The perennial lament of every principal is not having enough time to fulfill what is perhaps his or her most important responsibility – teacher evaluation. In the on-going struggle to maintain a balance between the role of manager and instructional leader, building-level administrators often find the scale tipping towards managerial responsibilities. Following up on behavioral incidents on the bus, speaking with an angry parent, or following up on an immediate directive from the Central Office takes precedence over a scheduled teacher observation. In the absence of a human resource solution to this problem, technology offers an opportunity to tip the scale in the direction of instructional leadership through a medium we refer to as Virtual Supervision.
Through the utilization of Internet Protocol or IP based video conferencing equipment, supervisors can be empowered with the ability to make observations in any room that has a network or Internet connection. IP refers to a network protocol that is used in the delivery of data. This is the foundational protocol used in delivering most Email and Web pages.
Video conferencing has not yet been standardized and there are several formats available. IP is the preferred video format for this type of project due to its flexibility and low cost. With IP video there is no need for proprietary video lines, costly equipment nor a high degree of technical skills. The size, price, and quality of IP cameras vary a great deal and like most evolving technologies are continuously changing. Some less expensive models require a computer but some higher end models, such as the Polycom FX or the Tandberg units plug directly into your network. The appropriate camera used would depend on the situation and observation environment. Most cameras can either be concealed or unobtrusively placed in the room to provide the most natural environment for the student.
Several software titles will allow supervisors to stream this video to a password protected Website. This would allow multiple supervisors or teacher mentors and interns to view the video at the same time. The IP Video market is quickly growing and new software and hardware solutions are becoming available each day.
This supervisory application of technology offers several advantages:
- First and foremost, it provides a viable alternative to having to cancel a scheduled observation when something unexpected comes up that necessitates the principal's immediate attention. The technology enables the observation to occur as scheduled and archives it for subsequent review by the principal at another time.
- Secondly, a valid assessment of teacher and student performances is often compromised by the presence of an observer in the classroom. While we are not advocating this approach for every observation, the technology certainly offers an interesting option to address this issue.
- Finally, the teacher can view the archived observation alone prior to a post-observation conference or during a post-observation conference. The ability to zoom in on a particular teaching episode will enrich the conversation about best instructional practice as it relates to improved student performance.
In this latest phase of the reform movement in education, there is consensus that what happens in a classroom can positively or negatively impact student performance. It is clear that it is time to extend classroom application of technology to another level by giving principals the tool that will enable them to perform their most important charge, the assessment of classroom performance.
Virtual supervision provides a viable alternative for addressing issues that often compromise effective supervision. This proposal is just the beginning of a dialogue that deserves more attention from the educational community.
Email: Andrew Taylor