Can Reality TV Improve Education?

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Reality TV

August 15, 2012; Source: New York Times

The best teachers in the country or district rarely receive the notoriety of reality TV stars from “Big Brother” or “The Bachelor.” However, a new program, funded by a $900,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in a Washington, D.C. public school district hopes to use the reality TV format to help all teachers learn from the best in the District. The videos cover each of nine teaching standards being emphasized by the District, which include “Lead well-organized, objective-driven lessons” and “Build a supportive, learning-focused classroom community.” The videos, produced by Reality PD, aim to provide an inside look at how great teachers operate in their classroom. Samples of the videos are available for viewing here and here is a video overview of the program:

Education researchers have suggested videos as helpful tools for teacher professional feedback at least since the 1980s. What appears to be unique about these videos is the format, which includes confessional style explanations of what the teacher is hoping to accomplish, along with live shots of them performing that skill in the classroom. The videos are high quality, with tight editing, and would likely be beneficial for many teacher professional development programs.

However, as noted by this New York Times article, there are a staggering number of professional development videos, many of good quality, available to teachers. What is often lacking is a professional development program that integrates the video material into a personalized improvement plan for the teacher. Most research on the use of videos for teacher professional development suggests that teachers need to discuss the videos with others in order to gain the most insight from them—something not possible when watching a video through an online portal after hours. Collaborative learning among teachers in a school can be an important element of such a program. Indeed, some of the best programs in the country emphasize peer mentoring in addition to teacher instruction.

So let’s celebrate great teachers but also provide the necessary training and support for all teachers. Great materials, including videos, are a start. Coupling the training with evaluation is important, as is done in the D.C. program. However, giving teachers time for in-person professional development and peer-mentor support is needed in order to help them integrate the materials into their own classrooms effectively. Professional development programs need to integrate some of the same great teaching elements that they prescribe for these teachers to use with their students. –Michelle Shumate