Why Video is the First Redesign Challenge

Christopher Bronke is the English Department Chair at Downers Grove (Ill.) North High School and Community Guide for the Redesign Challenge.

Stop for one second and come up with a list of the top five biggest issues in education today; go ahead…I’ll wait. My guess is that some of these came to mind: teacher evaluation, standardized testing, the achievement gap, funding, and maybe a few more. However, I can virtually guarantee you that videos for professional development was not on your list of five, and quite frankly, it probably wouldn’t have even made a top ten list. So, why are videos the starting point for the Redesign Challenge? It is very simple: video has dramatic potential to change how we as educators learn.

The Redesign Challenge is a new online community in which educators work together to democratize change in education. During early planning for the Redesign Challenge (of which I have been working for about seven months), my eyes were opened to the wide array of uses for videos as a means of professional learning. It’s no surprise that our effectiveness as teachers most directly correlates to student success. Yet, there are few among us who can say we seek or get the feedback we want and need to improve. A recent report, “A Game Changer: Using video to Achieve high performance in the classroom” confirms the challenge:

“In order for teachers to grow from observation processes, feedback must be understood and accepted by teachers. Traditional observation and feedback are often replete with challenges and inadequacies, including subjective scoring and insufficient content expertise, making it hard for teachers to recognize them as valid and worthwhile.”

But what if video could change this, shift this paradigm into one of reflection and growth?

Simply put, video provides us the opportunity to both look into the mirror yet see through the window of our classrooms; it opens up feedback loops (self and peer generated) that are free of judgement, ratings, and release lists. The reality is, I am not alone in this belief. Recently, SmartBrief did a poll of educators, and it revealed that 91% of the teachers polled “felt that simply filming their instruction would help improve their practices.” And 71% would like to film themselves, get to select their best clips, and use that for evaluation, rather than the current observations.

The key is understanding how classroom videos can help shape YOUR professional development. For example, the sophomore team of teachers in the English Department at Downers Grove North High School (where I work as the department chair) recently came to me to ask if they could do a Japanese Lesson Study. I was very excited that they were so open to going and watching each other teach; however, I was worried at how much it would cost to sub out so many teachers to complete the project. Having not done something like this before and wanting this sort of collaborative risk-taking to continue, I gladly supported their efforts. Upon completion of the study, these teachers have already begun asking about doing this again next year, and the freshmen and junior teams now want to experience this, too. That said, I barely had the money to support one team let alone three. This is where classroom videos can become transformational, allowing grade-level teams to collaborate together, and “observe” one another on a consistent basis, having conversations on best practice that previously didn’t occur. We are currently working on a plan to make this happen as part of our collaborative culture for next year.

The overlap of my work with the Redesign Challenge and the ambition of the sophomore team were serendipitous — the perfect storm, if you will. But this storm didn’t blow us off course, instead it forced our ship in directions we didn’t know were possible, reaching new lands with new horizons. So, I challenge you to take the challenge. While videos might not seem like an issue on your already busy radar, sometimes there is beautiful hope and endless possibilities hidden in the unseen.

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