School of Education:
Striving for Excellence
George Orwell once wrote that to see clearly what is directly in front of one “needs a constant struggle.” Education schools should engage in that struggle: Our institutional gaze is too often fixated on course sequences and credits, on balancing educational psychology content against mathematics methods, on arguing over how much time should be given to behavior management, or formative assessment, or teaching about bilingual challenges. Meanwhile, we are blind to the obvious, that what counts, what should be driving everything else, is how effectively our students perform in the classrooms they are about to enter as professionals. If we could see—in detail and over time—what that performance looked like, if we took responsibility for it as a faculty, we would have no choice but to say: how do we ensure that tomorrow’s graduate of our program makes fewer mistakes, makes better choices of pedagogy, of content, of speech, of time management, in short, teach more effectively. Then, and only then, we are able to make informed choices about curriculum design and the rest.
Working with Hunter President Jennifer Raab, we were able to secure critical seeding grant money from Carol and Joseph Reich and our work at their Beginning with Children Charter School, as well as an extraordinary recent gift from Lew and Bobbi Frankfort. With the available funds we turned to the School of Education faculty and to James Lengel (one of the nation’s premier figures in educational technology) to start a project to ensure that within three years, all of our students will videotape themselves teaching—in their practicum or student teaching experience. The videotaping itself is but a piece of a comprehensive design: First, our field observers will together watch multiple video segments to norm their standards of evaluating student teaching. Next, those field supervisors will analyze each of their student’s videos with each student one-on-one, engaging in an exacting review of each choice of action (and inaction) made, and working with the student to bring awareness of the specific consequences of each choice. Then, these same students will be required to upload specific segments of those videos to their practicum-seminar professors for review, discussion, and feedback from that professor and the students’ peers. Next, the videotape segments will be exhaustively indexed creating a digital archive of case studies in teaching to be used by all members of the faculty, for use in all courses throughout the Hunter College School of Education. College-wide town-hall meetings will discuss faculty findings about common challenges found in the students’ videos. Finally, student teachers will be able to graduate with a digital resume that will include excerpts of their teaching.
In short, rather than guessing at inputs in constructing our teacher preparation, we will start with the most critical outcomes, and re-engineer our programs accordingly. While we are aware of other schools that dip into the use of video, this integrated and comprehensive focus is nationally innovative. Soon enough, and rightly, schools of education will be evaluated by the performance of their graduates—specifically how much value-added those graduates bring to the academic learning of the children they will teach. I naturally hope Hunter’s School of Education will excel on this, the key rational assessment of any school of education. But no matter how we do, we will need to ask why. Our video library will contain much of the answer: it will show us our students teaching in real schools just before they leave us: as they teach in those videos, so they will in their regular classrooms. As their teachers, we will no longer be able to close our eyes to the results of our work.#
David Steiner is the Klara & Larry Silverstein Dean of the School of Education, Hunter College.