Friday, November 27, 2015

"Swivl It, Just a Little Bit!"

Hoping you all had an amazing turkey day full of family, friends, love, and laughs!! We have had such a great few days and it's been so nice to relax and unwind.

So, anybody have a chance to play with a Swivl yet? Ever even heard of them?

Ok, a Swivl is a fun little contraption that allows you to use your phone and a Bluetooth microphone that you wear around your neck to video yourself while you teach. And, because of the Bluetooth mic that you wear, the base will "swivel" around the room and follow you as you move.

Now, I'm sure you're probably thinking, "Ugh! Why would I ever want to videotape myself teaching?!?" And believe me, the first time I used one of these little guys over the summer, I wanted to cry! All I could see was the 60 lbs. I've gained from having four babies in four years... and my voice!! OMG!! It's like nails on a flippin' chalkboard! I mean seriously, why does no one ever tell you how annoying your voice is?!? Anyway, I wanted to cry... and then bash my Swivlin' friend with a baseball bat and bury him in my yard!!

But......... once you get over cringing over "you," what you can learn about your teaching is nothing shy of amazing!!

My first experience with videotaping a lesson came way back when I was getting my Master's degree. (That was two kids ago, btw, so only about 30 of those lbs. were there!!) We needed to tape ourselves and then watch it with a peer group to discuss aspects about our teaching that we'd like to change.

I can remember being so embarrassed about my video! And you know how you can get sorta angry-like when you feel embarrassed? Well, I was all sorts of angry-like and had CONVINCED myself that this was the most useless thing I had ever done. I was adamant about gaining nothing from this experience and sat down with a huff after pressing play on the computer so my group could watch.

After watching for about 20-minutes, my face red and palms sweaty, a group member asked me something about my video. I was lost in my head, planning on how I was going to burn the outfit I was wearing in my video because it clearly did NOTHING for my expanding love handles, so I responded with a confused, "Hmm?"

"That boy. Why are you always going over to him? You ask your students to do something, and then you immediately go to his side? Why?"

"Oh," I responded, sorta smug-like. "That's __________. He's one of my lowest kids. Really struggles. I need to go over and clarify my directions and then help him because he just can't do it himself." I then went back to building the clothes-burning bonfire in my head, sure my answer made sense to her.

"Oh," she said. "But..." she continued hesitantly, "how do you know he can't do it. I mean, if you watch him, he never asks for help, never raises his hand to signal you. You just kinda run right over to him and jump in before he even tries. Do you always do that?"

Now, here is where things get awkward. Having someone question your teaching is horrible. Painful. Excruciating even! The thing is, we, as teachers, love our jobs and our students and we work incredibly hard to be great at what we are doing. And we all know that this hard-work comes at the expense of our own lives. More often than not, during the school year, I put my students and my work before many parts of my own life. Sometimes, gulp, even before my own flesh-and-blood children. So, to have someone call in to question something that we do, a lesson or practice that we've put time and effort into is just awful. It really scares us to think that we've been working so hard at something - something that means the world to us - and that just maybe what we have been doing, might not be so great... it may have even been a mistake, causing harm to the students that we love and work so hard to teach. It's such a vulnerable experience! And, boy, do most of us loathe to be vulnerable!!

Thankfully, with the support of a great bunch of video-watching peers, I was able to reflect on what this woman was calling into question. Together, we re-watched parts of the video and discussed what we were seeing: Yes, I assume this kid is low and is constantly struggling. I assume he always needs my help. I assume he cannot do what the other students are expected to do. And so, I run to his side to "help" him every chance I get.

After we were clear that there was a pattern to how I was treating this student, we discussed the effect this might have on him. Maybe he struggles because I assume he will? Maybe he is just meeting my expectation? And what if all his teachers had treated him like this over the years? Wouldn't it be true then, that by the time he reached me in middle school, that he'd be so convinced that he "couldn't" that he just "wouldn't?"

This discussion spring-boarded into an entire group self-reflection on how our expectations affect our kids. How, each day, we are "teaching" our students how to behave because of what we expect of them. Everyone in my peer-group was thinking and talking about expectations. How we form them, how we relay them to our students, and how our students meet them.

To this day, this conversation that stemmed from my video, is easily one of the best professional developments I've EVER been a part of. From that moment on, I was a different teacher, a better teacher. Had I not made that video, had I not watched it with peers, had someone not had the guts to call me out on something that she noticed, had we not reflected together, in a gentle, supportive manner... I would never have learned that crucial lesson - my students will meet my expectations, good or bad! Therefore, it is imperative to treat each and every student like they are the smartest people in the room!

From that moment on, I was a fan of the video-taping experience. But, even though I knew its value and advocated its helpfulness, I didn't tape myself again after I had finished my Master's. It wasn't until this past summer, when our district purchased several of these Swivls for our summer-learning program, that I had the opportunity to make some more videos.

I taped quite a few of my lessons over the summer and got a chance to watch and critique them with peers. And, again, just like before, once I got past my body and mannerisms and voice (grrr!!), I was able to reflect on and change my practice for the better. And believe me, I wasn't the only one who gained from watching themselves! So many of the folks that I worked with during the summer were having the same "A-ha!" moments. They quickly realized that what at first seemed so awkward and embarrassing, was really some of the best professional development they could have experienced.

In fact, the response from our summer teachers was so positive, that this school year, tenured teachers were given the option to videotape themselves in lieu of getting a formal observation. I recorded and submitted my lesson right before Thanksgiving break, so I wanted to blog about this idea while it was still fresh in my mind! I'm eager to watch the video with my evaluator and see how it lends itself to the Danielson model (our district's choice of teacher evaluation rubric).

So, if you ever get a chance to play with a Swivl, JUST DO IT! And actually, you don't even need a Swivl-any device that records video will do (though the Swivls do make it easy and produce a pretty great video!). You will be amazed at what you can learn about your teaching and will emerge a better teacher for it!

Thoughts about this? Would you be willing to try it? Have you ever watched a video of yourself teaching? How was it? What did you learn? I'd love to hear from you!!

Hope you all are enjoying a great holiday weekend!

Happy Teaching!!


  1. My school uses IRIS, which is similar. I have my first recording next Thursday. I won't be watching it, but my triad group members will.

  2. Where can it be purchased? Did your school buy it or did you get it for yourself?

    1. Hi! My district bought several of these for teachers to use. They can be purchased at Amazon, but they are sort of pricey!!

  3. I am starting the national board certification process and this device will be the answer to how I'll video my teaching. I can also see using it to record student presentations or discussion. I don't see my district buying it, and I can't afford it, but I'm thinking this is something I could request via Donor's Choose. Thank you very much for sharing!

    1. Good luck getting donors, Michelle!! I think that's a great idea :)