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3 Reasons Why Teachers Should Film Themselves Teaching

When I was a new teacher in New York State, the State Education Department (NYSED) required all provisionally certified teachers to videotape themselves teaching. Without the videotape, teachers could not become permanently certified. With 6 months left on my provisional certification, I borrowed a video camera, bought a VHS tape (yes, VHS) and figured out a plan for how to film.

The video needed to include a large group lecture, small group instruction, and it could not be edited. The large group of first graders had to flow seamlessly into 5 or 6 small groups. I did my large group instruction, and then the students broke into groups for centers. It wasn't easy to do centers with children that young at the beginning of the year, but they persevered...as did I. It may have had something to do with the fact that I did the same exact lesson the day before for a practice run. I wasn't willing to take a risk with my permanent certification, even though the rumor was that most of the VHS tapes sat in a housing area where they went unwatched.

A few months later the confirmation letter came through the mail that said I received a "Pass" on my video. I moved on to teaching and meeting other requirements like getting an advanced degree within five years so I could keep the permanent certification, but learned very little about the power of using video to enhance instruction.

There was nothing enhancing about the process, which included sending a check for over $100. The reality is that it was more about compliance and less about learning. I didn't have a second copy of the tape so I was only able to watch it once before mailing it in, and the only thing I looked for is whether I met the large and small group requirement.

It was a missed opportunity.

Fast forward to 2015 and I realize that under different circumstances videoing our classroom could have led to better instruction on my part and more engagement on the part of my students. It's something I talk about quite often as an Instructional Coaching trainer for Jim Knight.

In Knight's book Focus on Teaching: Using Video For High-Impact Instruction, he writes, "When we record ourselves doing our work, we see that reality is very different from what we think. As a result, we are often disappointed by what we see." Knight goes on to write, "At other times, we are delighted by what we see, noticing perhaps that a learning activity truly did engage students authentically. Either way, video is a powerful tool for growth and professional learning."

Considering my introduction to using video as a new teacher, it is important to note than none of this can happen without trust between school leaders and teachers. In a hostile school climate using video will be seen as a method of compliance, and in a supportive school climate it will be seen as a powerful professional development tool.

There are many more than three reasons to use video to enhance instruction but the reasons that are most powerful for me are the following:

Do teachers talk too much in class? John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning trainer, has research that shows teachers ask about 200 questions every few hours and students ask 2 questions per student per week. Using video would help teachers see how much they do talk in classroom, but also may help them see where they could have not talked and encouraged dialogue on the part of their students. Read this blog about talking too much in class. 

How do teachers interact with all students? This sort of goes along with questioning as well. Does the teacher call on specific students who are going to always have the answer after they call on students who struggle with the answer? What is the wait time they offer to struggling students? How about the students who may not be one of the teacher's favorites...you know...THAT student? Does the teacher interact with that student differently than the students they like more?

Additionally, does the teacher use sarcasm much more than they think they use it? Is their attempt at humor not as funny for the students? I have seen videos of teachers who talk about their other classes in a negative way to the students who are sitting in front of them (When using students in video it is important to get parent permission by doing a opt-out or opt-in form). 

Reflection using video is real reflection. Let's face it, when we reflect without evidence we are just remembering it the way we want to. In the same book mentioned above, Knight quotes Heath and Heath (2013) when he refers to Confirmation Bias. Knight writes, "Our normal habit in life is to develop a quick belief about a situation and then seek out information that bolsters our belief." He goes on to write, "The tendency to seek out support for our beliefs can keep us from getting a clear picture of reality." Hence, using video will help alleviate some of that confirmation bias.


When teachers reflect on their practices using video, something Hattie refers to as Micro-teaching (with an effect size of .88), they are more likely to see what actually happened. However, it's a bit more complicated. In micro-teaching it is necessary for teachers to watch themselves on video at least 3 times because they need to get past what they wore that day and how their hair may have looked.

Seriously, we all focus on how we looked the first time we see ourselves on video.

When teachers watch for the 2nd and 3rd times they start to get to the real learning that took place in the classroom, as well as the learning they need to do to help their student engagement level improve. Clearly, time has to be set aside in order to do this, which may mean taking the video home to watch in private.

Perhaps teachers can use some of these Focus on Teaching resources to help them in the process. 

In the End

Back in the 90's when I was going through the certification process, I didn't take using video for its full potential. And the reality is that I didn't understand the need to watch it to enhance my instruction, and it was never part of the process articulated by the NY State Education Department. Getting a "Pass" on a piece of paper without feedback certainly didn't help. There was no follow-through.

Follow-through is an important element where using video is concerned. None of these will ever work if teachers, and perhaps their coaches, don't decide on a goal to work on and then enter into a cycle of improvement. This is something Jim Knight refers to as the Improvement Cycle. They need to establish a goal, learn about how to meet that goal, and then focus on whether they actually did improve. All they have to do is grab their Smartphone and perhaps a Swivl and get started. 

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Peter will be presenting, along with Jim Knight, at the Teaching, Learning and Coaching (TLC) Conference in Denver on October 26th - 28th. 

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