On this episode of the Teaching Leading Learning K-12 Podcast, Edthena founder and CEO Adam Geller talked with Steve Miletto talked about all things professional learning, including how video is changing the game for giving educators feedback about their teaching. Listen to the interview starting at 3:25 above, and read the transcript below.
You are listening to Teaching Learning Leading K12, a podcast for educators, helping you help kids achieve their dream. Now here’s Steve with this week’s show.
Steve Miletto: Adam Geller is the founder and CEO of Edthena. He started his career in education as a science teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. Since 2011, Adam has overseen the evolution of Edthena from a paper-based prototype into a research informed and patented platform used by schools districts, teacher training programs, and professional development providers. Adam has written on education technology topics for various publications, including Education Week, Forbes and EdSurge. And he has been an invited speaker about education technology and teacher training for conferences at home and abroad. Adam is the author of Evidence of Practice: Playbook for Video-Powered Professional Learning written with Annie Lewis O’Donnell. You can catch Adam’s original interview with me on episode 279 of Teaching Learning Leading K12. Today, Adam is here to talk about using video to provide feedback and support for the classroom teacher, regardless of teaching, whether the teaching’s happening in person, it’s hybrid or it’s remote. Adam, great to have you back on the show. Thanks for joining me today. Say hi to everyone.
Adam Geller: Hello. Hi everyone. It’s so great to be back. And man, a lot has certainly transpired since we spoke last.
Steve Miletto: It sure has. It’s funny because I looked at our information and it’s like, wow, it’s over a little more than a year ago when we talked and a lot has gone on. So we’re going to come back to that in just a minute, because I can’t wait to hear how that… what happened in your world as a result of that. But before we do that, I mean, you’re the founder and CEO of Edthena, could you explain why you created Edthena and what’s its purpose?
Adam Geller: Yeah, I mean, I think honestly the genesis of Edthena starts from my first year as a classroom teacher and I was a ninth grade science teacher and like every first year teacher wanted to be the best teacher I could be, and help my students achieve their fullest potential. And when you’re a new teacher or even a mid-career or later career teacher, that means that you need some feedback. And my principal, I always like to say she was very upfront with me. She didn’t necessarily have a background supporting science teachers which meant that I didn’t really have anyone in my building who could come observe me and give me feedback. So that experience of wanting to get better and knowing that you need some outside eyes on your instruction really was a theme that followed me as I continued along the way and started to realize, wait a second, this wasn’t a problem that Adam Geller experience in his one science classroom on the north side of St. Louis, Missouri, but this is actually a structural challenge that impacts most districts and most schools of education.
Adam Geller: But having the right person in the right place at the right time is really hard. And I kind of had a moment where I thought, wait a second, maybe we could do some technology just to solve for that problem.
Steve Miletto: That’s cool. I love that. And yeah, you’re right. It’s unfortunately a common experience when you talk about feedback or lack thereof. Sometimes I’ve got… back, way back in the beginning of my teaching career, I can remember getting a little note that said hey, great job. And I was like, it was a fly on the wall. I think I’m not sure that person was actually in the room at some point when they were talking about, but hey, maybe they got me confused with somebody else. I don’t know. I get the wrong feedback kind of. But well, I appreciate you talking about that, because we’re going to get into… we’re going to kind of wrap this all around Edthena and what you can do to help with feedback here in a minute. But before we do that, let’s… You last appeared on episode 279 of this podcast, which was posted on February 1st, 2020.
Adam Geller: And what we were talking about at the beginning was, yeah, a lot’s gone on since… So we talked originally yet just prior to everyone’s starting to realize that there was a virus that was going to disrupt our world, let’s start by talking about how the pandemic interrupted, what you do. I mean, what challenges did you face over the last year?
Adam Geller: Yeah, I mean, I think as someone who sits outside of a school district, but we’re obviously intimately connected to schools and school districts and schools of education, as a company, we absolutely felt the impact of the pandemic and the ways that it was impacting teaching and learning. So, right at the very beginning of the pandemic when the kind of norm and expected went from everybody’s in classrooms five days a week to we’re all at home, what do we do? That we found ourselves, I’ll admit, in the first couple of weeks, same as everyone else, like looking for which way is up, but we quickly realized that we could still be a strong partner for those school leaders, for those instructional coaches, for those teacher leaders who were trying to help teachers come up with new ways to define what virtual teaching would look like and hybrid, ultimately hybrid teaching would look like. I kind of joked that it was almost like every was back in the first days of school all over again.
Adam Geller: And that presented a real need as well as an opportunity to come up with some perspectives, if you will, on how to do the process of figuring out how to define what this new vision for good instruction and good teaching and learning would look like. So I think that’s where we kind of shifted on our end. I think also, what the… the ways that people were able to layer in feedback into their work started to change. So I think we had to… Well, you just heard me there taking the deep breath a little bit. We had to be better at taking the deep breath and be understanding and be the type of partner for our school districts who came back to us when they were using Edthena less.
Adam Geller: And they were saying, look like, nothing’s wrong with Edthena, but the whole world’s on fire right now. We know this is important, but we can’t get to it yet. And even though as someone who thinks every single day about teacher professional learning and teacher reflection and the critical importance that is for teachers in order for them to be successful, we had to be okay, if you will, applying less, no, it’s not pressure, right, but… If our job is to stand behind people and help hold them up, be okay if just doing what they asked us, which was a different mode of operating for us, because typically we’re very active and engaged on the ground. I mean, we aren’t going physically, but with what is happening on a day-to-day basis with teacher reflection and teacher feedback and being patient, take that deep breath.
Steve Miletto: There are a lot of people taking a deep breath, so like okay.
Adam Geller: We’re still taking a deep breath.
Steve Miletto: Yes, exactly. It’s kind of like, oh, hey, okay. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I didn’t never took a class on dealing with pandemics, so it’s like, okay, someone left that chapter out. We’ve got to work on that. So let’s remind everyone about your book. Evidence of Practice: Playbook for Video-Powered Professional Learning written with Annie Lewis O’Donnell. Your book focuses on how to use video to help teachers improve. Could you share a little bit about your book?
Adam Geller: Absolutely. So, the kind of biggest part of the book, there’s like a part one and a part two. So the part two, which is most of the book is 12 strategies for implementing video within professional learning. So why is that important? Well, first of all, they’re not, as I was coached by someone who I trust her opinion greatly, she’s like, don’t call them activities. These are not activities, there are strategies, but these are really… it’s a playbook, but if we didn’t have that word on it, I would call them recipes, right. So meant to be tactical and practical for the coach, the school leader, whoever it is that’s thinking about structuring and designing professional learning experiences, giving them a concrete way to start to visualize how video can be a part of that process.
Adam Geller: So as an example, well, they, first of all, they go from the less complex to the quite complex.. At the most complex end, there’s a chapter about bringing the process of Japanese style lesson study online, but I think it’s those strategies that are at the beginning of the spectrum that really help people get started with video, that are so really high value for it for teachers. That is why people have provided feedback that they value the book. So as an example of that, there’s one in there that I really love. And I’m holding onto my desk so I don’t get too excited here because I always love. This is my soap box thing I love to talk about.
Adam Geller: There’s one called pre-teach. So this is a change from the teacher certification context, which you’d call the micro-teaching, bringing that into the real world for practicing teachers. So what does that look like? For the elementary teacher teaching a critical lesson about dividing fractions to her, his or her students, they could actually practice the core example or the kind of crux of that lesson and share it with a coach or a colleague. So maybe we’re talking about 90 seconds, two minutes of video before the teaching ever happens. The reason why I get so excited and why this is so powerful is that this is an example about how video as a tool for teacher learning can actually change teacher practice before it ever happens with students. And I’ve actually seen examples of this working where the teacher shared an example, a pre-teach video.
Adam Geller: The example she happened to use in that video was a little bit confusing and the person providing feedback was able to adjust example before it ever happened with students. Think about how amazing that is to have a tool where you can basically avoid the outcome of a lesson being most of your students being confused and having to reteach the whole thing. So that’s, I guess one example in the book. We also have for lack of a better word, a vocabulary a framework for engaging with video. So those are what we call the focusing techniques. And there are five of those. And it’s important to know that those exist because you don’t want to think about video as a one-to-one equal to how you would think about interacting with in-person evidence. You need to approach it differently, and also of course with video, teachers now can start to analyze themselves and you need to give teachers tools for, and strategies for how to do that.
Steve Miletto: That’s awesome. And it’s very practical, hands-on, easy to use, easy to read, easy to use book and it’s a great stuff there. And if you guys go back to episode 79, you can listen to Adam talk in a little more detail about his book called Evidence of Practice: Playbook for Video-Powered Professional Learning, good stuff. So Adam let’s start here. Let’s go in early spring last year, suddenly schools were closing and we’re trying to figure out how to go remote. Let’s talk about the challenges that we saw them immediately faced. What, what types of things were you seeing? Because I can tell you a lot about what we we’ve seen.
Adam Geller: Yeah. Man, at the beginning of the pandemic, I mean, and still today, I think unfortunately for some students you were hearing a lot about students not having access to the technology they needed to be learning at home. And I again, I don’t want to imply or pretend that that problem has been solved. I think we’ve all made, been able to make a lot of headway in the past year, and obviously many students are back in classrooms now as well. But I think that particular challenge is interesting because one of the kind of most inspiring things I saw happen was a district leader recorded an example for her teachers in the district. So this is a district leader, a chief academic officer in fact, providing a model of what a new style of teaching could look like. And she actually recorded a how to, is a video that modeled what teachers would do if they recorded a video of themselves, teaching parents how to teach a lesson to their students.
Adam Geller: Right. Which is a little bit like the the movie Inception, right? It’s like, you’re seeing it three degrees before the students sees it.
Steve Miletto: Yes, nice.
Adam Geller: But so cool, right. Because number one, very innovative example or example of how teaching constantly is innovative, right. But in that particular moment, adapting to the challenges of that particular district, the kind of leadership that’s out there among teachers, as well as district leaders to kind of push through the uncertainty, find ways to make change. But also, in this particular example, using video to scale up a best practice. The idea of using video to scale best practices works when you were roll back the clock to two years, that work two years ago. It certainly works when teachers might be teaching from their kitchen table. So I think that’s an example of things we saw changing, certainly lots of innovation. I think, of course the other thing that changed and we started to see happening as it relates to what was happening inside of it as, as more teachers had access to teaching in online spaces I think we all use the phrase no Zoom teaching it’s kinda like bandaid, right?
Adam Geller: Like it’s good on zoom. They’re, they’re like the default word now, but of course that represents a lot of different styles of synchronous video conference style teaching. There really were a ton of questions and needs to step back, reflect on that teaching, figure out what was working, what wasn’t. I talk with the author Doug Fisher, and he mentioned, he reminded me that at the beginning of the pandemic in his school, because he’s still a practicing teacher. That the kind of stance was okay, we’re all going to get on video and kind of lecture, and of course that’s not good teaching. And so how did you adjust and adapt this kind of concept of video conference style teaching and still make it rich, interactive, and importantly generative for the students. Right. Because I don’t think anybody wants to be feeling like they’re contributing to the, for lack of a better word, like butts and seats, kind of realities that are part of some aspects of education, unfortunately. It was a moment to kind of think creatively but also needing to kind of think differently about what teaching should look like.
Steve Miletto: So much so, and it’s cool, the different stuff that you experience that you’re sharing, because one of the things that happened, I mean, that we experienced immediately was exactly what you said. You had some people said, oh, I’ll just copy about three weeks worth of worksheets and I’ll give them to them and say, get these done. And then there were others who were actually trying to teach and so forth. And I thought that was one of the biggest… It’s like, oh my gosh, three weeks worth of worksheets, what the heck? And just any number of things started happening. And I think one of the things that really happened also is that… It’s was funny, I’ve been using zoom for this, by the way. I’m not sponsored by them. So this is not a commercial, but, I’ve been using zoom for a couple of years cause I switched from Skype.
Steve Miletto: And I started using Zoom several years ago and I’d run into people who had never heard of it and stuff like this. And I’d say, well, this is what’s going to happen. And this is how it works. Well, what’s funny is one of the things that’s happened since last March, April may is that now lots of teachers have become experts had at least holding class and communicating by Zoom. And like, some of us are, having a little zoomed out. Matter of fact once again I’m going to name another name brand here that I have nothing, that does have nothing to do with my show, but I love the commercial that Progressive has out. Have you seen that one where they make fun of the meetings with the… They’re trying to have a team meeting. There’s somebody doesn’t realize their mic’s on. There’s somebody else who’s talking and their mic is off. And anyway just, I think it’s… we have this whole new.
Adam Geller: Was that meeting while you were telling that story, I was responding, right. No.
Steve Miletto: Thank you. Thank you. Yes. Thank you.
Adam Geller: I agree with you I think what’s funny is I’m rethinking my answer to the prior question. What I really should have said is what did I see? I saw that in a matter of weeks, we went from a world where the majority of teachers may have told you I’ve never been on video as well, teaching to a world where almost every single teacher has been on video. Which in my line of work, is a pretty tectonic shift in terms of really our readiness to utilize video within the education space. I mean, of course I’m hinting at and dancing around saying user for professional learning, but also for teaching with student, right?
Steve Miletto: Right.
Adam Geller: I mean I have, before the pandemic been known to say things like it’s absolutely silly that we aren’t using more video with teachers and professional learning. Videos in classrooms are nothing to the students, they live in a world where they’ve never known a world without high definition video cameras in our pockets, right. And so that was the before the pandemic banging of the fist, if you will. And now I think we’re just at this place where we’ve all, we’ve ripped off the bandaid. It’s like we had to do it, and so we did. And I think in good news, it really… It shows that the change has always… I’ve never hear anybody describe change as easy, or, oh, I loved it. Because we’re creatures of habit, but the reality here is, is that we can all look back on the past year, especially within education, which sometimes from outsiders gets labeled as an industry and a sector that is not innovative, which of course is not true.
Adam Geller: But as a sector overall, as a profession, such dramatic change, needing to happen and did happen. And yes, that’s true in a lot of our lives. But I think that educators are going to reflect on the past year and use that experience to pave the way for some really innovative versions of what education will look like going forward. Because for all the times that a new idea or a new system or a new process was brought up and the kind of counter to trying to take action on it was whoa, man, well, but how are we going to, and then long list of things that block change. I think now we know we can, we can all sustain more change than maybe we are willing to admit.
Steve Miletto: It’s a good point, it’s a very good point. I mean, because some of this is… It’s literally ripping the bandaid off because it’s like all right you can say, you don’t want to go that direction all you want to, but it ain’t going to wait for you. So you better either rip it off and catch up or you’re going to be sitting way back here talking about three weeks of worksheets and people are going to throw you overboard. And it’s funny. By the way, I got to say something. Earlier you made a reference that very good former science teacher referenced. I mean, what a nice word to use, tectonic disruption or change, whatever you said. Nice. I was like, you’re on a roll, so I didn’t wanna interrupt you with that goofy statement, but it’s like, yeah, he was a former science teacher wouldn’t it? We’re going to tectonic shift.
Adam Geller: Flip side every now and again.
Steve Miletto: Awesome stuff, because it really is.
Adam Geller: It’s a relapse, it’s a relapse.
Steve Miletto: It’s a relapse? I like that. It’s really a cool shift because suddenly, like you said, suddenly teachers are very, whether they’re comfortable or not, they’re very used to being on video and something else that you referenced, which I thought was really cool, was the kids really have been operating in this world where if you go into the ones who are gamers, I mean, sometimes they might have little pictures of the person who they’re… They may not be a real picture. It may be an org or different characters, whatever. Elf or something like that orcs, that’s the word I was looking for or something like that. They’re collaborating and participating with people in these different games that they may never meet whatsoever. And they’re learning from them, whether they’re good or bad. But in this world, and it’s funny because most of the adults have not been in that type of environment. And so I think the kids have a little more comfort with it than if they would… if the adults would do it right, I guess.
Adam Geller: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I think this idea of not having a choice about the change, right? I mean, I think again, if I think back to before the pandemic and the advice that I would give if people are like, oh, well, I’m thinking about using video as part of professional learning for video reflection, teacher growth but fill in the blank thing is not happening as quickly. And you dig in and it would turn out that they had positioned a video as this kind of innovative, optional idea for teachers to use within their professional learning practice. And even worse maybe savings like, oh, well you could record yourself and share a video to me or I can come observe you next week. And as the classic example of even the best teachers who wanted to have the most impact with their students, even those teachers might succumb to the kind of that kind of trap that we find ourselves in, where we’re like, well, like it’d be less… It might be painful for me to wait for another week, but I’ll just wait and you’ll come.
Adam Geller: Because then I don’t have to change the thing I know that I’ve already know how to do, which is just, I’ll be in here teaching and you come in and observe me, right? I’m telling the story here of video reflection for teacher learning, but I think we know that’s true in all aspects of our lives, right? I mean, making change is hard, I think the kind of opportunity here is to think, okay, we know we can make changes, so let’s actually commit to the discomfort and just go with it and push through it. Because I think that’s the kind of big aha of the last year is like, we’re much more capable of pushing through it than I think we ever thought, whatever it is, making a hard change in what instruction looks like in a school, making a change with how we engage parents and school community, whatever it might be, you just kind of… sometimes you got to push through.
Steve Miletto: You got that right. You got that so right as… I think that’s kind of what people started happening in their heads as the further we got into this and realized, well, it’s not just going away in six weeks type thing. And then suddenly, I think some of those gears started clicking in why they became teachers in the first place and why they got involved in education in the first place, the idea to be creative and innovative and try and figure things out started popping through. So it’s kind of cool stuff. So Adam, many schools, the systems mean well and have tried to provide professional development to help with the transition to remote and hybrid learning. And what thoughts do you have about professional learning, especially under the current conditions?
Adam Geller: Oh, I have a strong set of thoughts here.
Steve Miletto: For some reason I thought so, yes.
Adam Geller: That was based on some of what I’ve been hearing in the past year. So I think first thoughts/admonition is please let’s not turn professional development and professional learning into a dirty word because we’re filling all of that time with for lack of a better word technical training. And don’t get me wrong, technical training is absolutely important, but it is absolutely not what we mean when we say teachers need opportunities to continually increase their effectiveness. so I think that’s the first thing we really have to be honest with ourselves about. This is happening certainly during the pandemic, but it’s also happening structurally even in the way that schools and districts allocate their coaching capacity, where they now, instead of having instructional coaches, have the technology coaches doing technology training and instructional coaching.
Adam Geller: And I understand that it may not be possible to have more people, but sometimes the words and the labels matter. And so look, I think we’re all doing a disservice if we don’t carve out the professional learning time separate from the technical training time. Other thoughts here. I think that the other thing I have seen in the past year, which I think has been unfortunate is kind of pushing that professional development down the list against the admittedly other urgent and important priorities. So I think as we’re all kind of working through, not just the kind of this spring set of questions around coming back to classrooms or hybrid teaching, or still doing online teaching, but really importantly, as we think forward into next school year and the quite sizable set of challenges that all educators have in relation to helping their students re-emerge back into full in-person learning, do the quite difficult work of combating the learning loss that’s happened in the past year, we’re going to need to create more space for that professional learning.
Adam Geller: And especially now that teachers have had a taste of a world where things can be asynchronous, especially for their students, find ways that the learning for the adults can continue to be high quality and personalized, but convenient. Because you want teachers to say that they want professional learning and-
Steve Miletto: You get that right, this.
Adam Geller: … I mean, I’m a big believer that the reason you become a teacher is you want to have impact, and the way that you have impact as you constantly get better, I believe that through and through. And so I use that mindset when I think about teachers in their day to day, even right now, they still, of course, they… why are they still showing up and whatever that means to show up because they want to have that impact. So if we think that’s true, let’s make sure that we use the idea of professional learning opportunities almost as like a reward for the job. Like yeah, the system around you wants to enable you to lift yourself up to the next level. And so I think for that to be true, we have to offer higher quality, more personalized, professional learning as it relates to my work and we can get into the the research of why I’m so passionate about this, but giving feedback on actual teaching implementation is critical to helping teachers get better.
Adam Geller: That’s not Adam Geller saying that, that’s decades of academic research saying that, that’s the decade… That’s the underpinnings of why people can justify investing in instructional coaching because at the end of the day, it’s feedback on actual implementation that helps teachers get better. If that wasn’t the case, we do a million workshops. Of course, we all know in our gut, a workshop isn’t going to get the job done, but the research also shows us the workshop isn’t going to get the job done. So it means for leaders, prioritizing the time, prioritizing the budgets, prioritizing this as an idea that they give airtime to in front of their teachers so that teachers feel like they’re being lifted up by these opportunities and that they want to take advantage of them rather than feeling like professional learning is some extra burden on top of the very long list of duties that teachers have these days.
Steve Miletto: Yeah, that’s so right. It’s one of those things where you don’t want it to be, feel like it’s just one more thing I got to do. And then as opposed to, I’m looking forward to hearing that information today, because it’s going to help me do, whatever, fill in the blank. And just so important for that feeling to be that way. So let’s talk a little bit about feedback. I mean, let’s talk about the types of feedback that are helpful. I mean, because a smiley face and a check mark and a great job or not exactly what you want, right?
Adam Geller: Yeah, you don’t want that, and he also don’t want the kind of core of feedback or even reflection to be about what do I look like or how do I sound, or do I use ums and uhs in my speech pattern, right?
Steve Miletto: Right.
Adam Geller: I mean, that’s not making the difference for understanding whether or not students are getting it, right? I think when it comes to feedback, there are lots of different types of feedback, of course, that are right for teachers at different moments in time. And we’ve used feedback and sometimes they use coaching interchangeably, and of course coaching is not the same thing as observation and feedback necessarily. It’s not necessarily the same thing as self-reflection. So I want to acknowledge that. Sometimes teachers want that tactical idea of what should I change to get better tomorrow.
Adam Geller: And sometimes teachers want and are ready to be guided to find those answers on their own. So I think feedback encompasses that spectrum, and I think for me, the critical thing needs to be that we anchor feedback in actual evidence of what’s happening. And that means not relying on… Steve, if you came to observe me not relying on your recollection of what you saw in my teaching environment. Because number one, you may not be a reliable observer, sorry to tell you.
Steve Miletto: What? Come on.
Adam Geller: Well, you probably forgot that really important thing and forgot to mention it, and number two, of course like what if I don’t believe you?
Steve Miletto: Nice, nice.
Adam Geller: Right? So let’s make sure that we anchor our feedback in evidence, evidence of the teaching practice through obviously I’m going to say video recording, capturing the actual teaching, but also capturing the learning, right? Videos of students saying out loud what they’re thinking, looking at student work. Really comparing things like what was my plan for this lesson or this unit and what actually happened. Because those are the types of things, that’s the type of feedback where you’re anchored in evidence. You’re anchor to as Jim Knight says a clear picture of your current reality, that’s the phrase he likes. So I would make sure to credit him, I heard him say that first. But we’ve got to make sure that feedback is anchored in reality, if we’re actually going to get better. And hey, reality can sometimes be uncomfortable, but unless you’re willing to… And you have to be willing, right? As the teacher, you have to be willing to actually engage, but once that is true and you need trust and all kinds of other things in place, that’s when teachers can start to access the information that they need to really make meaningful change.
Adam Geller: So anchor in evidence and anchor it in actual… anchor feedback against actual things that happened in the performance of the duties, right. So I mentioned the lesson plan before. Looking at a lesson plan, just to check off that you had a lesson plan. I don’t want to say it’s not useful, it maybe useful for some other things, but that’s not feedback, let’s just say, right? Because that’s not about the implementation, that’s about the planning, and feedback is really about helping someone understand what did they intend to achieve and what did they achieve and how did they close that gap?
Steve Miletto: Yeah. I mean, there’s any number of things that you can reference, but I have to say that it… there’s with just kind of interesting because like the lesson plan, that’s… It’s important for making sure that you’re not flying by the seat of your pants and that you’re doing things. Now, people get a little too caught up in what it looks like. It must look this way and that has issues of its own. But there’s lots of aspects of instruction that it’s just like, if you don’t realize that you’re calling on the same kids over and over again, because they’re the ones who either have the answer or if you don’t call on them, they’re going to… there’s many total chaos. But then what about a kid like Steve, who Steve lives in that world, which means that if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, this is in a regular classroom obviously.
Steve Miletto: But if I live in that world, I live for that world and I did by the way, because I made sure that when I came in the classroom, I’m not going to create a disturbance for you. I turned in my homework, I was supposed to, and I looked at you so that you thought I was definitely paying attention. And it doesn’t matter that I might’ve been off on the planet off on the Battlestar Galactica spaceship or something like that. But it’s kind of tell what years I was talking about, but it.
Adam Geller: I’ve seen that show too.
Steve Miletto: Thank you. Thank you. But I lived in that world because you can tell when some teachers, they’re only going to focus on those other, those two groups of kids, the one that they know they’re definitely in the right answer from, and the one that if they don’t call on them, pretty soon, they’re going to have some sort of issue. And so then the quiet kid, he looks like he’s… he doesn’t cause you any issues, he doesn’t get called on, which means that you don’t know if I’m getting it until I go to demonstrate that for you.
Adam Geller: Right. And let’s just make this idea concrete, right? Let’s bringing this into practical terms for why a video of that classroom experience that you’re talking about would be so powerful. Imagine the coach, or maybe the teacher on his or her own decides, I want to examine checks for understanding within my classroom. Being able to look at that video and actually maybe even just count how many different students did I call on, right? It’s suddenly, it is data. It is a fact. It is not an opinion, right? It’s not how the teacher felt about whether or not they were calling on you. It’s not the coach’s opinion on whether or not it was important to call on you. It’s just data at that point in the same way we all talk about analyzing student data, right?
Adam Geller: It is a representation of the facts, right? Video is data that helps you then decide what’s the implication of what we’re seeing, right? And so it is that analysis that is in some ways the feedback, right? Because I was hesitating there to say the word feedback, because I don’t want to suggest that the only way to interact here is that teacher records, teacher sends video to someone, that someone gives the quote feedback, right. I feel like teachers can give themselves feedback. It’s really just, like many things in education, we start using words to… For example, in my world, I would say for a while, Edthena, it’s a video coaching platform. Well, that had a very specific meaning for some people that was too narrow and different from what they were envisioning.
Adam Geller: I was using that word to mean a zone of activity. I think we’re using the word feedback here to mean a zone of activity, which is really the kind of deliberate, engaged analysis of what actually is happening from a teaching and learning standpoint.
Steve Miletto: Well, I like that, I like that.
Adam Geller: That’s what I think good feedback is. I obviously am very passionate that that video can help people engage in that style of feedback, but I think that’s really what… No teacher wants to know whether or not you thought the objective was on their board and clear enough type, right? What they want to know was like the so what. Again, if we assume they came to do the best they could do, the so what of what they did and what they should change differently going forward.
Steve Miletto: Yeah, exactly. That’s perfect. I liked that. I like that a lot. Yeah. That made me laugh out loud there whatever that, what was that? LOL. That’s it. Sorry, I’m not good in those with the texting, but one of the things is that because there’s lots of that stuff that physically looking around the room and stuff like this, I mean, that people can get focused on when… What the teacher’s looking for is that okay, I can get some of that stuff kind of doing better, but what do you think… What about what’s really my interactions with the kids and what’s going on in the classroom. And I think one of the things that happens, if you can never really have a good conversation about this, when something you said earlier was the teacher can, if they’ll be honest with themselves. They watch themselves on video, they can give themselves good feedback if they’ll be critical, and to be their own critical friend. Which is like other than the example I gave before, there’s so many different other things to think about.
Steve Miletto: For example, you thought you spent only like 15 minutes on this core part of the lesson, and then did some sort of let’s work now on the lesson so you can show me whether you got it or not. And instead what you found out is that you actually worked for 40 minutes on the lesson and you can look around the room and you start seeing, noticing when the kids start getting a little bit bored with the fact that they’re still doing the same thing and.
Adam Geller: Yeah. Well, let me kind of share for your listeners maybe an idea of how can you turn this whole idea of feedback? If we’re really meaning reflection on actual teaching, how can you rethink that, especially as we go forward? So something that we see happening inside Edthena is we have a tool set that helps essentially design a learning cycle. so what can these tools be used for? Well, a popular style of learning that that’s happening right now is the idea of micro-credentials, which basically means someone has defined a set of skills that teachers should work to master, and then they need to demonstrate mastery. Well, that doesn’t have to be some kind of a nebulous thing out there. It doesn’t have to be external to the school or the district.
Adam Geller: It could be as simple as we want to look at what we were talking before about checks for understanding. Maybe it’s a kind of a learning cycle/, a learning pathway about checks for understanding, and you provide some examples for teachers to analyze themselves. You empower teachers to implement those in their classrooms and gather the evidence of their implementation. You ask them to reflect on that and then share that kind of bundle of evidence with someone who is the person with the authority to issue the micro-credential or issue the badge. I think that’s why the idea of micro-credentials are exciting in education because it changes this question of how do you give good feedback and how do you empower teachers to give feedback to themselves while still allowing the system for lack of a better word, to define some of the pathways for professional learning? That’s that happy medium where… That’s professional learning that’s a hundred percent personalized to what that teacher cares about, and what’s happening inside of their classroom.
Adam Geller: And maybe I chose the checks for understanding a pathway and you chose the use of academic language in the content area pathway. And so whatever it might be, I think there are ways to think creatively about feedback and how we’re empowering teachers to at the end of the day, get better at their craft so that they can have a greater impact with their students.
Steve Miletto: I love it. I love it. This is so right on the money and one of the things that happens with what you’re describing is it… When an administrator gives you feedback, the problem with it is that they’re possibly your evaluator also. And so it’s kind of a scary thing to let yourself be vulnerable in that moment. Just like you said, what if I don’t want to accept it? Or what if I don’t agree with you or… And it’s quite possible it’s very good feedback. It’s just that there’s this little scary moment there where are you giving me feedback because it’s now I’ve done poorly on my evaluation or is this true feedback to help me that really doesn’t have any impact on my evaluation. And unfortunately it’s the other feeling whether they’ll say it or not.
Steve Miletto: There’s usually that other feeling that that might be there, which means that, yeah, are you, are you really going to get the response that you need for them to to help themselves move forward in whatever that area is? Whereas what you’re talking about by them choosing the areas they’re going… the pathways are going to follow and such, there’s that you’ve removed the scariness of the the evil administrator.
Adam Geller: Yeah. I mean that’s a big topic that we should probably reserve for another discussion. But I think my short response there is if you are an administrator in a building, obviously I believe that administrators should be instructional leaders as well, but, and you don’t have someone with the title coach, I think that absolutely you’re hitting on it, that you got to create a bright line between the few times I’m going to quote unquote, “Be evaluating you” and all the other times I am observing, giving you feedback. And here’s the kind of, I think magic I can offer here as an idea. Especially when that feedback has via video, allow the teachers to choose any of that video, to push back over the fence during those higher stakes evaluation conversations, as the evidence they’re choosing to demonstrate to you how they have been achieving the thing that you’re looking for, or more importantly, in my view, as someone who supports people and helps them in their professional growth.
Adam Geller: Prove and own the idea that they are getting better. Because ultimately I think that’s what really matters, right? Like nobody needs to be four out of four or five out of five on every rubric or whatever the evaluation system is. It is having collecting data in safe ways and using data to prove that you are making progress. I mean, hey, that’s what we expect of the students, the learners inside classrooms. It seems only fair that we would expect that of the educators as well.
Steve Miletto: Yeah. I agree with you. I agree. That’s very cool. And by the way, just for the audience, I am a former administrator, so I understand that. I’m not speaking as well as a teacher. So I understand that whole nuance there, just want to make sure I made that point clear.
Adam Geller: I was not. I wasn’t trying to paint you in a corner there, Steve.
Steve Miletto: Oh, come on Adam, you had… I mean.
Adam Geller: That was not a trap. That was not a trap. It was just a response.
Steve Miletto: All is good. All is good. Oh, now you really threw me for a loop. Let’s circle back now to Edthena. So how does Edthena help? How do you come in? How does your company help teachers help school systems help schools with this process?
Adam Geller: Well, I have a new phrase I came up with last week, I’ll try it out with you for the first time. It may never be said again. I think we’re kind of like your operating system for observation and feedback. We don’t necessarily, we have some ideas on ow feedback could look, but when we partner with a school or a district, it’s really a question of what types of feedback do you want to give? How can we bring some of that process online? How can our tools streamline the feedback that teachers are getting? How can our tools increase the possibility and opportunities for teacher to teacher collaboration? What are the best practices that you know that are out there that you want to make more visible across your entire learning community among your teachers and scale them up, the micro-credentials piece before, right?
Adam Geller: That kind of question of, okay, what are the cycles of learning that you know you want teachers to participate in? How can you establish those and create those as opportunities for, for independent learning? So we kind of fit into all of those places, right? Because at the end of the day Edthena it’s a technology platform, right? But, I think the thing that sets us apart is the people on the team, the expertise we bring to the conversation. And I think ultimately also like, it’s not the Edthena way, it’s your way we help you achieve these things. You don’t need to achieve the Edthena thing. We just help the school or the district move forward on their path to kind of really rethinking what that observation of feedback and reflection model looks like from a very teacher-centric point of view.
Adam Geller: I think we put teachers first. We’re not an evaluation platform. I think all those things really come into play. And we also hear that the technology is easy and it just works and we’ve been called Appleby in the past. So all those things have to be true as well, I guess.
Steve Miletto: Very cool. Very cool. Well, Adam, as we’re getting ready to close, if someone had to connect with you or learn more, where would you send them?
Adam Geller: Well, head to our website, www.www.edthena.com And if you haven’t seen our name written out before, it’s like Athena, but ed for education. So we have information about the platform. You can see our commenting tools right there on our homepage, but also check out our blog because we’re constantly posting content that’s about coaching and feedback. So we’re trying to share all the things that we’re learning from our various partners and play that back out for the broader education community to inspire them on a better version of the future that they can be a part of.
Steve Miletto: Excellent. Excellent. And I will make sure that those links are in the show notes so they can find them easily there as well. So they’re looking at their podcast platform, they can pull it on their phone or whatever, it’d be right there in the show notes. So good stuff, so Adam, I have two questions I just want to ask you here to finish up. And the first one goes like this. How do you keep going? When so much is going on that you may want to quit and I mean, you personally?
Adam Geller: Well, at least as it relates to Edthena and my work at Edthena, and I think it comes down to the fact that why am I doing this work? And it’s not so different than what a teacher says about why do they keep showing up every day? I mean, we do the work we do because we believe that the best way to have the biggest impact on student outcomes is to ensure that the teacher is the best prepared that they can be. That’s the biggest lever you can pull to impact student achievement and set students up for the better life that we all want them to achieve for themselves. So I think that’s really… That’s the true north here. It may be simplistic in some ways, but… I became an educator when I set foot in that classroom in my first year of teaching, I still think of myself as an educator.
Steve Miletto: That’s awesome. I really like that. Very cool, last question, if you were given a chance to speak at the kickoff of the school year, coming up, all right. This next school year. So we’re talking about this as August of 21 or in some cases, June, July, whenever some of these school systems are starting back. And the audience is filled with teachers and administrators ready to start the 21/22 school year. What is something that you would want to say to them?
Adam Geller: Yeah, so, I mean, I think it really goes back to that idea of change. And we’ve been talking a lot about video reflection as a technology today, and really this kind of idea that sometimes we have known the right thing to do and we haven’t been willing to make the changes in the past. And I think if we look outside education, a great example of that is in the experience that many of us have had in the past year, maybe for the first time talking to our doctors, we’ve probably pulled up an app on our phone and done a little video, telemedicine experience and thought, oh, that was easy. I didn’t have to drag down to the doctor’s office, waste a whole half a day just to get my 10 minutes of attention, like, boom, that was great.
Adam Geller: And I’d asked you, do you want to go back to dragging down to the doctor’s office? And most people would say no, what a waste of time? I need to go there sometimes, but I don’t need to go every single time. So okay, we all suddenly love telemedicine, but telemedicine as an idea has been around and has been getting talked about for more than a hundred years. So sometimes the best ideas are the old ideas that we just weren’t willing to act on. So at least in the, in the case of professional learning and teacher growth, I think it’s really true when we talk about video. We have known for decades that teachers watching themselves on video, teachers watching each other on video and teachers interacting in online spaces, talking about teaching will help them get better.
Adam Geller: So let’s embrace that let’s not discard some of the changes we’ve been making in the past year, whether it’s teacher reflection or teaching itself, just to go back to the old way, because we’re so eager to go back. Come on, let’s embrace that, that newness, let’s be okay with it. Let’s do the work to make the change because sometimes the best ideas are the old ideas. We just need to act on them.
Steve Miletto: Very cool. Very cool, Adam, thanks so much for talking with me today. Thanks for sharing your ideas about utilizing video to support the classroom/teacher in the ways that I think it can help. Wishing the best in all you do.
Adam Geller: Thanks so much for having me back.
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