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Fourth-Camera Coaching

culture empowering teachers general coaching relationships May 08, 2023

Written by Michael Roush

Find more great content from Michael on his blog,

Garry Marshall has directed popular TV sit-coms like “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley,” and blockbuster movies like “Pretty Woman” and “A League of Their Own.” But he struck gold in 1978 when he cast Robin Williams in a new series, “Mork & Mindy”. The show was a vehicle for Mr. Williams to do his thing –  wild improv comedy.

In those days, sitcoms were often shot in front of a live studio audience, with three cameras fixed on the key points of action. Robin Williams, who had honed his skills playing in every direction to street corner crowds, would dart about the “Mork and Mindy” set, doubling the crews over with laughter and blinding them with their own hysterical tears.

After one madcap ad lib by Williams, Marshall asked a cameraman, “Did you get that?”

“Get what?” came the stoic reply of the cameraman.

“THAT!” Marshall would respond, gesturing emphatically at Williams. “That was genius!”

“If he’s such a genius,” replied the expert cameraman, never looking up from his viewfinder, “tell him to hit his mark.”

Garry Marshall could have tried to retrain the octogenarian camera operators to follow Williams’ madcap hijinks (bad idea). He could have reined Williams in and got him to work solely from his X taped on the stage (worse idea). Instead, he came up with an innovation that changed studio-audience recording – the fourth camera. Marshall left the three existing cameras where they were, but brought in a fourth, freely-roaming, camera. And that camera operator’s instructions were simple – “Record everything Robin does.”

Most assessments, observations, and reviews are a stationary camera. They record what they’re intended to see, and nothing more. And the camera operator never-mind’s everything else.

If we want teachers to believe that their students’ test scores aren’t a direct indicator of their value as a teacher – and not at all a measure of their worth as a person – we had better show them. That initiative will not come from the top, outside of the local district. This one is totally under our control. And we don’t do it by continuing to harp about the tests, even when we’re parroting that they’re not that important. (When your child mentions the newest video game console ten times a day and keeps telling you it isn’t important, what message do you get?)

Every student in your class/grade/school/district can deliver a genius performance at something. If you don’t know what it is for one of your students, find out. Ask their previous teachers, their siblings, their guardians. If they don’t have any of those, just getting to school is a stroke of genius. 

Every teacher in your grade/school/district can deliver a genius performance at something as well. And most of their genius performances are not planned meticulously ahead of time. They are the in-the-moment occasions when a student needs a word of encouragement to keep going, a new way to look at something, or just the reassuring smile to tell a student that someone believes in and wants the best for them.

Part of our job as coaches is to make sure there is a “fourth camera” there to catch those genius performances, for everyone. But if we’re not watching for them, they’ll go tragically unnoticed.

Be that kid’s, and that teacher’s, fourth camera.

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