The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

Lori Smith (left) and Heather Hobbs (right), two teacher leaders in the Kingsport City Schools district, participate in a Common Core training session in Kingsport, Tenn.
Teachers participate in a Common Core training session in Kingsport, Tenn.

Educators can learn a valuable lesson from American wheat farmers’ progress in the past 125 years.

A farmer in 1890 would invest approximately 40 hours of effort to produce 100 bushels of wheat. Using the methods and the technology of today, it would take a farmer only three hours of effort to produce the same amount of wheat.

What changed, we might ask?

The difference is farmers have chosen to actively adopt new methods and new technology to achieve their goal of producing wheat.

Educators, like farmers, have professional goals. One is to continually increase effectiveness in the classroom.

In the past four decades, many new methods have been adopted by schools to make professional development less sit-and-get and more personalized to teachers’ individual needs.

Now it’s time to adopt the technology that can act as a force multiplier for personalizing professional learning.

Related: What should new teachers know before they set foot in a classroom?

First, let’s define what does not count as personalized professional development: a large catalogue of on-demand video courses. What good are those resources if you’re a teacher and have not yet received feedback about your (or others) instruction to know what needs to change?

Educators, like farmers, have professional goals. One is to continually increase effectiveness in the classroom.

The best version of personalized professional learning looks like targeted feedback and meaningful self-reflection based on evidence of teaching practice or student outcomes.

The trending methods include ideas like instructional coaching, learning walks, and professional learning communities.

But these methods, when implemented without technology, are mostly in-person. The impact of the efforts will always be limited by needing the right people in the right place at the right time to witness the teaching.

Video coaching makes it possible to observe each other when it’s convenient, and, as a result, increase the amount of observation, feedback, and collaboration that’s possible.

The best news about video coaching is schools won’t need to shift away from the professional development methods that are working and that teachers find valuable. Here are three of the same methods that can be easily executed with video observation tools:

First, there’s skills-based coaching: After training teachers on a new pedagogical strategy, it can be challenging to get a coach into every room to provide feedback on implementation efforts. This lack of follow-up support is a contributor to why changes aren’t sustained over time.

With video coaching, teachers record their attempts, share with the coach, and receive timely, customized feedback on how they’re doing with the new skill.

Second, remember that learning walks: Instead of organizing coverage for multiple teachers to leave their own classrooms and observe each other, have them each record a video of their teaching.

After uploading the video to a group of peers, the people participating in the virtual learning walk can provide timestamped feedback. This approach has the added advantage that the teacher being observed can actively participate in their own observation.

Third, growth cycles count: Today, a teacher and coach may decide on changes to implement, and at the end of the semester, they will depend on observation notes (anecdotes of practice) to compare and contrast two points in time.

Related: How to find minority teachers who want to stay in the job?

With video, the two teaching episodes can be compared side-by-side with targeted comments anchored to the actual evidence of growth seen in the video.

Decades of research underpin the assertions made here – that video can be a powerful tool for teacher learning and today, the technology is available that lowers the technical hurdles to using video in your organization.

The only thing holding you back from supercharging the effect of the strategies you’re already trying and getting results similar to today’s wheat farmers is inaction about using technology as a force multiplier.

Adam Geller is founder and CEO of Edthena, a video platform for classroom observation which supports teacher professional development. He started his education career in the classroom as a science teacher.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Letters to the Editor

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information. We will not consider letters that do not contain a full name and valid email address. You may submit news tips or ideas here without a full name, but not letters.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email address. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *