Camera recording students

More and more schools are incorporating video into the classroom observation process – and for good reason. There is plenty of evidence to suggest video can benefit evaluation processes and feedback. Videos can be a valuable tool for self-reflection, peer mentorship, and even administrator review and feedback.

Harvard’s Best Foot Forward Project found that teachers who submitted classroom videos and received feedback on those videos had a more positive evaluation experience for three key reasons:

  • The conversation with their principal was less adversarial.
  • Teachers received more specific and more actionable feedback from their principals.
  • Teachers saw more of what their students were doing.

Principals benefited as well.

  • Their conversations with teachers were more fruitful.
  • They spent more time observing instruction and less time doing paperwork.
  • They had more flexibility in fitting observations into their schedules.

If you’re ready to start using video in classroom observations, here are a few key points to get started and implement a successful program. For more details and resources, head over to Harvard’s Video Observation Toolkit.

Note: NEE is currently in the process of developing a video observation protocol for our districts. If you would like to provide feedback during this development phase, please email NEE’s Director of Research and Innovation Tom Hairston at

Building Trust in Video Observations

The first step when introducing video to the classroom observation process is to cultivate trust.

Teachers in the Harvard project initially feared using video for evaluation purposes. For some, there were security and privacy concerns regarding how the videos would be stored, who would see them, and how they would be used. For other teachers, the videos made them feel awkward, vulnerable, and exposed.

The following recommendations can help you overcome fear and build trust:

  • Explain the process and its benefits to teachers. In the Harvard project, teachers reported feeling more in control of the video process as compared to in-person observations at the conclusion of the study. The use of video contributed to perceptions of greater fairness in the evaluation process as well as greater satisfaction with feedback and the process overall.
  • Investigate privacy policies and practices in your district around video use – for both teachers and students. Once you have privacy policies in place, communicate them openly to teachers and parents, and gain consent if needed.
  • Assess your school’s current climate. If trust between teachers and administrators is low, introducing video could be a challenge. In the beginning, consider using video only for feedback purposes and not for a “score.” Encourage teachers to form networks for peer review of the videos and to use them for self-reflection. There are numerous benefits to low-stakes teacher evaluations, and video observations can be used for formative, non-evaluative purposes to get started.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. As with any change effort, communication is key. Be open. Be transparent. Keep teachers apprised of updates to your plan to introduce video. Clearly communicate why and how.

Implementing Video Observations

Harvard Best Foot Forward Video Observation Cycle Graphic
Harvard Best Foot Forward Project

As an example of the video observation process, the Best Foot Forward Project used the cycle shown in the graphic (right).

One component that is missing from this process is peer review. Early in this process, you might include peer review and discussion of the videos before a teacher selects a lesson to submit for evaluation. Peer review can put the focus on learning and growth in a low-stakes environment before a teacher is evaluated by an observer.

There are a few additional points to make about this process:

  1. Teachers should choose the videos to submit. This increases teacher agency and also encourages the teachers to re-watch several lessons and contemplate what constitutes effective, evaluation-worthy instruction before making their selections. This builds more self-reflection than typical classroom observations.

    Although administrators might fear that the teachers will teach differently for the camera, researchers do not find that to be the case.
  2. A combination of in-person and video observations should be used in the evaluation process. Although teachers in the Harvard study were supportive of replacing all in-person observations with video observations, the administrators felt too removed from the students when using only video observations.
  3. Find technology solutions that will aid in the process. Technology problems can sink this type of project. Teachers and administrators must be comfortable with the technology used to record and score the videos. Determine what kind of device (personal or district-owned) will be used to record videos and whether additional tools such as phone or iPad stands are needed.

    For uploading and viewing the videos, free solutions might include a password-protected Google Drive folder or using the “unlisted” designation on YouTube so the video isn’t discoverable without a direct link.

Video Observations for Highly Effective Teachers

Video observations might be incorporated as part of a differentiated evaluation strategy for highly effective teachers.

Achieve NJ, a project of the New Jersey Department of Education Office of Evaluation, developed a Reflective Practice Protocol Implementation Guidebook for schools electing to incorporate teacher videos into their evaluation process.

In New Jersey, the Reflective Practice Protocol is an option for teachers if they are tenured and have been rated “highly effective” on their most recent summative rating. Both the teacher and evaluator must be mutually agreeable to using the process. A video evaluation may replace one traditional observation, but participating teachers still receive at least one traditional observation. The video evaluation includes a pre- and post-observation conference as do traditional observations. Scores for the video evaluation are based on teacher reflection in several required components. Administrators score the video. The teacher’s summative score is an average of all observation scores, including those from the video evaluation.

Common Myths About Video Observations

An article for Phi Delta Kappan presents three myths that are helpful to keep in mind about teacher self-captured video observations.

  1. Myth: Video offers an objective view of what happens in the classroom. Video offers one perspective, which is influenced by the position of the camera, microphone placement, and other factors. Oftentimes, the focal point is the teacher, and it can be difficult to see students’ interactions.

    In the Achieve NJ guidebook, one seasoned educator shared that they used two cameras to offer a better view of the classroom. One was set up in the back of the room to capture the teaching while the other was set up in the front of the room to capture the students’ engagement. The teacher used editing software to put the videos side-by-side on the same screen for viewing by the evaluator.
  2. Myth: Video should be used for demonstration and evaluation. We have made a case for using video observations in the evaluation process, but there are some drawbacks to consider and mitigate. Research indicates the best use of video supports teachers’ ability to notice and interpret classroom interactions. However, when used in evaluations, teachers might make quick judgments about what is viewed without careful consideration of what is taking place and why. To mitigate this potential issue, you can ask questions related to what the students are doing and saying during instruction. This is not necessarily to ask whether students understood the content but rather to ask how students developed ideas or how different students’ ideas are related. Video clubs and low-stakes peer review can allow teachers time and space to hone the practice of watching videos without trying to “fix” anything.
    One teacher in the Phi Delta Kappan article explained it this way: “When I first started [watching] video, my perspective was, ‘How could I have done that differently?’ or ‘What could I do next time to make that a better lesson?’ … It turned out [though] that not focusing on teaching actually helped me think about my teaching because I was looking at what students were doing and saying instead. And that’s what was really interesting.”
  3. Myth: The most useful video clips illustrate moments of exemplary teaching and student success. Teaching is complex, so there is much to learn in typical classroom interactions when teachers are working through wrong answers, listening to students’ misconceptions, trying a different approach, or realizing students’ understanding is not what was expected. Viewing moments of actual practice instead of exemplars provides an opportunity for teachers to work through complications together and try to understand what happened.


Video observations can be incorporated in a number of ways in your school. You might choose to only use them in low-stakes peer evaluations or for self-reflection. Principals might also use them as part of the overall evaluation process. You might choose to incorporate them for teachers rated as highly effective.

However you incorporate video observations, the process is likely to result in more instructional change than the current evaluator observation/feedback cycles do, especially for experienced teachers. Video observations give teachers more ownership in the evaluation process to guide their professional learning.

If you’d like to contribute to NEE’s development of a video observation protocol, please email NEE’s Director of Research and Innovation Tom Hairston at

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.