Summary of primary interview data sources.
In this chapter, we explore the role of the focus teacher—the teacher in the spotlight—in video-based collaborative professional development settings for the purpose of understanding variation in the felt risks of the focus teacher in relation to their learning goals. Using a comparative case study design, this research documented the differential impact of felt risks associated with the spotlight teacher role. This exploratory study contributes insights that help guide the essential support and facilitation work mathematics education leaders must provide for developing, supporting, and sustaining video-based professional learning communities.
- video clubs
- teacher learning
- teacher communities
- professional development
- mathematics education
In the past decade, video clubs have become a popular means of classroom-based professional development for mathematics teachers. Video clubs are professional meetings that support teachers’ collective inquiry into student thinking as it occurs in video excerpts of their teaching [1, 2, 3]. Teachers who participate in these clubs bring samples of student work and video clips from recent lessons, share these artifacts with colleagues, and then engage in discussions of teaching and learning.
This type of professional work intentionally orients teachers’ interpretations of significant classroom interactions around student thinking, which is a critical step toward teaching for understanding [4, 5, 6]. Video clubs offer an effective collaborative structure for supporting, sustaining, and assessing the growth of developing professional teacher communities in relationship to student learning [7, 8]. Smith described engagement in such activities as “practice-based professional development,” where
We know from research about video clubs that they have the potential for transformative teacher learning. In their study of video clubs, Sherin and Han argue that teachers, like their students, “need opportunities to construct new understandings and to reflect on their learning” (, p163) as opposed to simply being told what to do . The authors found that as a result of video club, what teachers discussed and how they discussed it changed over time—the conversations shifted from issues of pedagogy to more complex concerns related to student conceptions. Discussions progressed from simple restatements of students’ ideas to detailed analyses of students thinking. These changes indicate a shift in what teachers’ found important, which suggests “they now valued making sense of student thinking and were willing to discuss such issues in detail and at length” (, p174).
Similarly, Sherin and van Es found that over time teachers took on a more interpretive as opposed to evaluative stance toward classroom events occurring on video excerpts . As teachers adopted a more interpretive stance, they began to ground their interpretations with evidence from the video. This is significant, because a shift from giving anecdotal advice to seeking an understanding based upon evidence signals increasing engagement in and with the messiness of teaching. Sherin and Han argued that the learning that occurred during video club promoted development of teachers’ professional vision , which Goodwin defined as “socially organized ways of seeing and understanding events that are answerable to the distinctive interests of a particular social group” (, p606). In the context of video club, the authors found that teachers “learned to attend to particular kinds of events that happen in a classroom and they learned to reason about these events in particular ways” (, p179).
1.1. Limitations alongside learning potential
Despite its many benefits and potential for transformative teacher learning, limitations exist within the video club model. Watching a short clip from a lesson is typical of video club. This clip is taken out of the context of both the class period from which it was drawn and the long-range plans teachers have for their students. Although the teachers who are being watched are present, time constraints restrict the ways in which teacher can fill in these gaps for others. It is possible that teachers may have more to say on issues that emerge from watching and discussing the video excerpt but do not have the opportunity to reveal their thoughts.
Moreover, although the video club model has strong potential for advancing collaborative professional learning and making space for developing teacher learning communities in ways likely to transform classroom practices over time, van Es cautions that “simply bringing teachers together does not ensure community development” (, p182). Watching and discussing video footage of a colleague’s classroom is inherently vulnerable work, especially for spotlight teachers whose classroom video excerpts are viewed and discussed . Even in the best of circumstances it is hard not to be guarded when one’s teaching is the subject of discussion [21, 22]. For example, consider the following quote made by a teacher participant in our video club study:
In this quote, James expressed the discomfort that many teachers have about sharing classroom video clips with colleagues. As explored in more detail later in this chapter, James felt that being the focus teacher—the teacher in the spotlight—was risky for a number of reasons. At the same time, however, he was able to realize the benefits of volunteering to be the spotlight teacher. This tension reinforces the important role mathematics education leaders play in accomplishing the goals of video club, primarily through skilful, adaptive facilitation of socially complex sites for collaborative teacher learning [11, 12]. In this chapter, we explore these risks and benefits by presenting cases of two spotlight teachers with an eye toward how mathematics education leaders can support spotlight teachers in the context of video clubs.
1.2. The spotlight teacher role and opportunities to learn
Despite possible limitations of the video club professional development model, the potential benefits on teacher learning outnumber the risks, thereby highlighting a need for research on how to support teachers who are the focus of the video clip experiences or how professional development leaders can support the teachers in the spotlight. The strong potential for video club to function as a transformative professional development experience brings the spotlight teacher role into focus for mathematics education leaders. In an effort to shed light on this pivotal role and how to support spotlight teachers, we explore the following question in this chapter:
This study took place in context of
2.1. Video club professional development context
At the time this study was conducted, this PD project was in its second year of a video club sponsorship. All mathematics teachers from three partnership high schools received monthly invitations to participate in video club. Participation was voluntary, and no one was excluded from participation. Meetings lasted for about 2 hours, with an average attendance of 11 teachers. All participants were encouraged to take a turn as the spotlight teacher, although this was not required for participation. Some teachers were more comfortable with filming their classrooms than others, and so spotlight teachers were ultimately selected based on interest and logistics associated with filming (e.g., parent permission forms, classroom schedule).
After filming the spotlight teacher’s class and making them a copy of the footage, one of leadership team members created a 5-to-7 minute clip of student-centered footage for use at the video club meeting. The spotlight teacher’s preferences for clip selection were taken into consideration—the spotlight teacher always maintained veto power—and they were provided with a copy of the clip prior to the video club meeting. As a rule, the chosen video clips did not contain footage that featured lengthy turns of teacher talk or instances of student misbehavior, since the goal of video club was to better understand student thinking about mathematics.
The first part of the video club meeting was dedicated to completing the mathematical task that was featured in the spotlight teacher’s video and then developing solutions that students might develop in response to the task. The goal of this first discussion was to help teachers deepen their understanding of the mathematical content while developing their knowledge of students’ mathematical learning. Next, the spotlight teacher set up the video clip for participants to help provide any necessary context for understanding what they would see in the video clip.
The teachers focused on this question when watching the clip:
2.2. Participant selection for video club study
Two teachers from the pool of spotlight teachers from the video club cycle volunteered to be in this study, Linda Wesson and James Stone (all names are pseudonyms). Linda and James taught at neighboring high schools in the same school district, were both relatively new teachers (less than 2 years of experience), used the same curricular materials, and had similar course schedules (i.e., ninth-grade math and pre-calculus). We found Linda and James to be interesting comparison cases because while both expressed eagerness to grow through the spotlight teacher experience, we observed differences in their relative comfort with peer review and discussion of their classroom video footage prior to filming their classrooms for video club purposes. Linda appeared to be much more comfortable than James with this process, and so we theorized that these differences would uncover interesting variation across their spotlight teacher experiences and offer insights related to their differential needs for support.
2.3. Data collection strategy
This study utilizes interview data as the main data source. Audio-recordings, field notes, and lesson artifacts from monthly video clubs meetings in which spotlight teachers participated served as secondary data sources, and were collected to verify findings from the main data source. All data were collected during the video club cycle from the second year of the project’s video club program. The overall data collection strategy was to interview the two spotlight teachers at four points in the video club process to capture their perspectives at different stages of the work (see Table 1 for summary). Nicole, the first author of this chapter, conducted all of the interviews for this study.
|Interview name||Abbreviation||Length of interview||Purpose of interview|
|Video lesson reflection||1_VLR_IC||10 minutes||Immediate thoughts on videotaped lesson|
|Video club preview||2_VCP_SS||2 hours||Discuss video lesson before video club|
|Video club reflection||3_VCR_IC||10 minutes||Immediate thoughts on video club meeting|
|Spotlight teacher reflection||4_STR_SS||2 hours||Discuss spotlight teacher experience|
As a unique part of this study, participants were asked to watch the video clip on their own in preparation for a semi-structured interview [15, 16] prior to the video club meeting (the
The two video club meetings for the spotlight teachers in this study were typical with respect to established protocols and routines. Nicole interviewed the two participants informally for about 10 minutes following the video club meeting in which they were the spotlight teacher (the
2.4. Data analysis procedures
This study utilized a comparative case study design, chosen for the purpose of making meaning of the “richly brewed particulars” (, p2) of each spotlight teacher’s experiences. Data were analyzed by inductive methods of constant comparison  for the purpose of understanding the spotlight teachers’ felt risks in context of what they found important in their classroom video excerpts and what they wanted to learn through the spotlight teacher experience. Data analyses ended with a cross-case examination for themes within and across cases in order theorize more generally about the experiences and needs of the spotlight teacher .
3. Unpacking the spotlight teacher experience
As a preview to the individual case studies presented next, we begin this section with more general findings that emerged during data analysis. Linda and James both attended to aspects of their video lessons that they found problematic, as student engagement in the enacted lesson was different than what they had intended in their respective lesson plans. In addition, both teachers expressed a belief that critical feedback from peers would help them grow their craft. With that said, James and Linda differed in the ways they took up problematic aspects of their video lessons. Linda used the interview discussion prior to video club to gain specificity with the classroom problem she wanted to solve, and then leaned on her colleagues at the video club meeting to help her develop an instructional response. James used the interview discussions to give blow-by-blow assessments of his teaching, which we deemed as overly harsh in many instances. Overall, the findings presented here suggest that Linda and James were differently impacted by the vulnerability associated with peer review and discussion of their classroom video footage, which highlights contrasting individual needs for support within the spotlight teacher experience.
3.1. The case of Linda Wesson: How do you teach kids presentations?
Linda’s video footage featured presentations given by her ninth-grade students. The presentation task was adapted from an instructional unit that required complex planning and problem solving related to a hypothetical group expedition . Linda based the success of the lesson on expectations for presenters to explain their group’s mathematics and for audience members to “[call] people out on stuff that doesn’t make any sense” (
Linda questioned the mathematical and social merits of presentation tasks in response: “But then what’s the point of doing an assignment if everybody does it and doesn’t make it so that it makes any sense?” (
When prompted to reflect on her comfort with video review across contexts, Linda noted that it was easier to watch and discuss the video with Nicole because she found it easier to talk one-on-one and also because Nicole had been in her classroom and knew the entire lesson context:
Despite her potential felt risk for embarrassment, Linda explained her student presentation dilemma at the video club meeting and invited discussion related to strategies that might help students learn to be active listeners. Linda tried some of these strategies in her classroom the following week, noting in the
Although Linda was disappointed by student engagement in presentations prior to video club, the peer support offered at the meeting helped her develop classroom conditions that supported the productive student presentations she imagined in her lesson plans.
3.2. The case of James Stone: Why did everything go wrong today?
James’ video footage featured the second day of an indirect measurement lesson task selected from his ninth-grade curriculum materials . The task involved using mirrors to figure out the height of different objects posted around the room. James based the success of the lesson on student engagement “every minute of the day,” which functioned as a proxy for learning:
Although James stated that “the lesson was good” and “kids learned,” he was initially concerned that the second day of the task “was almost kind of pointless because it was just computation. It was just putting into practice what we had already done” (
Although James verbalized a few of his strengths in the interviews, such as excellent rapport with students and inquiry strategies, James gravitated toward criticisms of his teaching. For example, James noticed that he answered his own questions:
James scolded himself when we watched this section of the video during the elicited task, saying: “That’s not a question, when you’re pointing at the answer!” (
When prompted to discuss what he hoped to gain from the video club meeting, and as quoted at the beginning of this chapter, James confirmed that he felt a high degree of risk as spotlight teacher for the next video club meeting:
James’ discomfort escalated during the video club meeting. Even though James felt that “everybody was supportive” and not being critical, he still felt judged: “It’s not that I took it personally, but I really took it more of a ‘let’s all critique James’ rather than ‘let’s all learn from this videotape’” (
When prompted, James explained that even though watching the tape with Nicole made him nervous, he did not feel like Nicole was judging him, whereas he did feel judged at video club. Even so, James feels that he “was putting that on [himself]”, and that the whole video club experience “was very worthwhile, that’s all I know. I’m glad I did it” (
Linda and James both expressed interest in taking on the spotlight teacher role, and both indicated that the experience supported their professional growth. In addition, both teachers observed problems with student engagement when reviewing and reflecting upon their own video lessons. However, James and Linda differed in the ways they took up the problems they identified. After zeroing in on problems with productive student presentations, Linda brought up this issue with her peers at video club and used the meeting as a problem solving space for developing her practice. James was critical of his teaching practices in ways that made taking up these issues with colleagues at video club prohibitively risky for him, although he found peer review with Nicole to be a helpful form of professional development. These findings suggest that Linda and James were differently impacted by the vulnerability associated with peer review and discussion of their classroom video footage, which highlights contrasting individual needs for support within the spotlight teacher experience.
4. Discussion and implications
Although research has found that video clubs can be sites for transformative teacher learning [1, 2], it is clear from the findings presented in this chapter that Linda and James had very different experiences when they were the spotlight teacher in this video club, which we contend impacted their learning. The extent to which they had the opportunity to learn from being the spotlight teacher was also impacted by extent to which they experienced a sense of vulnerability associated with peer review and discussion of their classroom footage at video club. Linda’s relative ease with the process promoted her use of the video club meeting as a sense-making space for an emergent problem of practice, thus providing her an opportunity to learn as a result of being the spotlight teacher. On the other hand, James’ discomfort with the risks that came along with watching an everyday example of his teaching with a group of colleagues rendered him unable to think clearly during the meeting, thus limiting his opportunity to learn from being the spotlight teacher. So, while Linda and James appeared to have the same experience—the two video club meetings looked very similar from the outside looking in—they actually experienced very different things based on their interpretations of the video club events. The interviews that Nicole conducted for this study allowed us access to Linda and James’ inner dialog about being the spotlight teacher and illuminated that Linda and James had very different experiences. This is something that we might not have seen had we simply analyzed data collected during the video club meeting (i.e., analyzed the teacher discussions).
The cases of Linda and James highlight contrasts in individual needs for support for the spotlight teacher experience. Teachers who seem less impacted by risks associated with group review of their classroom video footage, as was the case with Linda, may benefit from reflective work prior to the video club session in order to sharpen their opportunities to learn during the meeting. Teachers who are new to videotaping or who are more sensitive to feeling judged by peer video review, as was the case with James, may need face-to-face support prior to the professional development meeting since the spotlight teacher may not be physically able to get what they need during the meeting.
It is important to note that James is not alone in his discomfort, as is it normal and typical for teachers to find the experience of peer video review and discussion nerve-racking, especially in the beginning . The study shared in this chapter captured James’ perspective at a moment in time when he was relatively new to teaching and brand new to classroom videotaping. While we do not know if James’ extreme discomfort eased over time, extant literature supports a dynamic understanding of this possibility [1, 7], thereby motivating mathematics education leaders’ continued investment in spotlight teachers who do not immediately present like Linda. Both Linda and James said that one-on-one review with a trusted peer felt safer, which suggests that non-evaluative classroom coaching may be a good place to start this work.
The findings of the study also have in-the-moment implications for teacher leaders who facilitate video clubs. An attuned facilitator might notice the “zoning out” of a spotlight teacher (as James noted happened to him) and pause the action for spotlight teacher to take a minute to reflect on a colleague’s comment or to think of a follow-up question to ask. Facilitators can and should pay close attention to the spotlight teacher’s affect during the debriefing portion of the video club to ensure that spotlight teachers do not experience a barrage of suggestions or criticisms. Keeping the focus on student learning would also help to mitigate feelings such as what James experienced. Lastly, closely-followed discussion protocols for this type of work, such as those created for use in critical friends groups, can help to create safe learning spaces for spotlight teachers .
Although this study analyses the experiences of only two spotlight teachers, their experiences resonate broadly with the lived experiences of teachers who have varying degrees of comfort with video-based collaborative learning. With the assumption that both of the spotlight teachers’ experiences are typical, we used the cases of Linda and James to theorize more generally about the importance of tuning into and supporting the varying needs of the spotlight teacher in context of their felt risks, observations, and learning goals. This research contributes insights that help guide the essential support and facilitation work mathematics education leaders must provide for developing, supporting, and sustaining video-based professional learning communities.