Across the country, school systems are exploring this question by giving teachers the option to submit videos of themselves in action in the classroom as a way to assess their professional practice.

One of those systems is Aldine Independent School District near Houston, Texas. Since 2011, the district has worked to build a strong system called “Invest” to support the professional growth of its teachers. Developed with significant input from teachers, Invest creates opportunities for teachers and principals to work together to set individual goals, look at concrete evidence to see how teachers are advancing toward those goals, and develop action plans to drive their professional development.

During this evaluation process, some Aldine teachers take advantage of panoramic, in-classroom cameras—also known as Lucy cameras—to have conversations about teaching with their principals and receive meaningful feedback. Importantly, how teachers use the Lucy cameras is up to them. For example, teachers can record an hour of their classroom practice and then select 20 minutes of footage to use as the basis for a self-assessment, guided by the Danielson Framework for Effective Teaching. By taking control of the video recording and selection process, teachers feel empowered to showcase their best work. In turn, principals gain a good idea of what teachers see as their most effective practice—before they even sit down to co-assess the video footage.

While watching one’s own practice in action is a valuable part of the formal evaluation process, it also propels teachers’ continuous growth in an informal way throughout the year. As Stehlik Intermediate School Principal Christi Van Wassenhove puts it, “The camera can take the appraiser out of teacher improvement.” In other words, the Lucy cameras help teachers reflect independently and truly own their growth.

Aldine’s experience with video-based observations is reinforced by other work in the field. Recent research from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University found that teachers who recorded themselves and submitted their best footage for assessment perceived the evaluation process as fairer and more useful in identifying areas for improvement. These teachers also were more willing to open up their instruction to peers and other instructional experts. Moreover, administrators found that the videos were just as authentic as in-person observations for measuring teacher effectiveness, and they appreciated that they could review the footage at any time.

High-quality tools like the Lucy cameras, along with a district-wide culture of feedback, underpin Aldine’s Invest system. “Invest is not an acronym for a reason,” says Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Selina Chapa. “The word itself says what we’re all about—investing the time and resources to grow all of our teachers.” Like dedicated athletes with their sights set on a championship title, Aldine’s educators demonstrate the power of committing to continuous improvement in order to be the best for their students.

Read Education First’s case study on Aldine Independent School District, as well as their recent report, Giving Teachers the Feedback and Support They Deserve, for more information about Aldine and its Invest evaluation and support system. This article is cross-posted on Education First’s blog

Want to see more updates of great work happening in schools around the country? Visit the K-12 Education website to find more examples of Progress in Action and share your own story!

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