Hunter College professor and author Laura Baecher discusses the similarities between the dilemmas that occur in distance and live-classroom teaching. In part 3 of her Lounge Talk conversation with Adam Geller, she emphasizes the importance of teachers seeing each other teach.

Here is a transcript of that conversation.

– Hi and welcome to PLtogether Lounge Talks. This is another Lounge Talk. We’re talking with Laura Baecher. She is a Professor at Hunter College who thinks about how to use video as part of teacher learning. I’m Adam Geller, Founder, and CEO of at Edthena. I forgot to say that, Laura, thanks so much for continuing the conversation with us.

– Thank you for having me.

– In your book, you mentioned this idea of kind of, after you move past the idea of introducing observation skills to teachers, then you move into dilemmas of practice. So what is a dilemma of practice?

– Well, one of the challenging aspects I think of observation is, of course suspending judgment, and really being able to notice and look, and that’s why it’s really great to start out in any kind of observation approach with things that are really pretty concrete. So it could be the amount of teacher talk to student talk, types of questions that are being asked, et cetera, but teachers generally have, I think, the issue is that they really want to wrestle with. And we know that, of course, it’s very powerful to start from where the teacher is rather than imposing. So if the teacher, let’s say saying, “I’m having trouble really with this critical thinking stuff. Its never seem to get to the critical thinking questions. I asked the lower order. I see that I do that, but what do I do with that?” So those are kind of problems of practice. So common dilemmas or situations could also be student-driven. There are some students in this group that I don’t seem to be able to get them to want to work with others. They tend to wanna work by themselves. I don’t really know what to do with those students. So those are real opportunities because the coach, the school leader, the observer is not the person with the answers, their person they’re on the journey alongside the teacher. And so video can be very powerful for both of them because if I say to you, let’s use that first example. “You have observed me many times, Adam. I asked all these lower order. I don’t seem to be able to get to the critical thinking questions. Why, what’s going on there?” And we say, “Well, let’s take a look.” What part of the lesson do you feel you’re going to be going to those critical thinking questions? And I identified in my plan. He said, “Well, let’s video record it.” And then we watch it together, or we watch it separately and then come together, and we try to break down something that is a bit larger in terms of a theme, something like asking critical thinking questions into some concrete sub moves. So I call them teacher moves. So those are those smaller elements that I actually feel I can control or change. So as we’re watching, we might realize that I was starting to go there, but for some reason, I stopped, or I did ask it, but then I answered it because I didn’t have any wait time. Or I asked it to the whole class, what would have happened if I had asked it and given amount of time and let people work on that question for a few minutes and circulate it and supported the students. So maybe it’s really more of an activity structure that’s preventing me from going to those higher order questions because I’m using whole class when I do it, for example. So dilemmas are… They generally should be from the teacher, or maybe they’ve been co identified with a coach as something that is, I’m not gonna call it a wicked problem because it’s probably addressable, but it’s something that permeates my practice. It doesn’t matter if it’s period one or period six, it’s probably something that bothers me that I wanna work through. And it seems maybe impossible to tackle, but once I recognize the elements that are going on my moves, I can start to address it.

– There’s something interesting in the way you just described all that, which is, it wasn’t predicated on being in person or being distanced. I mean, I can imagine a teacher or a coach may be engaging with this idea of a dilemma of practice, and they’d have that gut reaction, “Well, geez, all the dilemmas are different now,” but in fact, maybe the dilemma are very similar. They’re just happening in a different way or a different modality.

– Absolutely, I think that’s such a good point because we think we’re carrying over something different. It’s sort of like no matter where you move, you’re still there. It’s just because you’ve moved to this online environment, going back to something we talked about earlier, if I don’t tend to put students into pairs or groups, I’m not gonna all of a sudden do it online. If I don’t tend to give a lot of wait time, I’m probably not gonna do it online. So realizing that we always talk about ed technology, letting the technology serve the pedagogical need and not vice versa. It’s not a matter of the bells and whistles, it’s a matter of just within the Google Meet or just within the Zoom session. What tools are already there for me to create wait time or give students a chance to process or let them work together. Some of those basic practices.

– Yeah, I think you just said something really critical as well, which is simplify and summarize, like don’t get caught up in the specific technology, nor feel like you have to go find tool X and tool Y and tools Z to create some fancy online environment. Really just good teaching practice can be translated to this new environment. I mean, classroom management looks different, but still as important. And I think is the message I’m hearing as an example of what you’re saying or putting students into groups. I know you weren’t talking about classroom management, so we’ll talk about student discussion, putting students into groups. If you weren’t doing that before, you still need to focus on that before and now. One of the tactics you talk about the VATs, Video Analysis of Teaching activities, is Virtual Grand Rounds. So kind of walk us through what that means in a video world. What is a Virtual Grand Round using… Well, it’s virtual, it’s using video, but what does that mean compared to the in-person Grand Round?

– Well, it’s interesting because we can talk about it in terms of whether schools are having face to face classes or they are teaching completely online. But the idea of Grand Rounds, of course, comes from the medical world where the physician is literally walking through visiting patients with a group of residents with him or her, and as the physician diagnosis, particular situations, he unpacks or articulates or their practice what they’re thinking, what they’re noticing, what they might do next. And then they move to the next one. So as they move, then the physician might turn to the group of residents say, “Okay, now what do you think?” And helps and guides them through this, especially when it’s something new, new terrain. So the idea of the Virtual Grand Round is that someone could be, let’s say a literacy coach, maybe it’s a math specialist. Maybe it’s someone who’s just fabulous with classroom management. And there’s a group of teachers who wanna work on that. Maybe it’s a new program that the school has brought in. So one person begins the “expert.” Again, it can be the classroom teacher should be a classroom teacher, but could be a coach or whoever consultant. First starts with the video instead of actually walking everybody over to this other classroom, which of course, is really hard logistically anyway and with schedules. We can set up a time where I video record it, let’s say it’s a math program and I really want to get students in my school to do more talking about their mathematical reasoning. And so first we visit a classroom where we see students really talking through number talk, and let’s say a turn and talk situation. So I have a video. We watch it together, and I talk through what I’m seeing. I bring attention or saliency to certain features of what the teacher has created and what the students are doing. So that it’s easier for the group of teachers with me to also notice it, and now we can pull up a new video. And so these can be short, they can be five-minute clips, really. You don’t need to sit and watch necessarily a whole lesson. And now I might turn it over to folks and go, “Okay, now, what are you seeing with the number talks in this video?” And of course, I could do that physically in a classroom space showing video and having a group of educators around me, but I could do it through Zoom. Obviously, I could pull up a clip and then another clip and another clip, maybe five different short clips, but all with a focus, a particular focus of what I want them to “diagnose” and determine. And I’m going to be able to really facilitate it because if I just send you to go observe or I send you to watch those “clips”, I don’t know what you’re really seeing. So there’s a dynamic assessment piece that’s lost when there’s no facilitation. So I really wanna be there to assess and see, “Yeah, Adam, you’re seeing that too. And did you also notice this?” And help you see more. Now we could go back to our classrooms and try those techniques, video ourselves, and actually grand round our own practices. So there’s a lot of variety on that particular kind of approach.

– It sounds like one of the big pieces if I’m kind of thinking about Virtual Grand Rounds hearing this for the first time, it’s really this idea of, doing multiple observations on a common dilemma of practice or a common theme that we’re looking at over and over across multiple episodes and also talking about it together so that I’m not just kind of independently analyzing and maybe coming to the wrong conclusions. And certainly, you described it a lot in the idea of the benefit from instead of taking people from classroom to classroom, but now if everybody’s doing distance teaching and it’s easier to record even more reason to be Grand Rounds on these new teaching strategies, especially when we can’t go in person.

– I think it’s really exciting for teachers to be able to see other teachers teach. That’s usually one of the things people say is the most helpful or most impactful. And we have such a limited opportunity for intervisitation, and of course, video creates so much more of that. And like you said, now in distance learning, maybe even more so, and it’s really interesting for teachers to see a practice across other people’s classrooms and even grade levels. So let’s say it’s that looking at number talk or talking through mathematical thinking, kindergarteners can do it, 12th graders can do it. Eighth graders are doing it. And to actually see practices at other levels, we never give teachers the chance to do that because they’re always contained into their own sort of grade levels, grade band. So there’s a lot of potential there, and it’s in terms of how we learn as adults, we tend to be more resistant to new ideas than young people. And so as adult learners, we need a lot more confirmation of validation of an idea before we will accept it. So if I see five clips that are all in my school building or in my district of a practice in different ways, just like the medical round, where it’s different patients, different contexts, but something is similar. I’m more likely to accept it. And teachers really respond the best to a video from their own communities, rather than a video that looks like from a completely different context. So that’s where going out and trying to find video that’s available online. It might be semi-staged. It might be professional, but it’s not my kids. It doesn’t look like my classroom. And so teachers will tend to reject it. So that’s another great reason to just find clips, and teachers don’t have to be videoed for hours to do this. We might all focus on how we open our online classes. How do we create that sense of community when we’re all online? What’s your icebreaker? What’s your warmer, your bell ringer? What are you doing? And we all just share for those five minutes.

– Well, Laura, we are going to hit pause on the recording and conclude this part of our conversation. If you are listening to this or watching this video, and you’re wondering where to watch more, head to pltogether.org, where you can hear the rest of this conversation, as well as other conversations. Laura, we’ll be back in just a moment to continue the conversation. Thanks so much.

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