New research provides strong evidence that video-based teacher coaching by IRIS Connect and Teachstone has significant impact on student achievement.
Research has shown that teaching quality is the most important factor in student achievement. The fact is, what a teacher says and does in the classroom has a much bigger impact on student learning than class size, curriculum, leadership, or any other factor that schools can control. So it’s essential that the ongoing professional development (PD) they receive is effective. Unfortunately, the research also shows that, around the world, the effectiveness of teacher PD often leaves a lot to be desired. At IRIS Connect, we believe addressing this problem is the most important way to improve student learning. If we want better outcomes for students, we have to improve teaching. And if we want to improve teaching, teachers need effective professional development.
Fortunately, definitions of what makes PD effective are plentiful. They usually focus on a core set of characteristics, including that it should:
- be ongoing / sustained
- be job-embedded
- incorporate active learning
- be collaborative
- provide models of effective practice
- provide coaching and expert support
- offer feedback and reflection
A more definitive list comes from a meta-analysis recently conducted by The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). By reviewing hundreds of studies, they identified 14 “mechanisms”: empirically-evidenced general principles about how teachers learn and change their practice. The EEF found that PD programs that had none of these mechanisms had zero effect. When they had all 14, they had a significant impact on student progress. Of the many thousands of programs, resources, and technologies available in the PD marketplace, schools must carefully select those that, when combined, provide PD programs with as many of these mechanisms as possible.
In addition, school leaders should also select those that have compelling evidence that any particular PD program actually has an impact. Before schools invest in a new PD program, initiative, or technology, how can they be sure it will actually work? Is there strong evidence that it will have a meaningful impact on teaching and, most importantly, student learning? The challenge is that answering these questions decisively is extremely difficult.
Measuring the impact of professional development
Don’t get me wrong – there’s no shortage of research on the impact of PD. Qualitative case studies, anecdotal reports, testimonials, surveys, and even quasi-experimental studies (usually with small sample sizes) are often touted by PD providers and technology vendors as providing “evidence of impact”. But the methodologies of these studies usually have inherent threats to their validity, leaving serious questions about the reliability and validity of their conclusions. In a nutshell, we can’t really trust the conclusions of these studies. Thomas Guskey, a leading thinker and writer on the evaluation of teacher professional development said:
“Consider, for example, the use of anecdotes and testimonials. From a methodological perspective, they are a poor source of data. They are typically highly subjective, and they may be inconsistent and unreliable. Nevertheless, as any trial attorney will tell you, they offer the kind of personalized evidence that most people believe, and they should not be ignored as a source of information. Of course, anecdotes and testimonials should never form the basis of an entire evaluation.”
Unfortunately, this is mostly what school leaders have to choose from. For example, the US Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences conducted a review of 1,300 studies investigating the impact of professional development. Of these, only nine met the minimum standard for scientific rigor – that’s a paltry .007%. These studies are rare because they’re difficult to execute, extremely expensive, require significant expertise and capacity, and can take years to complete.
Now, I don’t want to disparage high quality qualitative research. These studies can provide important data about how programs work, how they can be improved, how they are perceived by participants, and can even provide “promising evidence” of positive outcomes. But if schools continue to rely exclusively on these kinds of studies to choose their PD, this most-critical component of our education system, we’ll keep winding up in the same place: investing limited resources on PD initiatives that don’t make a real impact on students. Schools need to place their bets on those interventions that have compelling evidence of impact on student achievement.
The most recent study
In this study, teachers were provided with individualized coaching over the school year through Teachstone’s MyTeachingPartner (MTP) program. MTP is a research-based, intensive coaching program focused on improving teacher-child interactions using videos of instruction for reflection, practice, and feedback. This coaching program supports instructional leaders as they partner with teachers in ongoing, collaborative relationships as they examine, through video footage, their day-to-day interactions with children. Prior research has demonstrated that teachers participating in MTP 1-on-1 video coaching engage in more effective interactions with students, which in turn increases student learning and development.
The participating elementary schools were randomly assigned into three groups: one that received five highly structured cycles of focused professional coaching during a single school year, one that received eight cycles, and a control group that continued with their “business as usual” professional development. Teachers’ experiences and student achievement were compared across the three groups to determine the effectiveness of the two versions of the coaching. IRIS Connect’s Discovery Kit camera system was selected as the technology to be used in the study because of their long history of providing secure, reliable, affordable classroom observation systems. Recorded videos were uploaded to the IRIS Connect web platform, allowing teaching to be securely recorded, uploaded, and shared with coaches. In total, more than 1,000 classroom videos were recorded and uploaded.
Video-based teacher coaching improves student achievement by an equivalent of an additional 2+ months worth of instruction
Mathematica’s investigation of video coaching found that five cycles of video-based coaching enabled by IRIS Connect and Teachstone improved student achievement. The students of these teachers had higher test scores in English language arts at the end of the school year than students taught by teachers who did not receive the coaching.
The impact was both statistically and practically significant; video-based coaching improved student achievement, the equivalent of an additional two months of instruction. Student achievement of novice teachers that received video coaching was even higher – the equivalent of an additional two and half months of instruction over the school year. Imagine if these same students had teachers the following year that were also receiving video-based coaching.
The compounding effect on a students’ achievement over several years would be extraordinary. Interestingly, eight cycles of coaching did not have a significant impact on student achievement. This is likely because the additional cycles meant there was less time for teachers to act on their coaches’ feedback and to practice what they had learned, which may have limited the effects of the coaching. This reminds us that more is not always better. It’s important to provide sufficient time for teachers for the process to be successful.
In addition, the study found that video-based professional coaching was a very cost-effective approach for improving student achievement. In fact, it was less expensive than other interventions known to impact student achievement such as reducing class sizes, paying teachers extra for strong performance, and providing incentives for high-performing teachers to transfer to schools with low test scores.
Although the study was not designed to isolate the impact that video had on the coaching, the authors noted that video-based coaching provided several unique benefits compared to in-person coaching. The MTP web platform enabled coaches to edit short clips, provide written questions to help teachers reflect on these clips, and helped teachers to reflect on aspects of their teaching they may not otherwise have noticed. It also provided more flexibility for the timing of observations and enabled geographically remote coaches to observe teachers that would be too far away to visit in person. Not only does this make remote coaching expertise more readily available, remote observations are also considerably less expensive.
Although these kinds of studies are rare, we’re hopeful to see more research like this in the future. School leaders need compelling evidence of what actually works, so they can make good choices about how to invest their limited resources. This is essential because the stakes are high. As Thomas Guskey said:
“Educators have long considered professional development to be their right—something they deserve as dedicated and hardworking individuals. But legislators and policymakers have recently begun to question that right. As education budgets grow tight, they look at what schools spend on professional development and want to know, Does the investment yield tangible payoffs or could that money be spent in better ways?”
How we can help
If you feel inspired by the research above and would like to explore how your school can rejuvenate and refresh its approach to professional development, please get in touch with your dedicated IRIS Connect consultant who is more than happy to help. (If you don’t know who this is, simply send us a message here and we’ll be in touch.)
If you’re not an IRIS Connect customer yet but are keen to explore the use of video technology for CPD at your school, simply request a demo here and we’ll show you how everything works.