Adjusting the video camera at the side of the classroom, chemistry and psychology teacher Stephanie Harrell records her classes in order to improve her teaching techniques. “The reason that we film our classes is so that we have exact instances to reflect on how things went in the class,” said Ms. Harrell. “At the time, you may not realize what’s happening and you might perceive it one way, but then you have concrete evidence of what happened in class and you can go back and discuss it.”
Pace participates in a program called My Teaching Partner (originating at The University of Virginia), which helps teachers improve their teaching skills to further enhance students’ educations. Led by Director of Professional Development Marla Read Capper, participating Pace teachers record their classes once a month and review them later to reflect on student-teacher interactions and improve their strategies.
In addition to Ms. Harrell, history teacher Dr. Christine Carter, Latin teacher Elizabeth Kann and English teacher Emily Washburn have all been involved in My Teaching Partner for the past two years. Participating for their first year are photography and sculpture teacher France Dorman, science teacher Julie Hall and Dean of Students and math teacher Gus Whyte.
“The program is set up where there is a coach and a teacher who work together,” said Dr. Capper. “The teachers set goals about becoming a better teacher, so they record their classrooms, allowing the coach to pick out moments that they think meet the teacher’s goals. Then, they reflect on it together through an online platform.”
Recording the classes helps the teachers observe what techniques are effective based on students’ responses. “It’s almost like game film for an athlete,” said Dr. Capper. “You’re looking at what’s happening and the video does not lie. When you’re watching the video, you see that what you’re doing may be a little different from what you think you’re doing.”
Ms. Harrell has personally experienced how beneficial it is to film her classes. “A big part of it is having the video to go back and reflect on,” said Ms. Harrell. “It makes me really aware of how different activities or different ways of wording things actually activates students to engage more readily, so I can really tell when students were interested.”
While reviewing the videos, Dr. Capper and the other teaching coaches (Spanish teacher and junior dean Allison Riley and Academic Resource Center Director Michael Callahan) focus on certain behaviors that matter for positive student outcomes. “It’s divided into the emotional support that the teacher provides, how a teacher organizes their classroom or what sort of instructional strategy or support they provide,” said Dr. Capper.
Throughout this process, the coaches highlight the techniques that seem to work for the students. “Starting with a positive climate is the most important thing,” said Dr. Capper. “You have to build trust between the teachers and students. Students have to know that their teachers care about them and their success.”
It is important for the students to get a new perspective if they don’t understand the material, even from another student. “Sometimes a teacher can explain something, but it’s not until another student explains it that they understand the material,” said Dr. Capper. “Teachers need to allow time for that.” Teachers additionally need to challenge the students to think deeper. “They allow the students to think on a higher level or they apply what they already know to a new situation,” she said.
Dr. Capper has seen growth with both the Pace teachers and students. “When I talk to the teachers, they say they believe their students are more engaged in intellectual conversations,” said Dr. Capper. “Since teachers are allowing them to talk more, students can wrestle through some things they don’t understand.”