As one of just two people certified to do classroom observations at I.S. 303, Assistant Principal Monica Brady’s workload is getting pretty backed up.
She and the principal together must observe the South Bronx middle school’s 29 teachers 174 times as part of their new teacher evaluation plans.
“I’m fairly behind on getting mine all done,” Brady said. “There’s just not enough hours in the day.”
But Brady has a plan to catch up. All of the teachers at I.S. 303 allowed administrators to film their lessons, so she can watch the tapes later rather than see them teach in person.
It’s a tool that 20 percent of city teachers opted into this year, the first under new evaluation rules that require many more observations than in the past. Brady and Danielle Lerro, one of her teachers, will be discussing how they use video in observations at a panel discussion that we’re co-hosting Feb. 25 with New America NYC. (RSVP for a free seat here.)
New York City is one of just 10 districts in the state to offer the video option for teachers, according to the State Education Department. City officials said one in five teachers authorized their administrators to film their classes.
The option was made available in the city’s evaluation plan imposed last year by State Education Commissioner John King, who has encouraged the use of video as a way to provide good feedback to teachers about their instruction. State law requires subjective measures such as observations to count for 60 percent of each teacher’s evaluation, and King required city administrators to rate teachers on all 22 elements of the Danielson Framework for Teaching.
King also gave teachers a choice between having one pre-announced period-length observation and three shorter ones, or at least six shorter and less formal observations.
At I.S. 303, all teachers chose the second option. But they soon saw that pulling it off would be logistically complicated.
“We realized it was really impossible to expect them to get into the classroom six times over the course of the year,” said Lerro, an eighth-grade English language arts teacher.
The United Federation of Teachers supports the observation-by-video option as long as teachers sign off on it beforehand. The union also prefers that teachers give consent when their classes are used to provide feedback, not inform an observation.
Brady and Lerro said using video as part of classroom observations, even for high-stakes evaluative purposes, is promising for more reasons than just saving time. I.S. 303 has taped dozens of hours of instruction in recent years to help teachers reflect on their own work and improve.
“When you’re viewing yourself, that can be really helpful,” Lerro said.
Brady said she’s able to pick up on more, because she can watch the tapes multiple times and notice different aspects of the class and the teacher’s instruction each time.
And having an objective record of a class is helpful when administrators and teachers debrief afterwards, she said, because their impressions of the class can often differ.
“You and I can see things very differently,” Brady said of how real-time perceptions inside a classroom differ. One person could see evidence of high engagement, something that the Danielson Framework demands, in a class where students eagerly raise their hands and shout out answers, she said. But another person might see the same class and think that the teacher struggled with classroom management.
Lerro said one reason that using video has worked at I.S. 303 is because teachers and administrators have a strong relationship already. And she said that since the school had been using video for its professional development for years, opting into using it for high-stakes teacher evaluations was not a big concern.
“People felt comfortable because they felt real trust with the administration,” Lerro said. “They know that the evaluations are being used to really make us better.”
And Brady said the time-saving appeal of using video instead of observing classes in person does result in some loss. “The best of both worlds,” she said, would be if administrators were present in the classroom for the observation and taped it at the same time, enabling both the administrator and teacher to use the footage to confirm or revise their first impressions about how the lesson went.
And Brady said video can be limiting for another reason: While videotaped lessons allow observers to see clearly what the teacher is doing, the camera’s placement in the back of the classroom makes it hard to tell how students are reacting.
“You can’t see if they’re having an ‘Aha!’ moment,” she said.