SEPTEMBER 2011—Teachers from across Macedonia received the red carpet treatment at a film festival in Skopje in July that featured classroom videos produced by and for the teachers themselves.
The event stemmed from an innovative effort to strengthen professional development for Macedonia's teachers. The Primary Education Project (PEP), implemented by FHI 360; the Macedonia Civic Education Center, a local NGO; Indiana University; and other partners, had been trying new ways to help teachers improve learning in their classrooms. Two years ago, PEP faced a critical challenge: How to ensure that the teachers assess themselves and get constructive feedback on how they applied the new skills.
"Without peer observation and teachers' critical reflection on their work to improve, it's very difficult for new practices to take root," said Project Director Eric Rusten.
PEP also recognized that for progress to last, the feedback and self-assessment had to be sustained by the teachers. "We needed to find a way for teachers to become the primary drivers of their professional growth and enable them to make peer observation and critical reflection routine parts of their teaching," Rusten said.
PEP's answer was to use Flip cameras, small, inexpensive video cameras. As a pilot program, PEP asked 42 teachers in 33 schools to film their classroom activities. PEP provided the cameras and showed the teachers how to produce videos. The teachers began sharing their videos with one another and other teachers in their schools. Gradually, they began giving and receiving constructive feedback on their teaching skills and efforts to introduce new approaches into their classrooms.
When teachers at nearby schools started asking about the program, the 42 teachers volunteered to help PEP scale up the effort by showing them how to make videos. In a few months, more than 750 teachers were using the cameras.
"This wasn't driven or controlled by us," Rusten said. "The teachers in the pilot program became change agents."
The videos also let PEP staff evaluate how teachers applied what they learned from PEP workshops. "We could view progress in real time. We could see how teachers were adopting and adapting their new skills and knowledge," said Rusten.
The teachers wanted to share their videos and exchange feedback nationwide. At PEP's suggestion, they created a Facebook group and joined SchoolTube—a YouTube-like site for educators. PEP also organized the film festival to showcase some of the videos. More than 250 teachers and officials attended, including the USAID Mission Director in Macedonia, Robert Wuertz, and Macedonia's Minister of Information Society and Administration, Ivo Ivanovski. "We will make an effort for turning the film festival into a tradition," Ivanovski said.
Rusten said schools have started buying cameras and noted that some teachers made videos with their cell phones. "A new culture of professional development is emerging in Macedonian schools," he said. What's more, "the energy for this initiative no longer depends on the project to be sustained and grow," said Rusten. "It now is part of the professional fabric of teachers and their schools."
This nine minute video, in Macedonian, shows one class learning how birds build nests and then gathering materials to make their own nest.
PHOTOS: (Top) Teachers in Macedonia learn how to use Flip video cameras. (Sanja Babushkovska); (Bottom) Macedonian teachers use SchoolTube to share videos and feedback. (Ana Piskacheva)