Tips to Support New Teachers & Mentors through the Observation Process

A webinar featuring Sean McCarthy of Murrieta Valley Unified School District

Sean McCarthy, Induction Program Director and Coordinator of Staff Development from Murrieta Valley Unified School District shares how MVUSD overcame scheduling limitations, expanded access to the feedback process, and provided a positive rollout experience for new teachers, mentors, and leadership with GoReact.


Sarah Webster:

All right, well, hello and welcome to our webinar today. We’re thrilled that you’re joining us and we hope that you enjoy and participate in our discussion and walk away with some great new ideas on how to support the teachers in your district. My name is Sarah Webster. I’m on the GoReact team and we’re hosting today’s presentation. For those of you not familiar with GoReact and why this topic is so important to us, GoReact’s a video feedback solution with over 10 years experience helping higher ed institutions with student skill development.

And we believe that same technology can also help school districts support teacher growth. And we’re we’re working with dedicated staff development professionals like our presenter here today to make that happen. Before I introduce him, I’ll run through a couple points of housekeeping. Today’s event will last about 45 minutes, that includes about 30 minutes of presentation and 10 to 15 minutes for Q&A at the end. We are recording this, so if you need to hop off before we finish or you want to share the info with a colleague afterwards, we’ll email the recording for you.

We do want today’s presentation to be as interactive as possible. So throughout, please submit your questions using the Q&A function. If you see a question from another attendee you’d like to have answered, you can upvote it so we can try and answer those questions first, and we’ll get to as many as we can in our time here today. You’ll also see a chat function, so please set your visibility to everyone and send a message to introduce yourself. Let us know where you’re joining us from and what school district or school you’re with.

If you have links or relevant resources you’d like to share with other attendees, you can share in the chat as well. And if you experience any technical difficulties, please use the chat to message the hosts and panelist group and we’ll take care of it. Now, for our main event. I am happy to introduce Sean McCarthy, Induction Program Director and Coordinator of Staff Development from Murrieta Valley Unified School District. He’ll talk about how they overcame scheduling limitations, expanded access to the feedback process, and provided a positive rollout experience for new teachers, mentors, and leadership using GoReact. Sean, the stage is yours.

Sean McCarthy:

Thank you, Sarah. Okay, I’m going to go ahead and share my screen to get us into our presentation. I really appreciate being here today. Hopefully everyone can see my screen okay. I’m going to share just how we support teaching and learning in the Murrieta Valley Unified School District utilizing our GoReact video observations. And I just want to share a little bit about myself. I’ve been a longtime facilitator of new teacher training through our induction program actually since 1996 as a mentor. And then I’ve been directing the program for about 14 years now since 2009. So I’m really passionate about new teacher development, new teacher training. I’m also a national board certified teacher, certified mindfulness teacher, Thinking Maps trainer and cognitive coaching trainer. And in all of those capacities, utilizing video to support professional learning to elevate reflection has been really essential. And it really hit me back in 2000 when I first became a national board certified teacher.

And if any of you are familiar with that process, it utilizes video to help candidates self-assess their instruction and align it to the national standards and accomplish teaching practice. So that was kind of when I recognized that the value of utilizing video in order to really drive professional learning, elevate thinking about teaching practices. So I’ve been incorporating it ever since then and always just on this search for the best possible platforms and solutions to making it effective. A little bit about our program, we currently serve 65 induction candidates, and if you’re not familiar with induction, that’s a program out here in the state of California where we actually have a two-tiered credentialing program. They get a preliminary credential at the university or college level, and then they clear that credential, the second tier while they’re on the job during the first two years of instruction.

So we’ve got 65 of those candidates. We’ve got 12 interns and about 12 additional teachers from the whole spectrum, from transitional kindergarten through adult education. And to support them, we actually train and support 94 mentors who also represent that entire broad spectrum in effective mentoring, learning focused supervision, cognitive coaching, and some other practices. So our program mission is to inspire candidates to make inquiry the basis for ongoing professional learning. So we kind of talk early on when we first start working with our teacher candidates and our mentors that we’re not necessarily so much here just to teach you pedagogy, to teach you how to be effective classroom managers. We’re really about training you how to become self-efficient in that capacity. And so inquiry is really the basis. We want to ensure that when they leave our program after two years, no matter how their context might change, they’re going to always be able to identify needs, both in their teaching, student learning, and continue to propel themself themselves forward.

And we really try to make sure that we’re not doing things like learned helplessness or making them too dependent on their mentors or anyone else, but we really want to build that capacity for taking control of their own learning no matter what they face in their future. And of course, that also helps with our other big district initiative, which is working in professional learning communities and using that to drive and improve instruction. So I mentioned how I’ve been interested in the video observation to support inquiry, and we have actually been doing this ever since I became the program director back in 2009. And again, it was inspired by my national board experience because as I developed my portfolio to become national board certified, I actually had to videotape myself teaching and then analyze and reflect on my practices. And it was such a powerful and eye-opening experience for me.

I actually identified things that I didn’t like about my practice that I was able to work on, transform, and it made just a huge difference throughout my career. So we’ve been incorporating this as what we call a third point. And that third point concept comes from Laura Lipton’s Mentoring Matters and Learning Focus Supervision work, which we use to train our mentors in cognitive coaching practices. But what we love is that third point, that video third point, really helps our candidates see for themselves what’s happening in their classrooms so they can make action plans to improve teaching and learning.

And we use that third point to basically lower the kind of affect of filter with our candidates so that they really make those discoveries themselves and do so in a very safe risk-free way because the video just becomes a subjective third point that the mentors kind of facilitate them seeing where they need to go as opposed to if the mentor were to come in and say, hey, I really notice a lot of disengagement among your students, and saying something like that to a candidate almost always, no matter how eager they are to learn and to develop, almost always relates into a little defensiveness or a little fear and often eliminates the learning that can take place.

Whereas if they kind of discover it for themselves by seeing it on video, oh wow, I’ve got a lot of students who aren’t participating, some students I didn’t even notice had their head on the desk. When they discover that from themselves, then they want to make those changes and it becomes really impactful and really powerful. We used to do a lot of in-person observations and we still do on occasion, but we really like the video piece because our mentors and candidates have given us so much feedback over the course of the year. And the first is that they find it’s very objective and authentic when we use the video in this way and objective because again, we have that third point, the video doesn’t really mask anything or lie. It’s not filtered through the mentors perspective or the observer’s perspective, but that video as opposed to the in-person observer makes the actual classroom experience much more authentic.

The kids, they tend to ignore the camera after a certain amount of time and the teachers is able to deliver the instruction and the kids behave the way they’re going to behave, which doesn’t always happen when you have an observer in the room. Sometimes it kind of changes the authentic nature. Our candidates all felt that it was far less threatening and disruptive to just do a video of a lesson rather than having someone in and taking notes and scripting what’s going on in their classroom. They really like the fact that it respects their time and the mentor’s time while still allowing for very thorough feedback.

They particularly appreciate how flexible the scheduling was. This was one of the big challenges we were trying to overcome. We have a real challenge in our district because of its particular location with our sub pool. We don’t always have anywhere near enough substitutes available for our mentors to be pulled out of the classroom. And I should have mentioned all our mentors are part-time, so they’re full-time teachers and they’re doing this mentoring work on the side. So that flexible scheduling was really, really powerful. And we’d also have experiences where the candidate wanted the mentor to come in to watch a very specific lesson or see a very specific student challenge that they were experiencing. And we would have things like, okay, they get it all scheduled, they get it all organized, and then the sub is not available, so they have to completely change things or the mentor can’t get away at that particular time, so they end up observing something that may not be quite as helpful or targeted as the candidate was hoping for.

So being able to just record any time you want for the exact element that you’d like feedback with was just a huge benefit of using video. And then we were also finding it was very cost-effective because the cost of a video platform is so much less than the costs that we were incurring by providing release time for our mentors to go out and take care of all of the observations that we were asking them to do. So we’ve actually been on a long journey toward making sure we could utilize this. And when we first did it, we were having mentors try to upload video to our Microsoft Office platform. And we just found while it worked in some cases, it was very clunky in others, it was hard to upload videos, it was hard to share videos. We didn’t have that capacity to make comments right in the videos.

So we started looking for a very specific platform. I’m going to be very honest with you, GoReact is not the first one that we turned to. We actually used another platform initially to meet all of these needs that I’m showing on our screen. We did a big rollout, a big launch of that video platform, and it did not go well. The platform did not work as advertised. It was not user-friendly as we thought it was going to be. We had all sorts of challenges and within just a few weeks of the year that we rolled it out, it was clear that this was not going to work and our mentors and candidates just stop stopped using it altogether. So when it came time to revisit finding a platform, I was extremely shy about even bringing up the topic. So what we did is we examined, we did a lot of research of some potential programs and I just did it initially.

Once we kind of settled on React as the one we wanted to pilot for these five cycles of inquiry video feedback we like to do every year, I had my leadership team pilot the platform. We did this in spring of 2022, and honestly I was ready to get all sorts of pushback even from my leadership team, but instead they absolutely loved it. It was like night and day compared to the first platform that we attempted. And they thought it was so easy. They said, we think we can pitch this and sell this to our mentors. And in fact, my leaders were the ones who kind of eased the way and got the other mentors willing to even consider it after that challenging experience. So we moved to full implementation for our induction program only. We only did it this past year with induction candidates during ’22 and ’23. And before we did our rollout, again, we do three cycles of video observation per year.

That’s by our mentors. And then we have two cycles that are facilitated by our program leadership. We also have our year two candidates use the platform for their exit interviews. So what was really great is we worked with Heather Lund from GoReact, and she met with me and my secretary and our leaders and we told her this is what we want, this is what we want to be able to accomplish, and this is how we want things set up. And Heather actually designed, her team basically designed a platform that we were able to share and train our mentors and candidates, and that’s worked really well. And Heather, do you want to share a little bit about that journey working with us?

Heather Lund:

Yes, thank you, Sean. So it was really helpful to have the initial conversation with you and Erica, determine what your goals were, how you were currently using video or what the expectation was so we could align GoReact to meet those specific goals, and make it easy. One thing that we were able to do as well, because you have a large number of mentors who are supporting those induction candidates is really create kind of a master course or template that allowed you to have that consistent structure, which was really nice, but keeping it very specific between the mentor and the candidates so they weren’t having to weed through and search for those candidates that they’re supporting. So just working with you to, again, identify your goals and then align GoReact to meet and support your goals.

Sean McCarthy:

Yeah, it was really great. And I’m sure Heather, when she was first working with us thought, I was just this easily startled person because I was really very shy about even bringing up the possibility of doing this again after we spent so much time and energy trying to do this with the other platform. So she was so great about really listening to, okay, this is what we need, this is the only way it’s going to work, this is the only way it’s not going to just receive a lot of pushback. And I really appreciate how sensitive she was, and I’m going to go into more of this design, but you kind of see it in this screenshot of how we basically have an individual course for each mentor and their candidate or candidates that’s super easy to navigate, to find everything, and to move forward with.

And then Heather also helped us kind of identify, okay, how should we roll this out? What might this look like? And we kind of identified a few different things that were really effective in making this so much more successful than our first initiative. Heather actually provided our initial GoReact training for all of our mentors, and we did this in August just before the beginning of the school year. And that kind of helped them just understand how to access, how to navigate the program and exactly what it might look like. And she also shared the nuts and bolts of how to provide commentary, directly timestamped commentary right within the video, which when she demonstrated that, that was the big thing that my mentors were like, oh, this is not only easy but this is going to just completely change the game in terms of how we’re able to provide that feedback.

We then introduced it to our candidates, our year one and our year two candidates. It’s a two-year program at our September network meetings, so our candidates understood exactly how to access and navigate things. We use Canvas as our learning management system and we use it to provide all the resources for all of our professional learning. So we created a Canvas support page for our candidates and another one for our mentors where we shared exactly all the steps that they were going to utilize, as well as links to all sorts of resources that GoReact provided us for not only the different pieces, the different components of the program, but any troubleshooting that might come up as well. And so based on those things, we launched in September last year and we did a follow-up training in January along with monthly office hours to support both mentors and candidates, but it was our mid-year follow-up training that really helped solidify our approaches to using the program.

And by that training in January, every single mentor and candidate had done at least one, and if not, two video inquiry cycles. And the first thing about that is I was just amazed because again, the first time we rolled out a platform, I had a handful of people who tried it, most gave up before they even did their first video. And I’m just watching these videos come rolling in and I’m just going, yes, this is exactly what I was looking for. But at our midyear follow-up training, we also gave everybody an opportunity to brainstorm best practices and we’re using this moving forward. We put it into our Canvas page. They actually created a Padlet where they identified the things that were working really well and effectively and we kind of identify these six features that make video observation using our GoReact platform really, really helpful.

And the first is we have a pre-observation conference where we recommend they identify a very tight focus, a short timeframe, and optimal camera placement. When they do these three things, they’re much more successful in using the video observation. And we really recommend they keep that timeframe as short and focused as possible. We had some who right away were launching into recording 45, 60 or more minutes of instruction and then finding how exhausting that was to parse through all that video in order to actually use it for useful feedback. We also trained them to make sure they were really focused in their feedback by letting the inquiry questions and the identified California standards for the teaching profession drive the focus of the observation. So the mentor knew exactly what they were looking for and which standards they were going to utilize. And having a standards based approach to your feedback really helps elevate the effectiveness of this.

And you’re going to see when I show you a little bit later how we’ve actually tagged all of our standards right within the platform. We also coached our mentors to focus on specific commentary just related to the focus question, not to do this kitchen sink approach where they comment on every single thing that they see in the video, less is more. And we really found that to be true based on the feedback we were receiving. We ensure they utilize their cognitive coaching strategies that we have trained them in right from the get-go, such as open-ended questions, things like notices and wonders. I noticed this, I’m wondering about this, that are really helpful prompts to elevate candidate thinking about their practice along with their reflections. We also make sure that they know they should really do some postop observation preparation. That includes tagging those comments to our standard identifiers and also encouraging the candidates to review and add their own commentary ahead of their post observation conference.

And then they facilitate a realtime, learning focused conversation based on that commentary. And this is where the power really exists in utilizing this and where we’ve gotten so much powerful feedback, that these conversations where they’re using that video as the third point, they’re seeing their mentors questions, their mentors notices, wonders, they’re seeing those standards tags. They really are able to have powerful, powerful collaborations on how they can then identify where they want to move forward and take action in ensuing inquiries. So I’m going to stop my slideshow for just a second and actually go into a couple samples of what it looks like in practice. And this is one of our elementary candidates. And again, each of our candidates has their own course set up with their mentor that they can easily navigate to. So all of this candidates videos reside in this specific course that they have with the specific inquiries that we ask them to utilize.

And as you can see, all of the comments that our mentor has added are tagged to a standard. Standard one is our engaging and supporting student learning. Standard two is creating and maintaining environments for learning. And we do one of two things with these, either the mentor add a very kind of objective observational comment just as if you were scripting an observation that the candidate can then take if it’s some evidence that they’re demonstrating relating to that standard. And then they take this evidence and they can add it to what we call our continuing of teaching practice that they basically add to their portfolio. And this gives them really powerful evidence that they can use at the end of our program to show where they have demonstrated evidence of application for each of these different standards. So you can see this mentor went through and she has all of these timestamped comments.

So if her candidate wants to kind of see, okay, what point in the video is this taking place? She can click on her comment and go to that particular place, which is at 5:21 in the video and see exactly why the mentor provided that particular feedback. We have it at our secondary level, our secondary mentors and candidates, sometimes you may have experienced this, can be a little bit more reluctant learners, but they’re doing a great job with it as well. They tend not to be quite as effusive with their commentary as you can see here, but they’re doing the same thing where they’re identifying and tagging each of the different practices at the different points in the video. And in each one, we really focus on strong camera placements so that they’ve identified where they can place their cameras in order to see and view as much of the teaching that’s going on in as many of the students as possible.

And two of our cycles of inquiry also come from our program leadership. So this is one of our candidates who I observed. I observe every candidate who’s in the secondary realm twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. And I basically do the same thing. I tag the things that I’m observing. I love the feature of being able to provide audio feedback and our candidates and mentors have shared how powerful this is as well, particularly when I want to go into a little more depth about a particular piece of feedback. So the candidate can go to this particular spot on the video by clicking on this comment and seeing what was going on. And then they can listen to my audio.

I really like that you did this turn and talk activity during your presentation. I think it’s a really important thing for students. That’s a great way to not only get them engaged in-

So that just gives you a little taste of that. And what was nice is the candidates get to hear me kind of explain things that I’m worried might not be as easily understood, which is a brief question or comment. And I get so many great interactions with candidates that I didn’t used to experience where they’ll either email me and thank me for a particular bit of feedback or they will contact me to ask some questions, hey, what do you think I might do? What are some resources available to help me with this challenge that you identified in my classroom? And it’s just allowed for this really, really powerful and positive collaboration. So for me, it’s also easy, and I just want to use this as an opportunity to finish off by showing you again, each of our candidates and mentors have their own course.

So they can go into that particular course. The mentoring candidate can see all of their video assignments. This mentor has two candidates, so they can see their initial goal setting cycle, their mini inquiry cycle, their action research cycle. If they’re a year two candidate, they actually can post their exit interview video here, which is the final project at the end of the program. And then Heather created an other observation folder, and this is where program leadership post their videos or if they ever have a need for additional observations and interactions outside of the cycles of inquiry, those are available for them as well. So with that, I’ll just end my presentation by thanking you and offering to answer any questions that you might have. So I’m going to go ahead and stop sharing and come back with everybody and see if there’s any questions that Heather or I can answer for you.

Sarah Webster:

Yeah, absolutely. So if you have those questions, put them in the Q&A and I’ll make sure to ask those to Sean and/or Heather. While we’re waiting for the audience to get over there shyness and ask their questions, I am curious, have you considered recording the pre and/or post-observation conference for continued candidate mentor learning?

Sean McCarthy:

Yes. We have two things, and thank you for reminding me that are kind of our next steps. The first change we’re making this year, we only did it with our induction candidates. We were a little fearful with our intern candidates who are still working on that preliminary credential, overwhelming them with this. We actually have mentors who mentor both induction candidates and intern candidates, and their big thing, as soon as they saw the value of this was, can I use it with my interns also? So we just kind of worked with them and said, okay, obviously this is something that’s powerful there as well. So our change this year for ’23, ’24 is that we are going to have our intern candidates also utilizing the platform. The other thing that we’re starting this year is our mentors all do their own individual learning plan for their development as effective coaches.

So one of the pieces of that individual learning plan includes developing their cognitive coaching skills, both the pre and post observation because we coach them up in two types of conversations, the planning conversation, which is part of that pre-observation, pre-inquiry conversation, and then the reflective conversation, which is part of the post-observation practice. And we used to encourage them to videotape themselves or even to just allow for other mentors to observe in person. And it just was too challenging because again, we didn’t have the platform and it was very hard to coordinate times because a lot of times we might only have one mentor at a site who does all the coaching of, for example, our visual performing arts teacher and the other mentors are at different sites.

So getting together to do that was really, really challenging. So we are now going to, with our individual learning plan this year, demonstrate and then promote utilizing the same platform to work in triads. So we’re going to put all our mentors in triad groups where they will basically observe through GoReact, a planning conversation and a reflective conversation. And that’s kind of our next thing that we’re really excited about. So we’re going to do it as a rollout with people who are already interested and then we’re going to hopefully work out any challenges that we might find, make adjustments, and then make the standard practice by the following year.

Sarah Webster:

That’s excellent. And that kind of goes to the next thing I was going to ask is how has going through the pilot in your first year kind of informed the things that you want to add or change or incorporate into the process for next year?

Sean McCarthy:

Oh, yeah. Basically I have this laundry list of notes based on all the things that I didn’t think about or didn’t cover with that initial training. So we’ll have a new class of mentors joining us in August. And so we do an initial training of all our mentors. So everything that I learned, sometimes the hard way, sometimes the easy way this year is now going to be part of that practice. And then every bit of feedback, every challenge maybe that we faced and overcome, we’re incorporating not only into that initial training, but then we also do returning mentor training. So we’ve just made a standard agenda item in both our summer returning mentor training and our mid-year follow-up that we’re going to address specific best practices with our video observations.

And we’ve already identified exactly what we want to do in August with both the initial and the returning and some of the things that we think we’re going to probably want to do every mid-year. And then we’re also making it a standard agenda item when we do our office hours that anytime we have an office hour and people request joining those that GoReact is always one of the things that we can talk about. It’s also helped us, we’re constantly refining our Canvas support page, so that in addition to providing links that GoReact has provided on how to use the program, any troubleshooting, that type of thing, we’re also kind of adding our key components so they have all of that available to them as well.

Sarah Webster:

Awesome. And I imagine you and Heather have kind of been hand-in-hand in this process. Heather, what does that look like from your side in this ongoing conversation with folks as they’re learning from their previous implementation and wanting to adjust and incorporate new things going forward?

Heather Lund:

Yes, it’s just always level setting or having the conversations and saying, okay, where can we go next or what can we incorporate next? What features did we not use before that you’d be interested in? So kind of taking it as a phased approach like Sean had mentioned where just understanding where we were at with pilot versus year one and now looking forward and saying, hey, there are a lot more opportunities here than I’d initially thought. And then just using React to its fullest potential.

So really just continuing to have those conversations, setting up meetings with Sean and Erica who helped support him, and understanding again, just what those goals are and working to create those activities or assignments to meet, and then who should be part of those courses and what the process looks like so we can help develop that. And then once it’s developed, then we can look at training needs and timeframes. And that wouldn’t just be, hey, we’re going to roll out this new learning plan for coaches, we’ll just train on that, it’s that continued learning as well. So refresher trainings, going over everything that we have done and the new items that we’re incorporating, and then even just new training for mentors as well.

Sarah Webster:

Well, with no questions from the audience at this point, Sean, I’ll turn it over to you. I’ll see if you have any final thoughts or comments, and then I’ll wrap us up.

Sean McCarthy:

Yeah, I’ll just say that again, as I alluded to earlier, I started a little anxiously, a little fearfully about jumping in again. And at this point, I am so grateful that I not only took the plunge, but that we discovered something that worked so well and we had so much support in customizing and then implementing because all of us, our program leadership, our teacher induction leaders, the feedback I’m getting from mentors, I think we all feel like this has enabled us to really keep our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in our candidates classroom so much more effectively. We feel like we know our candidates, we really see their strengths, their needs, and it’s just been completely transformative. And we’ve always known this. We’ve researched, the national board shares this, the National Council for Teacher Quality talks about the impact, the powerful impact of teacher observation.

Linda Darling-Hammond, who is a very influential person in our state, she’s done so much research on that eyes in the classroom, that ongoing feedback. But it’s such a challenge when you don’t have a ton of money to do that. You don’t have a lot of options. And this has been such an efficient, effective, and cost-effective way for us to connect with our candidates. And in the bottom line, we’re not only seeing that impact, we’re not only seeing the needle move within each of our standards, but we’re also getting that positive feedback from our candidates who really appreciate it.

And so often they’re overwhelmed this first couple of years of practice. They don’t always embrace all of the professional learning opportunities that we provide for them, but we have had nothing but positive feedback across the board. And we’re surveying them constantly, formally and informally to just get to the tune of, okay, what are you liking? What’s working? What’s not working? And GoReact is one of the things that is absolutely working and making a huge difference. So I could not be happier that we did this and more appreciative of the support we got from GoReact and Heather in particular in deploying. So thank you.

Sarah Webster:

Thanks, Shawn. That was a great presentation. I love your insights and the information you shared. So thank you so much for being willing to do that today. And thanks Heather, for your additional detail on how GoReact works and how we work with the districts to help meet those goals. And then thank you to all of our attendees for joining us for the presentation today. We will be sending an email shortly that has a link to the recording so you can revisit the information and share it with colleagues. We hope to see you on a future GoReact webinar. Thank you so much. See you next time.