Is there a better way to gather the information seen in a lesson observation? John Dabell, former teacher and Ofsted inspector suggests teachers be able to video themselves instead for much better results.
Classrooms are complex, rich and dynamic settings which are multi-layered so expecting one person to capture everything is a big ask because many of the nuances and subtleties can be missed. Some of the bigger picture can easily be missed too. Observers ‘reflections’ get stretched, squeezed and distorted and feedback can be like looking in a fairground hall of mirrors – it’s not a true picture.
The atomised structure of classrooms and the isolation of teachers can frustrate the development of a collective culture of teaching improvement. In addition, ‘live’ lesson observations are daunting and ‘old school’ because they fail to recognise the Hawthorn Effect and observer bias.
According to Jim Knight (2014) in his book ‘Focus on Teaching’, video is essential because teachers don’t have a clear picture of what they do when they do their work.
A video observation makes the process more reliable because it doesn’t have to rely on one person’s memory or one person’s perception. Crucially, you can video yourself and do away with the damaging anticipation of an impending visit from the Head and various other senior observers.
Videoing is a far healthier and more reliable modus operandi because it can highlight good practice as recordings can be paused, fast forwarded and rewound to pick up on key points. It enables teachers to feel far more at ease in looking at what they do.
Integrating video technology into our classrooms can make observations a far smoother experience and help support ‘reflective’ development and collaborative working.
According to a study titled ‘A game changer – Using videos to achieve high performance in the classroom’, 91% of teachers felt that simply filming their teaching would help them improve their practices and 85% of school leaders said that using video in observations would help them provide more meaningful feedback to their teachers.
The study notes 5 benefits of video-observation as providing teachers and observers the opportunity to:
1. Identify areas for improvement and communicate more effectively with each other about goals, best practices, etc.
2. Give and receive personalised support specific to a teacher’s expertise and content area.
3. Develop a shared understanding of high-quality instruction and create a common language between observers and teachers.
4. Collaborate more effectively within professional learning communities (PLCs) by sharing effective techniques and receiving peer feedback and support.
5. Reflect on classroom practices and allow teachers to take action before sharing video with observers or peers.
Video serves as a reliable source of evidence and a reference point, making it easier for colleagues to engage in an open, productive dialogue, especially for partnership coaching.
Researchers from Harvard University found that video technology offers a way to facilitate the ‘de-privatisation’ of teaching by making teacher peer observation more convenient and less costly, and by making it easier for school leaders to broker peer support among teachers.
The Best Foot Forward study found that when using video, teachers and school leaders both felt the observation process was fairer, more helpful, and less burdensome with teachers feeling that observers were more supportive and school leaders finding teachers less defensive.
Over the years lesson observations have been tarnished and universally feared because of misguided school-led observations and Ofsted horror tales but the mood is shifting.
Teachers are now claiming back lesson observation for themselves and video-enhanced observations are proving to be a flexible and formative tool for ‘bottom-up’ professional growth and positive change.
Video is being accepted as an innovative and objectivity-driven tool for teacher self-assessment and reflection as it provides a much stronger and crisper picture of reality enabling practitioners to see their practice more effectively.
As a disruptive technology, video is transforming professional learning in schools and is now the single most important aspect of professional development.
Video Professional Development (VPD) is having real impact when set in the context of a supportive and unbiased learning community where colleagues are focused on helping each other.
As Jon Haines and Paul Miller (2017) note, video can “lead to ground-breaking changes in the way that practice is owned, shared and nurtured” and be used as a flexible platform to enable and support development of innovative practice.
Author: John Dabell
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, national in-service provider, project manager, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books and contributed well over 1,000 articles, features, reviews and curriculum projects to various bodies, magazines, journals and institutions. John is Eteach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru – sharing monthly insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.
Haines, J. and Miller, 2017. Video-Enhanced Observation: Developing a flexible and effective tool In: O’Leary, M. ed. Reclaiming Lesson Observation. Oxon: Routledge, pp 62-75
Knight, J. (2014) Focus on Teaching: using video for high-impact instruction. CA: Corwin