Op-Ed: Rookie Teachers Need Way More Support

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Steve Jobs once said, "Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them." One of the most effective ways to use modern technology in education is in observing teaching to greatly influence the effectiveness of educators.

Reflection is vital for teachers to improve their craft as professionals. However, it can be difficult to objectively examine one's teaching skills. For new teachers, it can be particularly challenging.

I can remember many times myself, as a beginning teacher, feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information and areas of improvement I identified. Sometimes it was difficult to identify where, when, how, and why things went awry. I remember feeling both anxious and excited for others to come into my classroom and observe; I looked forward to hearing ways to improve. Many times, however, I was somewhat disappointed when little meaningful feedback was offered. That was then. This is 2013.



Now out of the classroom, I'm the director of a beginning teacher induction program serving five school districts in the California East Bay Area. I am responsible for helping new teachers become more effective. 

Most teachers are hungry for authentic, meaningful feedback to boost their development. Our limited resources, however, make this a hunger challenging to feed.

According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Met Project study on measures of effective teaching, if observations are meant to positively influence professional growth, having more than one set of eyes to conduct the observation needs to occur.

The good news is many of us now carry a recording device in our pockets and can record and upload videos from anywhere in the world to anyone in the world in a matter of seconds. These devices can be extremely valuable in giving new teachers more than one perspective on their teaching, and helping them become more effective. Let me explain.

The districts I serve partner with New Teacher Center (NTC) to give new teachers the support they need to be effective and to remain committed to teaching. Thanks to a grant from Chevron, this includes a pilot initiative using video recordings of teachers to influence teacher growth. Teachers use a secure platform to post and share their recorded lessons with those they choose through NTC's E-Mentoring for Student Success (eMSS). 

Many educators I work with are critical of themselves, and this gives them the ability to reflect while playing back and pausing raw footage of their teaching. The benefits are endless. Not surprisingly, teachers find a wide variety of ways they can improve by viewing themselves. And when they watch the recording with a mentor, there are even higher yields in terms of communication and reflection.

Part of my work consists of coaching and providing support to beginning teachers. I have used video as a way to show teachers areas they can improve. Viewing recordings with teachers allows me to use a facilitative voice, allowing the teacher viewing themselves to offer suggestions for improvement. Afterwards, it's easy for them to generate next steps and understand how these modifications will be implemented into their classroom right away. 

How this looks in your district, at your school site, or in your classroom may be as unique as the students served. A few powerful concepts to keep in mind revolving around effective professional development are:

Educators willing to take risks are viewed as a professionally growing teacher.  Professional development that is sustained, intensive, and focused on subject matter has a large impact on teacher development.  There is a higher rate of growth for teachers who participate in “hands on” learning relevant to daily tasks within the classroom. Designing high quality professional development needs to possess a focus on collective participation of educators, core features, and duration of time.

Utilizing technology in the classroom for teacher observations is a high yield strategy to increase teacher effectiveness, especially when paired with the expertise of a trained mentor. When teachers take ownership while collaborating and placing ownership and accountability on themselves, instead of sources far beyond their control, positive outcomes are a result.  Like Steve Jobs said, "Technology is nothing." As professionals, it is essential we use technologies wisely and "do wonderful things with them."

Related Stories on TakePart:

• Op-Ed: For First-Year Teachers, It’s Sink or Swim

• Diary of a First-Year Teacher: I Never Thought I’d Feel So Isolated

• Diary of a First-Year Teacher: Here’s the Most Stressful Part of My Job

Todd Airola is an accomplished educator who now leads an initiative to help beginning teachers accelerate their professional growth as a BTSA Induction Coordinator with the Far East Contra Costa County Consortium in California.  The consortium credentials teachers employed in Brentwood, Byron, Knightsen, Liberty, and Oakley school districts. TakePart.com