The goal of teacher professional development is to help teachers continuously improve. But the current system leads to plateaus in teacher impact after a few years of teaching, according to Tom Kane, a researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and principal investigator of the Best Foot Forward Project about use of video within education.
Tom’s presented these data at the recent “Visibly Better” convening hosted by the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard. He shared that his goal was to highlight the opportunity to use video to accelerate teacher learning.
Decades of research — we point you to scholars like Deborah Ball and David Cohen as a starting point — support this claim that teachers learn how to teach by practicing the actual teaching instead of just preparing to teach.
Tom’s presentation kicked off two days of learning and sharing among researchers, practitioners, and technology experts.
Repetition is not a pathway to teacher improvement
Tome highlighted that a key failing of the current system is that optimized for using repetition as the mechanism for teacher growth.
For example, a teacher working on establishing routines at the beginning of the year would only be able to repeat and practice this process once per year.
But what if a teacher could try implementing the routines, get feedback from a colleague, and then implement with students? This could close the loop on improvement that would otherwise span multiple years.
Tom highlighted that the common experience of “waiting to try it again” may explain why teachers plateau. Simply repeating the classroom management routines lacks the qualities which distinguish deliberate practice as part of a professional learning process for teachers:
- Motivation to take action to improve.
- A practical task with clear, shared goals.
- Immediate feedback.
- A repeatable, similar task.
This wasn’t as an indictment, though. It was a rallying cry for the opportunity that analysis of video evidence provides educators.
Classroom video creates opportunities for deliberate practice
He framed this as the “audacious claim” that deliberate practice is not feasible in education without video.
Tom highlighted several well-known system constraints that exist across the education system:
- It’s too expensive to schedule the day so that teachers can observe each other in person.
- Principals have neither content expertise nor the time to provide feedback to every teacher.
- It’s too expensive to have supervisors with content expertise in every subject in every school.
- Third-party feedback is too easy to discount without video evidence.
It felt clear, as an audience member, that video could help solve for each of these barriers.
In closing, Tom anchored us against the shared goal of all educators: ensure better student outcomes through improved teaching. If we believe that the best route to better teaching is deliberate practice, then we must work to utilize video as part of the PD process for teachers.