Heading into ISTE 2018, a leading PD expert is hopeful about the future.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Professional development, or PD, has been around quite a while.

So has video.

But just in recent years, the two have really come together for educators, especially with:

Advances in technology.

Ease of use.

Better platforms.

And Michael Moody.

Michael is co-founder and former CEO of Insight Education Group. 

He is also co-founder and CEO of Insight ADVANCE, a platform that provides a suite of products that supports educator observation, coaching and calibration—through the power of video and in-person—to permanently impact how educators involved in teacher growth are supported.

His experiences as a

  • classroom teacher
  • instructional coach
  • school leader
  • district administrator and
  • consultant

…have helped him to understand first-hand the needs of students and educators.

With successes spanning from the implementation of nationwide professional development programs to serving as Chief Academic Advisor in DC Public Schools, Michael has supported numerous school, district and state leaders in the development and implementation of initiatives to increase educator growth.

Technology drives our lives in many regards, outside of education, but inside of education as well.

We’re starting to see it take more and more center stage in the work.

“Technology drives our lives in many regards, outside of education, but inside of education as well. We’re starting to see it take more and more center stage in the work.”

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University, a master’s degree in education with an emphasis on teaching and curriculum from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a doctorate in urban school leadership from the University of Southern California.

Okay I’m here with Michael Moody from Insight ADVANCE, which was founded in 2000 in Encino, California, now about a dozen employees.

An international education consulting organization, they work with education leaders to provide the strategy and confidence to lead bold change as well as the ‘boots on the ground’ to make it happen.

Michael (pictured, below) is the founder and CEO, he was a classroom teacher, instructional coach, school leader, district administrator, and now a consultant.

Michael thanks for talking with me today.

My pleasure.

Alright, a few questions for you—“2000” is an easy math year, so let’s see, 18 years now! What prompted you to form Insight ADVANCE—or, Insight Education Group, I should say—all those years ago?

Yeah, so Insight Education Group, like you noted; we started in 2000.

I had just left the classroom.

I was a classroom teacher, I was an instructional coach as well, and in my work as a teacher in particular, I just remember thinking how terrible the professional development I was receiving was.

Even when it was good, it wasn’t impacting my practice, so I stepped out.

It wasn’t called “job-embedded PD” then, but really—what I wanted to do was figure out other ways to more effectively support teachers.

Could we leverage coaching to impact practice more effectively than doing what I did as a teacher—which was: sit in the cafeteria for a few days before school started, listen to someone talk at me, then go back to my classroom and do what I had been doing for all those years before?

Really, what prompted me was trying to figure out:

Is there a better way to support teachers?

Insight ADVANCE actually grew out of Insight Education Group, just as a clarification.

We started Insight Education Group, I did, in 2000 and then in 2016, branched out and started a second organization Insight ADVANCE, that’s focused pretty solely on using technology to improve that practice.

Over the years, what Insight has done is really support both school district schools and states.

We know we [thought about this] for the Department of Ed, and really thinking about this teacher effectiveness question:

How do we really effectively not just train teachers—but support them?

How do we effectively evaluate them?

We’ve always been focused on customized engagements with the school districts based on this effectiveness question.

And helping them think about customized strategies for improving effectiveness of instruction, be it from the PD—all the way to the evaluation space.

Insight ADVANCE, when we started in 2016, in all of our work in the years prior to that, I knew that it wasn’t always the most efficient way to approach the work.

And we knew that technology, especially given the advances we’ve seen over the years, could really be powerful in that process.

Insight ADVANCE started in 2016 with the goal of leveraging technology—and video in particular—to really provide more effective approaches and really get at the coaching question with teachers.

I’ve heard you say, “We’re a bunch of former educators, passionate about reinventing professional development.”

These days with technology and education, that probably couldn’t be more true.

Yes. And very necessary.

Alright. Congratulations on your recent honors, The EdTech Awards 2018 recognized your work in three categories.

Insight ADVANCE was awarded finalist for collaboration solution, video based learning solution, and winner for professional development learning solution.

What does winning the EdTech Awards mean to you and your team?

Yeah, it was a big success for us. We were quite excited about it.

To be frank, we’re really excited to win Best Professional Development Learning Solution, mostly because we feel like that’s what’s the focus of our work.

We appreciate A, the acknowledgment and B, just the recognition that there’s room to grow in the professional development space and that technology can really start to help leverage that work in ways that just weren’t possible before.

It’s been quite exciting for us, and our clients.

The platform is really an outgrowth of all the work we’ve done with our partner districts and states over the years.

And even the platform today, as it is, it really reflects the feedback we’ve received over the last few years from teachers who use the platform and school leaders around, “We love it and here’s what could make it better. Here are some things we think you should have.”

It’s really been an evolving platform for us, and for our clients.

As much as I’d love to take all the credit, I think we have a great platform—we definitely want to acknowledge the fact that it wouldn’t be what it is without all the educators who are using the platform and giving us feedback along the way.

Like I said, it’s been a really exciting journey and The EdTech Award really helps solidify that we’re moving in the right direction.

Video is getting more attention in professional learning conversations.

It’s been around for many decades, but the technology has refreshed, updated, it’s been changing.

And why is it that there’s more talk of video, there’s more use of video?

And what can you tell us about the current use of this technology?

You’re right.

Video has been around for a long time.

The challenge, especially with video in years past, was A, that the technology wasn’t advanced.

When I was a teacher, we were literally putting it on video tape, but more importantly, alongside video, advances in technology and the way we can build platforms now, I think what we’re able to do now is leverage video in a more efficient way.

That’s really helped us increase its usage.

There’s also been a lot of research coming out in recent years, coming out of [a] project with the Gates foundation and Harvard’s Best Foot Forward Project, all of those have really pointed us in the direction of understanding that video is transforming.

 

It’s not just making it easier for teachers to kind of look at the practice.

But it’s really just impacting the type of engagement that we can have with each other and how teachers even examine their own practice.

I think back to when I was a teacher.

I never saw myself teach and I definitely didn’t spend a lot of time in other teacher’s classrooms because there were so many logistical hurdles that got in the way of making that happen.

We needed substitutes, so even when it happened, it was very infrequent.

Now with video, we can get teachers in each other’s classrooms every day if they want.

They can just videotape themselves.

And the fact that these teachers—the teacher is using her phone to take that video, has just made the process a lot easier.

The other thing I would say is, as we’ve learned, that whole concept of self-reflection and peer-to-peer videos, is allowing us—and allowing teachers to get connected with folks.

So it’s not just the school leader providing support, or a coach, or a mentor.

But they’re doing their own extension of their practice.

They’re sharing their videos with each other.

When we first started, teachers were getting observed and coached maybe a few times a year, if they were lucky every 6-8 weeks.

We’re seeing teachers now get supported and connected on a weekly basis.

That’s really proving to impact practice.

This whole idea of frequency and proximity really matter in the professional learning space.

We want to get that engine moving so it’s a more reflective practice and less an event that happens a couple of times a year.

I think video has really helped to do that.

Harvard’s now working on, I’ve been invited to, a group called Visibly Better.

We’re really exploring—the research that’s coming out of Harvard is quite compelling, in Best Foot Forward, about the impact video is having on practice.

Not just for convenience sake, but we hear teachers and Harvard’s noted that, teachers feel like they’re more self-reflective, they overcome the technology woes more easily.

It’s just proving to be a more impactful practice and teachers, in addition to just feeling easier, it just feels more productive and it’s really helping the reflect on practice the way that they couldn’t before.

What were also trying to do then, is figure out, can platforms then leverage data in more effective ways?

If we watch video, and in our platform you timestamp comments, you can tag specific practices—we’re actually then pulling data as the process happens.

Teachers receive live data feeds in terms of figuring out how are they growing over time.

We can look at that data across multiple teachers.

We’re even doing work looking across multiple states.

What it’s allowed us to do is, leverage data and collect it in a more efficient way, so we can not just improve an individual district’s practice, but we can look at trends.

When I was CAA in DC I would have loved this.

What I wanted to do is get all the trends that we’re seeing across the districts for teachers, how do we refine our professional development to reflect what we’re learning.

The data piece is quite important when it comes to video because it helps us understand what’s working and what’s not.

It really gives us factual data so we can make really important decisions around the professional learning of those educators we’re trying to support.

Excellent. Let’s talk a little bit about E3. We had just featured quite a bit of your work in EdTech Digest and Jason Culbertson and his discussion with leaders in this area of E3. Can you explain a little bit about what this is and, from your perspective, the importance of that?

Absolutely.

Insight Education Group and Insight ADVANCE received a federal grant from the US Department of Ed, the Teacher and School Leader Grant.

And we’re supporting five districts across four states with this idea of building a network improvement community so that we can start to connect teachers in ways that push their practice and engage them with each other—rather than relying on more traditional models of professional learning, which is: someone in the district hosts a workshop and teachers go to it.

Specifically in the E3 event, we’re focused on, and have prioritized working with educators in rural areas.

The other thing we’ve learned is, we’ve done a lot of work in the big urban and cities across the country.

And resources look different—even how you support teachers looks quite different.

Because, these bigger districts—just by sheer size—they have a lot more resources to pour into supporting educators.

What we know is: that’s not always the case with rural educators.

Even when there are resources to support the work, a physics teacher in a rural high school doesn’t have another physics teacher likely, to collaborate with, and sometimes not even very close.

We’re building these network improvement communities so that teachers can look at each other’s practice and help each other move the needle on student achievement.

Specifically with the use of our platform and video, we want to connect teachers in ways that they weren’t able to be connected before.

We’re connecting teachers across districts and across states, quite frankly, so that they have folks in job-alike roles:

Someone who’s teaching the same content, struggling with the same issues—and that community then becomes their community of practice.

They’re really going to be supporting each other and understanding what’s effective and what’s not.

And it’s not requiring us to do anything other than make sure that they have access to video on the platform, and then really pushing that practice.

We’re also embedding in this process, two processes that we’ve developed.

One’s called Traction and one’s called STEP.

Traction is about building the capacity of instructional leadership teams on a campus to get the work done.

It’s more around short-cycle formative work of instructional leadership teams so that the work progresses day-to-day within a school and people have clear roles in that work.

STEP is a project that we built in collaboration with the Gates Foundation, here in Long Beach school district.

But now it’s expanded, obviously, across the country.

It’s about empowering teachers to take control of their own professional learning.

Educators in the building—and not even just classroom teachers, but even office assistants, anyone in the school building who wants to be engaged—they meet on a weekly basis, they identify a problem of practice, and they identify strategies for improving that practice.

What it’s really doing is leveraging the resources that are already in a school building, those individuals who are currently teaching.

Sometimes, and I don’t think it’s intentional, professional development assumes that the knowledge is not in a building, so we need to bring it into a school building.

STEP turns that model on its head.

The fundamental assertion of STEP—Supporting Teacher Effectiveness Project— is:

There are bright spots in every school. And we should be leveraging the assets within a school building to really push practice.

What it’s doing is:

A, trying to find those bright spots within a school (is there an individual teacher, a group of teachers, is there something going on in school that really can help address the critical problem that these teachers have put on the table) and then, how do we replicate that?

So they do their own data questions.

They really examine multiple practices.

And the final stage of STEP then, is sharing that practice.

So it’s really about much more empowering individuals in a school building to do the work and engage in their own learning and leverage their assets to do that work.

All of this work is really about putting more learning in the hands of those in building and providing the right structures and technology in order to do the work more effectively.

We’re quite excited about the work.

And over the next four years, along with the grant comes the opportunity to do some studies and engage in the research.

We’ve engaged researchers and they’re going to be supporting this work.

What’s exciting is that we’ll get lots of data and collect lots of evidence so that we can really start to share practices once we determine exactly what works and how effective it can be.

Alright. Great. Broadly speaking, what is the state of education today and what makes you say that?

That seems like a loaded question.

Yes it is. I love asking this question.

When people ask me about the state of education, I generally have a puzzled look on my face.

Because, it’s a little bit of a question mark in terms of, the depths are starting to settle.

I think there’s a lot of energy.

And excitement.

And a lot of people are focused on improving teachers.

Over the last decade in particular, we’ve seen different attempts at that.

With the prior Administration, there was a heavy emphasis on let’s Race to the Top, figuring out, how do we increase our teacher effectiveness, with teacher evaluations at the center of that.

We’re seeing now, a little bit of sea change in terms of figuring out—maybe not such a heavy emphasis on evaluation, but—professional development support, network improvement communities are really starting to rise to the top in terms of ways to approach that work.

I’m excited by the potential to engage in the work.

The challenges are really about:

How do we engage in the work in productive ways?

And

How do we get beyond the noise and the politics—to really focus on what matters most?

—which is:

Making sure that every kid has a good teacher every day.

—which is what drives our work.

So, I’m optimistic.

It’s going to require a lot of work and a lot of effort to wrangle the calf, if you will.

And really figure out how do we have a more united approach to this.

And a more collaborative way of thinking about the work.

I’m hoping and optimistic that the research community will continue to do the work they’re doing because that’s just been so informative.

Just recent studies around professional learning and the fact that instructional coaching is the most effective way to support teachers; research around video technology—all these things are really helping shape the conversation.

Now it’s on us to figure out, are we having the right conversations? And, can we cut through the noise in order to make sure that it feels productive for teachers?

There’s lots of opportunity to engage teachers more effectively.

And we’re starting to see that happen.

But our goal is always to figure out:

How do we support that work—and can teachers start to be the voice of that?

If you look around politically and nationally, we’re starting to see teachers rise up.

We’re seeing statewide walkouts and those kinds of things.

There’s a lot of energy behind it.

It’s harnessing that energy in a way that feels productive.

And doesn’t get us distracted from the real work, which is: engaging and figuring out how do we make sure that really effective instruction is happening in every classroom, every day.

Alright. Great answer Michael, and that’s a task.

Sure it is. A daunting one.

What is technology’s role in education? And why is it important to even ask that kind of question in these times?

Yeah, I think it’s important to ask that question.

And I’ll start there, because it’s here.

Technology drives our lives in many regards, outside of education, but inside of education as well.

We’re starting to see it take more and more center stage in the work.

The role in education of technology, and my fear sometimes—now that I run a tech company, I’m seeing it even from a different perspective.

But so often, the tech is driving the work.

And I fear that, if we don’t get better at letting technology support the work rather than drive the work, [then] we’re going to feel like technology isn’t doing its job.

Technology’s role in education is to find ways to support the work almost invisibly.

When I think about the work we’re doing around teacher observation, feedback, and coaching, we don’t want schools and districts to rethink how they coach teachers to accommodate for a platform.

We really want our platform to support the work that they’re already doing.

Technology’s role is to figure out how does it situate itself in the current structures, but also push on those structures and perhaps make them more effective, more efficient.

Technology has a practical role to play, around things like effectiveness and efficiency.

It allows us to not just get the work done more effectively and efficiently—but collect data; those kinds of things.

Tech plays an important role in that.

The flip side of that is, how do we make sure that, that doesn’t start to be the driving force.

So technology, when we implement a new platform, let’s implement a new platform.

It should not be about implementing a new platform.

We always talk about: this is about your coaching initiative.

Let’s think about what the most effective coaching initiative could be.

How you’re going to effectively support your teachers?

And then: how can technology support that?

Ideally, technology becomes invisible.

Because the work is the work.

And the teacher’s getting the feedback they need and they just happen to be doing it on a platform or happen to be using video.

We’ve got to make sure that we don’t walk down that slippery slope of letting the tail wag the dog.

And letting the technology drive the work, vs. the work—helping the technology sector understand [that] “This is what you could do to more effectively support us.”

Okay well great. Kudos to your team at Insight Education Group for all the work you’re doing in shaping the future. Here’s a final question: what are your thoughts about the future?

“Cautiously optimistic” I would say is how I approach it.

I’m eager to engage in more dialogue around:

How do we start to connect the dots in ways that make sense for schools and school districts?

One of the challenges that we see now is, everything’s so siloed—and it’s always been like this.

School districts, the way they approach the work is typically siloed in a central office.

We think about things in “buckets of work”.

And my fear is that we’re not thinking about things as comprehensively as we could be.

For example:

Teacher evaluation and teacher support sit so far apart.

And it’s very frequent that we talk to coaches or folks who are managing coaching programs and they say:

“We’re deliberately not attached to the evaluation process, we want this to be about support.”

I scratch my head sometimes, because first of all, how many resources have we put into evaluation, but how much data are we collecting and how are we starting to connect the dots more effectively?

There might be opportunities for evaluation to feel more formative.

And for us to collect data on teachers and give them feedback in more constructive ways.

My hope is that, in the future, we’re starting to connect dots and bring bodies of work together so it feels like a more comprehensive approach to supporting this work.

I often talk about it as an “ecosystem of support” where you have:

– coaching, and

– professional learning — both in person and virtual.

We have a whole lot of virtual online learning space going on.

We have the teacher evaluation.

If all of these things were more connected, it would feel just more comprehensive for a teacher.

And it would start to feel like a more comprehensive approach.

Ironically, we do it for kids.

We’re always talking about the importance of formative assessment for students, and summative assessment.

We do so much work on design.

And then we have that instruction for kids.

It makes sense when we do it for students—but for some reason, when it comes to adult [teacher] learning, we feel like we can’t connect the dots in the ways we do for kids.

I’m hoping we can learn from what effective instructional practices are for our students.

And really start to apply those in the adult learning space—and then, leveraging technology to do it more effectively.

My hope for the future is that we get more thoughtful about, how do we bring these bodies of work together to make it feel like a body of work vs. multiple bodies of work—so that it productively moves the conversation forward.

And we don’t get stuck in this rat race of trying new things over and over again.

The whole mantra we hear all the time, “This too shall pass,” or, “We’ll try this out, and we’ll try something new.”

Well, I think we’ve just got to be more strategic.

The other thing we just need to do is, do more staying the course.

It’s so easy to start and stop things in our space.

My hope is that, once we identify really positive practices, we stay the course.

We really get focused and make sure that we’re focused on the right work.

I’m optimistic.

I really am excited about what the future has to hold.

We just need to stay focused.

And really focus on what matters most.

We know that the instructional coaching piece is critically important to this so—when it comes to professional learning—I’m really hoping we’re learning from the research and trying not to rebuild our processes to do that work well.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com