National Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown WesslingWith the digital age comes a treasure-trove of possibilities for re-envisioning professional development and sharing among teaching professionals. Imagine teachers across New Jersey and throughout the United States turning on their computers, clicking on video clips and seeing real teachers―particularly excellent ones― in their own classrooms as they effectively engage students. Imagine how helpful it would be to open the doors to great teaching and at the same time provide inspiration and real tools for improving classroom instruction and student achievement.

Teaching Channel (Tch), a video showcase online and on TV launched in 2011, now makes all that and more possible.

On the website, www.teachingchannel.org, New Jersey teachers and their colleagues  across the country can view more than 400 videos, with roughly 50 new ones added each month. Tch covers a wide range of subject areas in K through 12 classrooms. About half of the professionally-produced videos focus on Common Core State Standards, the balance on a wide range of teaching practices and subjects.

The television program “Teaching Channel Presents” is now available in more than 60 percent of American homes through your local public television station. To find out where “Teaching Channel Presents” is showing in your area, go to (www.teachingchannel.org/tv-schedule) and type in your zip code.

Tch videos showcase teachers who are effectively engaging and differentiating for their students and are actively working to improve their practice. Teaching Channel also seeks out teachers who are thoughtful designers of standards-aligned classroom experiences and are deeply engaged in implementing the Common Core State Standards. While the majority of the videos on Tch are original productions, some are acquired and some are co-produced with other organizations.

Tch finds teachers to showcase by reaching out to school districts and getting recommendations from teacher colleagues. In addition, a system is currently in development where members on the website will be able to recommend a fellow teacher for future videos.

Watch the national teacher of the year

Sarah Brown Wessling, the 2010 national teacher of the year, is a key member of the Teaching Channel team and the Teaching Channel’s first “Teacher Laureate.” She continues to teach high school English in Johnston, Iowa, while also working for TeachingChannel. She is a featured blogger on the website (www.teachingchannel.org/blog/author/sarah-wessling/) and Tch frequently takes video cameras into her classroom to document her teacher practices.

One short video on the website shows Wessling interacting with her students in the classroom as she uses the “gradual release of responsibility” instructional model, an approach written about extensively by San Diego State University professors Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. While you may have read about the gradual release model a number of times, with this video, you can see it unfold.

Wessling’s exuberance and love of teaching comes through when she says “I’m very passionate about the notion of meeting students right where they are because who they are is wonderful and full of potential.”

Wessling explains with a pictorial graph how she moves responsibility in the classroom from the teacher to the student, what she calls “shifting the load to the student.” Activities in the classroom, as seen in the video, show her explaining the lesson, then engaging the students with her in class discussion, then having students work together in groups, and finally having students work independently. The progression, as she explains it, goes from “I do it, we do it, you do it together, and finally, you do it alone.” Questions alongside of the video on the Tch website get teachers thinking about the benefits of the model and how to use it in their own classrooms.

Putting teachers in charge of their professional learning

"For too long, all professional learning for teachers has been developed outside the classroom, without the voice of the teachers themselves. We're changing that," says Pat Wasley, chief academic officer for Teaching Channel. " The very core of our mission is to listen to teachers, understand what they really need and bring them into the development of all of our content.”

Wasley brings extensive teaching experience to her role at Tch. Her 30 years in education include serving as a public school teacher and administrator and the dean of the College of Education at the University of Washington (2000-10). Wasley is also the author of numerous articles and several books on school reform, including Teachers Who Lead and Stirring The Chalkdust. She is co-author of Kids and School Reform, which investigates the relationship between school change and students’ academic achievement.

“I came to Teaching Channel from a career's worth of work as a teacher, a public school administrator, a researcher, an author, and a dean of two colleges of education,” she says, “because I believe that Teaching Channel can do for many teachers what my high school English teacher and mentor, Ruth Emery, did for me. She was always sharing her approaches and she was always looking for collaborators to boost her skills and knowledge about teaching.”

Tch “listens” to teachers in several ways. First, teachers can provide feedback directly on the website as well as participate in ongoing member surveys on the site. Teachers can also check out the “Tchers’ Voice Blog,” place comments and join the ongoing conversation. Tch also has an active community on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

An important cornerstone in shaping Teaching Channel is the new Exceptional Teacher Advisory Board that is designed to be a voice for teachers across the country. “What do we mean by ‘exceptional?’” asks Wasley. “We have recruited nearly 200 teachers who are deeply committed to improving their practice and continuing to gain feedback on their work. These teachers will tell us on a regular and ongoing basis what they need; in exchange, we promise to aim our video production and our site development at what they tell us is critical to improving their students’ performance. Each year, a third of the members of this board will roll off allowing us to recruit a new group of the exceptional teachers who live all over this country.”

Since its launch last fall, the website has registered more than 22,000 members, with another 5,000 joining each month. In addition, more than 100,000 total monthly visitors are spending time on the site. The response from teachers has been overwhelmingly positive, as evidenced by this entry posted on the Gallegos Elementary School (Houston, Texas) Teachers blog (http://gallegoselem.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/the-teaching-channel/):

 “This resource may be the best collection of teacher-resource videos I have ever seen. It is absolutely amazing – useful, well organized, and, best of all, free!”

On Teaching Channel’s active Facebook page (www.facebook.com/#!/TeachingChannel) teachers and administrators post positive comments using adjectives such as “addictive” and “wonderful.” “Sharing Teaching Channel resources with my faculty has become a weekly practice for me,” posted one educator.

Teaching Channel continues to add new features

In addition to the television program, videos on the website and accompanying discussion questions, Teaching Channel continues to add new features. One feature called "Notes" allows website visitors to tag a video with their own comments at whatever specific times in the video those notes feel relevant.

"The 'Notes' feature is one that we know teachers and principals are excited to be using," says Candice Meyers, chief product officer. "For example, it allows a principal to share his/her notes on a Teaching Channel video with a teacher, so that it's as though that teacher is watching the video along with the principal, except in his/her own time, or away from school."

The Lesson Planner Tool helps teachers and educators to weave content and resources from anywhere across the Internet into a single, organized workspace with timely reminders.

"Teaching Channel's Lesson Planner is a time-saving personal assistant for teachers," adds Wasley. "The Lesson Planner will help teachers incorporate new teaching practices, lesson ideas and great video into their classrooms more easily. Instead of wasting time trying to remember where they found an engaging lesson idea, teachers can give themselves automatic reminders about lessons and materials they want to use months down the road. It's like a working memory for your lesson planning."

Teaching Channel's Lesson Planner lets users pull content they like from any website and organize it in a calendar with personalized notes. Teachers can then schedule personal reminders to alert them when it is time to use a piece of content.

Teachers can also sign up on the website to receive a weekly e-newsletter, created by Tch Director of Educational Programming Marie White. The newsletter arrives in teachers’ email inboxes every Saturday and features a theme and videos with ideas teachers can take to their classrooms in the week ahead. In honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday and “Read Across America Day,” a recent newsletter edition focused on reading and highlighted three core-aligned reading videos.

Plans for future new feature rollouts include video-enabled groups that will allow teachers to work together to study Tch videos or upload videos of their own practice to work on. Teaching Channel will also soon be launching self-guided video classes that will allow teachers to work through challenging classroom issues at their own pace.

For New Jersey teachers looking to align their lessons with Common Core State Standards, differentiate lessons to accommodate different learner needs, find ways to improve their classroom management, or simply be inspired by great teachers, TeachingChannel is a resource to check out and return to frequently.

Lisa Rosenthal is a free lance writer working on behalf of Teaching Channel.