VLTs: Brace For Impact

Do you have a video learning team (VLT) in your school?

Successful schools put video learning teams (VLTs) at the heart of learning in order to drive pupil and teacher progress.

Learning teams work together to bring about change and to help each other learn as a connected group.

They commit to the 4Cs of Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking – the four skills of 21st-century learning – and they strive to make an impact.

A VLT focuses on the 4Cs in their daily activities and work hard to connect the dots in order to grow and learn professionally. Coming together as a learning team using video technology allows teachers to personally and professionally network, incorporate new ideas and learn beyond the walls of their own classroom.

As Todd Whitaker, Jimmy Casas and Jeffrey Zoul say in their book ‘What Connected Educators Do Differently’,

They connect what they did yesterday to what they are doing today – and what they think they may have to do tomorrow. Always looking forward in this way, they strive to be tomorrow, today.

Team-based learning is not a new phenomenon as schools work diligently to be strong learning communities and desperately want to become as successful as they can.

However, VLTs are still relatively rare and have yet to establish themselves as the norm in many schools.

The main barrier to setting up a VLT is staff suspicion of lesson observations being used to grade performance but VLTs work at the other end of the scale to this.

VLTs are committed to supporting and coaching, helping teachers learn new ways of working and  nurturing improvement. They also help teachers engage positively with each other and the school as a whole.

Feedback Culture

Teachers are receptive to feedback because they want to get better but traditional lesson observations a la clipboard avec one-to-one debriefing have made many teachers nervous of the process.

Feedback is one of the most important parts of growing and teachers actually crave it – everyone needs to know that they are doing a good job and everyone needs to know how to improve.

Feedback is one of the 10 metrics of employee engagement according to a recent report by Officevibe. They looked at the current state of employee engagement from thousands of organizations across 157 countries and found that having a feedback culture was important and that

It’s not only managers that should be giving feedback. Feedback often means more when it comes from coworkers because they understand your day-to-day better than most managers.

Senior managers obviously want to see their staff and have an obligation to help them but they shouldn’t be the only observers. When we receive feedback from fellow teachers, it can have more meaning and there is often more dialogue.

This is a point made in Jim Knight’s excellent book Focus On Teaching where he quotes a teacher participating in a VLT describing her colleagues being instrumental to her growth. She says that her colleagues were working on the same sorts of things as she was and their feedback meant something,

That kind of feedback from colleagues who understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it is essential. And you don’t usually get that kind of feedback in education.

Agile VLTs can provide ongoing conversations about teaching and learning and help focus on what works and what doesn’t. They help teachers to share knowledge, pool expertise, plan for improvement and follow-up ideas.

Crucially, VLTs provide the platform for common dialogue, authentic learning conversations and trust. In fact, VLTs can put the trust back into lesson observations as participants see that they aren’t being judged from on high but enabled, listened to and energised.

VLTs don’t make it personal but focus on behaviours and strategies. When you establish this level of trust then there is more honesty on show and teachers are willing to open up and work as learning partners.

Golden nuggets

VLTs are a ‘doing’ community who embed a collaborative culture and seek out best practice.

They also embed a culture of experimentation by constantly seeking new and better ways of doing things, by trying them out and collaboratively analysing the efficacy of their efforts. This means that the staff involved move beyond the status quo and create a culture of continuous improvement.

This might be to try what Will Ord describes as a ‘golden lesson’, a lesson where teachers try something new, take a risk with a new strategy and model risk taking so that students see the process of continuous learning in action.

A ‘risky’ lesson can be videoed and shared with colleagues – they don’t even have to be whole lessons either, perhaps only a few minutes.

Invite each other to look at a golden lesson and adopt the approach, “look, I’m taking a risk in this way. I’d love your feedback about that element. As Will Ord says, this makes “it a coaching experience rather than a verdict.”

Golden lessons can provide golden nuggets and make teaching, learning and assessment richer.

Growth Forecast

A VLT will focus on personal growth for each team member but the number one focus will always be “How has this initiative/strategy/effort/approach affected student learning?”

You are never alone in a VLT and one of the defining features of a VLT is to understand the power of the team taking collective responsibility for results. When we are mutually accountable then we stop working in splendid isolation and think big not small.

Creating a VLTs in your school makes sense. This is a systems approach that focuses on interdependence, connecting and interacting to promote the continuous improvement of the entire school.

This means that all pupils benefit from a coordinated effort and a dynamic mind-set. When colleagues see each other making an impact they become more receptive to changes in their teaching practice too.

VLTs are professional learning communities and this is what John Hattie urges schools to function as.

He synthesized over 800 meta-analyses on the factors that impact student achievement and  concluded that the best way to improve schools was to organize teachers into collaborative teams that illuminate what each student must learn and the indicators of learning the team will track, to gather evidence of that learning on a continuing basis, and to analyse the results together so that they could learn which teaching strategies were working and which were not.

Has there ever been a better time to create a VLT?

References

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to student achievement. New York: Routledge.

John Dabell writes for Lessonbox

Video is a powerful tool to enhance teaching and learning. Staff, students, leaders and parents can now engage with video in ways that were unattainable several years ago.

© 2017 Lessonbox Ltd.

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