Two (Stolen) Ideas and Two Challenges

I had the privilege of observing at Noble Street UIC College Prep in Chicago a few weeks ago.  The school is in its third year with six hundred high school kids.  The students are achieving strong results and the entire place exuded calm urgency.

There’s a longer post about the challenges of high school teaching and some other ideas still marinating from the visit.  However I have been stuck in a bit of a writer’s block over the past two months so I will try to get something on the page.

Two (Stolen) Ideas

from Oliver Sicat (principal and founder of Noble Street UIC College Prep)

Start with strengths. This hardly counts as a revelation until you hear Oliver describe his observation routine.  His vision of excellent teaching is summarized in a one page laminated sheet that resembles the play-calling guides used by football coaches.  He enters the room with his instructional leadership team or his video camera.  They observe until they see a strength.  If Oliver is video-taping, he stops as soon as he has a clip of the teacher performing one of the desired behaviors.  The two key ideas behind this practice are: norming the leadership team around what excellent teaching looks like and building each teacher starting with their strengths.  There are numerous yes-buts (what about lesson flow?  what about identifying areas for growth? and so on) but it’s a powerful way to build a school’s academic vision and culture around teaching.  I may not have the discipline to stick to this routine for a year but even doing this for a few weeks would be incredibly valuable for everyone who coaches in our school and it might transform the way we develop some of our struggling folks.

Be disciplined. As soon as Oliver captures video of a teaching moment he downloads it to the server and codes it. The staff has picked up this habit and they now have over four hundred clips of the behaviors on Oliver’s one page vision.  This kind of self-discipline is something I now aspire to; I have hours of video and a hard drive full of literal notes that I gathered but never truly analyzed.

Two Challenges


Has anyone figured out to improve student audio?  I worry that the proliferation of video as a professional development tool has the unintended consequence of making us more focused on what the teacher is doing than the kids.  This happens because frequently the only person heard in the video is the teacher.  In an ideal world we could pull out transcripts of the students to supplement the video but there aren’t too many of us who have a crew of people observing alongside us or the time to wade back through the video and transcribe it.  Is there a better way to mike the room or a different approach to recording? I did for kicks once  flipcam a single student for the entire period; it was entertaining but not the best tool for coaching the teacer.

Remember Pop-up video?  I grew up in Maine without cable so I actually don’t remember it.   The premise was that throughout the video facts about the song and artists would appear transforming an out-dated video into a trove of trivia.  Oliver and I were wondering how we might do this with lesson video.  How could you show a teacher’s thought process, decision tree, and planning alongside the actual action of the class? What’s the cheap and quick way to do this?  What’s the ideal way?

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3 Responses to “Two (Stolen) Ideas and Two Challenges”

  1. jsmith6 Says:

    I would LOVE to see the one page sheet, especially after doing video analysis for a year using Lemov’s moves. Would be fascinating to compare and contrast. Does he share at all?

    • mrdolan Says:

      I will gladly send it. You have to send a link to your history mysteries or post them on KIPP Share. I am hearing rave reviews.

  2. shipley Says:

    I completed my student-teaching assignment in the room next door to Oliver’s at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School back in 2006, the year that he was teacher of the year in Boston Public Schools and one of People Magazine’s “Heroes Among Us.” He was my KIPP before I knew what KIPP was!

    Really looking forward to hearing more about the school visit.

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