Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

09.27.21Notes on Our Video Collaborative with Pitt Medical School Faculty

Studying video of teaching together is a great way for professionals to improve on their craft. This year TLAC’s Hilary Lewis & Rob Richard have been running video self-study sessions with various schools, including the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. They shared these notes:



A month ago, our team had the pleasure of meeting with Bob Arnold and Rene Claxton from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine for another Video Collaborative. As always, the Video Collaborative experience provided us with an incredible opportunity to connect with amazing educators—to support their strategic plans and growth, and we too, learn so much from their work. We are excited to share a bit of our conversation here in this blog post.

Rene was featured in the footage we reviewed together. She’s Director for Palliative Care Undergraduate and Graduate Medical Education at Pitt Med and we were watching her practicing aspects of holding difficult end of life conversations with young doctors.

Since our team spends most of our time watching K-12 teaching and learning—we especially appreciated the opportunity to deepen our own understanding of adult learning and higher education instruction with institutions like Pitt Med. Moreover, it is exciting to see how much overlap there is—that is, that great teaching practice is not that dissimilar when looking across classrooms in higher education classes or in grade schools. A concrete example of this is the importance of community building.

As we watched Rene’s instruction, we were impressed with the culture of learning she had built with her medical students. Her students were practicing scenarios with each other—learning how to intentionally communicate support to families when their family member falls ill. This is an incredibly important and delicate skill that can change the doctor-patient relationship, so practice is important.

During Rene’s session, each student practiced while their classmates and professor observed. In reality, and in practice, this moment can be high stress. Alas, in Rene’s classroom, it was clear that it was a safe space because all her students felt comfortable practicing, getting, and giving feedback and practicing again.

We think this is due in large part to how Rene carefully and intentionally communicated with her students about her classroom norms. While engaging in practice and feedback, Rene used beautiful community building language, “We have a group of people ready to help,” when their peer was stuck on some language and needed the group’s support and feedback. In our Building Strong Classroom Cultures workshop, we discuss the importance of learners feeling safe, successful, and known (more on this here). Learners need to know that it’s okay to err, okay to make mistakes—because the classroom is a safe space to do just that. We were moved by this moment as the student who needed support was subsequently showered with ideas from his peers—which he was able to take and use in his practice.

These tiny moments are so important—even more so as we work to build relationships with our students after a year of being apart. Having a vision of the culture you want to create in your classrooms, like Rene’s, is essential from day one. And our team learned that in fact, the footage that we watched from Rene was her first class with the group; our jaws agape—we were impressed again with how from the first day of class she created such a safe and supportive learning environment.

We thank Rene, Bob, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical School for sharing their practice with us.

If you are interested in being a part of the Video Collaborative, please check out our site for more information:

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