As hot as it’s been this summer, chilling inside with a video marathon seems a decent way to pass the time. For students out of school, maybe a box set of Spiderman or Jason Bourne, but for some educators out of school, the viewing party on this day in early August consisted of the far less flashy, yet far more important reality videos of classroom teaching.
“When I’m watching the videos, I want to jump up and explain things if I didn’t like the way the teacher explained them. It’s very hard just to sit back and watch,” said Seth Berg, a math teacher of Telluride Education Association and a former Colorado Teacher of the Year. “When I see a really good teacher on the video, it’s a pleasure to watch. It’s like a cooking show where you see a master chef really working it.”
Berg was one of about 30 experienced teachers and principals invited by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), the Colorado Education Association (CEA) and the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) to select the 20 best teaching videos of the bunch. But they weren’t looking for the 20 best teachers – that would’ve been relatively easy.
Instead, the group was charged to find 20 videos in which they could agree the teacher showed evidence of the state’s quality standards at the proficient to exemplary range.
“We’re taking a look at the rubric CDE was charged to develop by the legislature to evaluate teaching effectiveness in the coming years as part of Senate Bill 191,” said Andrew Burns, a Cherry Creek EA member, and like Berg, a National Board Certified Teacher.
Burns watched the videos with an eye on “how we can apply what’s in the rubric to the videos to calibrate, and see whether or not the videos are a good training tool.”
‘Calibration’ and ‘rubric’ were the key terms of the day. Each teaching expert watched the videos with rubric in hand, the extensive list of classroom skills and traits they were to consider when evaluating teaching effectiveness.
If Burns, Berg and the others found they could use the teaching standards in the rubric to agree upon a fair, consistent evaluation of the teaching in a certain video, consider the rubric and video calibrated. That video will then be used to train and certify the people who will one day use the rubric to perform teacher evaluations across Colorado.
“The education experts in this room are building consensus on what it means to assess great teaching – what that looks like on video, and in some cases, what it doesn’t look like,” said CEA President Kerrie Dallman, who watched several small groups in their video sessions. “CDE will then pass that knowledge on to the evaluators in the educator evaluation system.
“CEA members are proud to lend our expert teacher voice to this process. Together, CEA, CDE and our other partners are taking another step to create a model evaluation system, and in turn, a proven growth tool for both teachers and students,” Dallman added.
According to Berg, exemplary videos will show evaluators how the rubric sets the bar on teaching quality between the mediocre, the good and the great.
“I think it will be really good to show what the bar is,” said Berg. “It will be nice and concrete to have a video we can show evaluators, principals and administrators and say, ‘This teaching is adequate… this where we’re setting the bar.’ And ‘This teacher really makes a difference – see what it looks like? This is what we want.’”
Adele Bravo, another National Board Certified Teacher in the project from Boulder Valley EA, said a strong rubric with video evidence of the standards will help Colorado develop a roadmap for teacher development.
“It can be a working document for teachers to see their strengths, their weaknesses and improve their practice. I really think that’s what teachers want,” said Bravo.
“I’m very excited. For teachers, what we’ve wanted for so long is authentic professional development,” Bravo added. “We want to know what we need to do better. We want to improve student achievement.”
The video selection process can also help CDE fine-tune the rubric in the upcoming year of teacher pilot programs for the educator evaluation system.
“The rubric is a work in progress. It represents a lot of stakeholders’ viewpoints, which is great,” said Burns. “There are things that I still have questions about in terms of interpretation. From a teacher’s point of view, one score may look one way, but for an evaluator, it may look another way, so I think it’s critical to make sure they are on the same page in terms of definition.”
Berg agreed, noting there will never be a rubric that captures all the fine nuances of effective teaching.
“They’ve spent years developing this rubric. They’ve done a good job with their effort, but really the issue I see is that teaching is an art and a science both, and the rubric is trying to cover all of that,” Berg explained.
“It’s not a checklist and it’s not a menu, and you can’t go through and do these 10 things and get a good score. Part of it is, ‘How enthusiastic are your students? How much heart and soul and passion is there in what you’re teaching to inspire them?’ And those things are not really ‘rubricable’,” concluded Berg, adding a new word to the teaching effectiveness lexicon.
Despite limitations, the more expert educators and evaluators can agree upon the definitions of great teaching, the more confidence teachers will have that their new evaluations are credible.
“Make sure it’s fair, that you’re evaluating teachers by standards that everybody is dialed into, and everybody understands the definitions of the specifics within the rubric so they can do the best to meet it,” said Burns.
Berg said no other state has tried to do as much in teaching evaluations as Colorado, so he expects mistakes will be made as CDE, CEA and other stakeholders “figure things out” in the pilot program. But he said it makes sense to continue developing a system that encourages effective teaching.
“So this is important work that’s worth doing,” said Berg. “The evaluation process needs to be formalized and everyone needs to understand the scoring, with the idea of giving good teachers good scores to encourage them, and letting weaker teachers see where they need to improve to help our students.”
“I actually have grown to think it could be a really good document,” said Bravo of the new evaluation. “The bar is high, the expectations are really high, but again, that’s what we need. We need to improve our practice. And so it’s exciting.”