During COVID-19 and Beyond: Utilizing Video to Support Teacher Candidates
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, teacher preparation programs are faced with the difficulty of how to support and evaluate candidates in the field. Here in Washington state, we already face a shortage of willing mentors to host our candidates. A recent study by Western Washington University and my colleagues at the University of Washington estimated that only 3-4% of teachers serve as mentors any given year. According to the findings of a state workgroup in which I participated, this trend is even more pronounced among rural and remote school districts. As a result, programs throughout our state are looking for effective ways to further support our candidates in the field, particularly in rural and remote areas.
One solution that is effective and can support efforts to maintain teacher certifications, including during the pandemic, is the use of online observations. We began using Edthena in 2015, and over the last 5 years, we have witnessed tremendous success and accessibility, especially for candidates in rural and remote school districts. We utilize Edthena’s platform as part of multiple measures to assess candidates in field placements. Field supervisors can use the online video tool in conjunction with traditional in-person observations, providing a nice mixture of evidence for our program to assess our candidates’ readiness towards licensure. Here are some of the highlights of our experience using online video observations.
Our programs partner with the vast majority of Washington’s 294 school districts. This includes candidates both in the urban centers of Washington (primarily the greater Seattle/Tacoma metro area) to physically distant districts from our campuses, such as Tri-Cities or Spokane, to rural and remote districts along Washington’s coast, mountainous north, or agricultural central/east regions. In many cases, these field placements are tied to our Alternative Route programs, one-year certification programs designed for districts to promote Washington’s “Grow Your Own” initiative.
As most rural district leadership will share, finding candidates who will move from urban and suburban areas—where the vast majority of teacher preparation programs are located—to rural school districts to teach is difficult. As a result, one of the best mechanisms for these districts to recruit new teachers is by finding members within the school community, such as paraeducators, or amongst their larger community outside of the school. By finding community members and employees who possess the drive and foundational skillsets necessary to become strong future teachers, they can partner with programs such as ours to help fulfill a district need.
However, distance is often a barrier with traditional live observations (in some cases, we have field supervisors who would need to drive over three hours to reach a particular district). We are able to support candidates during their field experiences in these rural and remote districts by utilizing online observation tools to maintain regular contact and feedback to them throughout the year.
In a traditional setting, field supervisors will observe candidates in the classroom and offer feedback based on what they witness during a segment of time. However, field supervisors are often restricted in how much feedback they provide given that they must focus on specific “big picture” ideas such as instructional strategies, classroom culture, student interactions, and formative assessments. Often times, field supervisors either do not capture all the pieces that are happening in a classroom at once or, in most cases, do not want to overload the candidate with too much feedback.
A live observation is a one-time experience; after it is complete, the field supervisor and candidate cannot revisit that experience in the same sense as something that was recorded. A recorded classroom experience, with some practice, can produce a video that both a field supervisor and candidate can revisit to discuss and reflect on specific components within that environment.
With a recorded observation, a field supervisor has the ability to focus on specific topics each time they review the video, and a candidate has the ability to watch themselves in action. In fact, with the Edthena platform, comments posted by a field supervisor are linked to a timestamp within the video, so a candidate can simply click on the comment and jump to the very moment the field supervisor was referring.
One of the platform’s features allows field supervisors to note strengths, and we have found that among all the videos submitted by candidates and reviewed by field supervisors, about 54% of comments over the past 5 years were strengths. It is important for candidates to see their successes in the classroom as part of their overall path of continual improvement, and their ability to review past successes via video help assert and engrain those strengths as they move forward.
Online video tools also create opportunities for candidates to participate in a reflective dialogue between their old self (in the video) and their new current self. Candidates can watch their own nuances, such as where they move in the room, hand gestures, tone, or non-verbal communication. These minor details often create dramatic effects in classroom environment and student relationships. By allowing candidates the opportunity to observe themselves in conjunction with field supervisor feedback, candidates are able to participate more effectively in their reflective dialogue and have the ability to create their own learning goals on how to continually improve their instruction and presence in the classroom.
Our experience with online video tools lead us to conclude that they are an effective component to the overall development of both preservice and in-service teachers. By including online video tools as part of a larger body of evidence and experience in teacher preparation, programs have another tangible assessment to provide support, growth, and evidence of competency in teaching practice and skills. Like any assessment of a skill, no one component or tool is all-inclusive; however, in our experience as a program for the last five years, the formative impact video observations and reflection have had on teacher candidate development are evident in their overall performance and success as in-service teachers.
Bryan Carter is the program director of undergraduate programs at City University of Seattle’s Albright School of Education.