On Using Video and Photos to Be a Mirror for Teachers: Strengths-based goal setting

This blog entry is by our friend and colleague, Michael Luft, Associate Director of the Ben Samuels Children Center at Montclair State University.  Michael shares lessons he has recently learned about strengths-based goal setting from teachers he supervises.  Thanks Michael, not only for these rich insights but also for modeling that ongoing learning is key to effectiveness and to keeping ones cup filled – even for those of us who have been in the field for many years.

Amy and Judy



Over the last 12 months, I have been using video and photos to identify moments of effectiveness when working with staff on the goal setting section of our state mandated evaluation tool. It has allowed me to hold up a mirror to who they are, their aspirations and issues they are grappling with. 

As they have developed new insights and skills, so have I. I am honored to be a mirror for these teachers each of whom has taught me something about how to support professional development using a strengths-based stance. 

Here's what I've learned:

Sometimes all it takes to help someone along their path is for them to know that you are willing to see their strengths.

Y is an assistant teacher working in a toddler room - a new classroom for her. The transition has been a challenge. As I reviewed the video of her, I struggled to find a moment of effectiveness and began to doubt if video was the way to go. I kept looking and finally found a short moment of Y matching the excitement of a child as he mastered a gross motor skill. 

I started the conversation with her and invited her to sit beside me at the computer so we could see the video clip together.  Y was a bit nervous and worried about whether I would follow through on my promise to only show her moments of effectiveness.  I played the clip three or four times for her and each time her face broke out into a smile and she sat up straighter.

As we talked, Y shared how these were ‘moments of enchantment’ and spontaneously said she would like to have two or three of these everyday. We thought together about her goals and I let her know I would do all I could to support her in having more of hose moments of enchantment. 

Over the next months, I could see her confidence grow both in the classroom and when talking with me.   Sometimes we could find 10 or 15 examples of‘moments of enchantment’ in one clip.  Including a special moment when Y mirrored a child’s excitement as the toddler mixed yellow and blue paint together – and made green!  In this moment of shared excitement, the child reached out and gave Y a hug.  She beamed.

I marvel how much progress Y has made over the last year.  I know some of it is that she is getting to know her new teaching partner, yet I can’t help to conclude that some of it was taking the time to let her know that I see her and letting her see her own effectiveness.

Take time to savor success and deepen understanding of what someone does well before moving to the person's next goal.

B, a preschool teacher for 25 years, had as her goal to become more skillful in teaching science to preschoolers.  I was very impressed she wanted to push her edge and take on this challenge after being in the field so long. 

The first time I came to observe, B was carrying out an experiment at morning meeting to introduce the concept of absorption. She had prepared her materials ahead of time, prepped her assistant to handle a number of the details and very skillfully led children to predict which materials would absorb water and which wouldn’t.

B is uncomfortable with video so we agreed I would take photos instead. During our annual evaluation conference, we spent a lot of time reflecting on her growing skills in teaching science and factors that contributed to the success of the absorption activity. 

As we planned goals for the next year, I suggested that B reflect on the ingredients that led to such a successful year of science.  My goal doing this was to strengthen our relationship and to promote B’s confidence as we put her strengths into words.  She made a list and decided that one of her new goals would be to focus on math and that she would intentionally address obstacles to her success.

I put together a photo album with 10 photos highlighting her effective strategies so that once again, we could revisit her successes and progress. Overtime, B is more open to my visits to her classroom and together we delight in acknowledging and sharing examples of her progress.  


Be a mirror for your staff as you set goals.  Reflect successes and strengths.  Honor and make a plan to pursue the questions they want to answer.

To create positive change, teachers’ goals should reflect what they are grappling with and areas they hope to in which they hope to make progress.  Not just what I see or think they should be doing.  I believe at times teachers wait for someone to mirror back the worthiness of what they are wrestling with and with R I was finally able to be that mirror. 

As we reviewed a few moments of a well planned and executed activity for her infants, R and I marveled at her ability to be in the moment with children, calmed and focused. R asked, “Why do the children rely on me much more than the other adults in the room?”

R had asked that question in the past. This time I was able to hear it, reflect it back to her and honor what a great question it was to examine.  I asked, “ What would it be like to be able to teach others to be a calm and focused presence for children?’ 

I suggested it could be a great focus of inquiry and a goal for the next year.  Also that she document her journey so that she could identify and build on her insights and successes.  We naturally segued naturally to a third goal: articulating how she could use planning to allow her to be in the moment with her children and to give her teacher assistant and student assistants information they needed to be effective.

©  Luft, M. 2015.  Inspired by Jablon, Dombro and Johnsen, 2015.   Coaching with Powerful Interactions:  A Guide for Partnering with Early Childhood Educators.  Washington, D.C.: NAEYC.