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How Lesson Observation Supports Great Teaching: A Detailed Guide

Posted by Rico Patzer on January 8, 2022

teacher-development

The latest on how to observe lessons effectively

The research is clear: the most important school-based factor in student achievement is teaching quality.  Of course, other factors outside of the school’s influence (e.g., parents’ education level, family income) play a huge role. And in-school factors such as principals, teacher collaboration, and the curriculum are also important. But of the variables that the education system can actually influence, the research shows that teaching effectiveness is the most significant-- two to three times the effect of any other school factor. In fact, the variation in student achievement resulting from teaching quality is estimated as high as 20%.

As a result, instructional leaders, policy makers, and researchers are asking: what determines teacher effectiveness? And what are the best ways to improve it?

One of the largest research efforts to answer these questions was the Bill &  Melinda Gates Foundation’s  Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project: a collaboration between dozens of independent research teams and 3,000 teachers from seven U.S. public school districts.  The MET study found that classroom observations, particularly when provided by more than one observer, can provide teachers with the critical feedback they need to improve their teaching. “If we want students to learn more, teachers must become students of their own teaching. They need to see their own teaching in a new light,” said Tom Kane, Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and leader of the MET project. 

The MET project demonstrated that lesson observation and feedback play a critical role in improving teaching quality. But Dr. Kane cautions, “This is not about accountability. It’s about providing the feedback every professional needs to strive towards excellence.” 

Unfortunately, lesson observation is infrequent, inconsistent, and often only provided in the context of performance evaluation. In fact, many teachers only get feedback on their teaching through mandatory lesson observations conducted by a headteacher or a member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). Despite how widespread it is, there is a great deal of data highlighting how ineffective these traditional lesson observations can be. Certainly, educators agree that it’s not working very well.

According to a SmartBrief poll, nearly 70% of teachers reported that traditional teacher observation processes do not give them the meaningful and actionable feedback they need to grow. And 62% of school leaders acknowledged that the evaluation systems in place at their schools are not effective in supporting their teachers' development. 

So what can be done to improve the effectiveness of lesson observations and feedback? In this blog, we provide key insights and practical tips from researchers, policy makers, and educators. 

 

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A recent meta-analysis conducted by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) attempted to identify the characteristics of effective PD by examining the results of more than 100 research studies. They found that PD that was more effective tended to have specific “mechanisms”; the basic building blocks of PD (see the figure below). These 14 mechanisms fit into several broad categories: (A) building knowledge; (B) motivating teachers; (C) developing teaching techniques; and (D) embedding practice. They found that PD that had greater impact on student achievement tended to include more of these mechanisms. They also found tentative evidence that suggests effective PD programmes might be more likely to include a mechanism from all of four categories.

eef

Credit: Education Endowment Foundation

In the EEF report, the authors hypothesize that PD that doesn’t include mechanisms from each of these four categories is unlikely to be successful at positively impacting student achievement. They also point out that, far too often, teachers don’t get professional development that includes many of these mechanisms. Many teachers seem to agree that the PD they receive isn’t adequate. In a 2018 survey of teachers in England,  only 38% of teachers surveyed agreed that ‘time and resources allocated to professional development are used in ways that enhance teachers’ instructional capabilities’. 

This is understandable. It’s difficult for schools to provide some of these experiences because of the relentless nature of school schedules, staff shortages, and logistical constraints.

It’s no coincidence that some of these hard-to-achieve experiences have something in common: they require observation and feedback. It’s the logistical nature of observation and feedback that make them so difficult for schools to provide. They usually require teachers to be together in the same classrooms frequently; a luxury of time and staff capacity that many schools cannot afford. 

But, how to observe lessons effectively?

This is where video technology can make a real difference. Video allows teachers to record their teaching when others can’t be there. By uploading these videos to a web platform like IRIS Connect, teachers can easily share their lessons with colleagues and coaches to receive feedback. These colleagues can observe and provide detailed notes, embedded in the video, whenever their schedule allows. By simply removing the need to be in the same place at the same time, and enabling them to work asynchronously, IRIS Connect makes lesson observation and feedback possible. Now, it’s much easier for teachers to have all of the experiences that make professional learning effective.

Find out how IRIS Connect can help you to bring your lesson observations to the next level: Click here

Observation and feedback for teachers are essential to a variety of professional learning experiences, including:

  • Self-reflection/self-observation
  • Providing feedback
  • Coaching
  • Mentoring
  • Peer-observation
  • Sharing within a community of practice

Think about the professional development structures or programmes that already exist within your school (e.g., lesson study, teaching triads, or peer coaching). Lesson observation probably plays a key role in each of these. If it doesn’t currently, including some form of observation will make the process richer and more effective.

The observation - feedback loop is also the engine that drives a Cycle of Inquiry. These Cycles are a structured process for teachers (often working in professional learning communities or PLCs) to continuously improve their instruction.

inquiry-cycle

Credit: Literacy Improvement Partnership

In a typical Cycle of Inquiry, teachers:

  • Reflect on their current practice and choose a focus for improvement
  • Collect data about what’s happening in their classrooms
  • Interpret the data and develop ideas for change
  • Implement the changes to test them out
  • Collect more data to determine the impact

Notice that this cycle mentions ‘reflecting’ and ‘data’ at almost every step. There’s no better method than observation to reflect on the teaching and learning in the classroom and to collect data on the impact of instructional changes. The PLC allows teachers to share their practice (ideally, via video) with their colleagues to analyze what went well, where improvements can be made, and to collaborate on a plan for next steps.

Traditionally, lesson observation and teacher feedback have been focused on performance evaluation. The observer (usually the headmaster / principal) schedules the observation ahead of time, sits at the back of the room (often making the teacher anxious), and records subjective observations using unvalidated observation protocols. The validity of these classroom observations is further diminished by being scheduled (virtually ensuring that the lesson is not “typical”) and by the presence of an observer (which changes the entire dynamic of the classroom). The effectiveness of any formative feedback provided to the teacher is limited by the context: focused on summative evaluation rather than on helping the teacher to improve.

In recognition of this, there’s been an effort in recent years to make lesson observations more effective by focusing on teachers’ development instead of performance management. When observations are conducted for evaluation purposes (which is inevitable), the process should be conducted by trained observers using standardised, validated rubrics.

So how do we begin to make this shift? Let’s start by considering some practical advice from David Didau, an educator with 15 years of experience who writes an influential and award-winning blog. David provides some useful guidance for lesson observations:

  • Don’t make assumptions: Remember that you don’t know the full context. The teacher is the expert on this lesson, this class, and these students. Follow their lead.

  • You’re there to learn: Ask thoughtful questions that will help the teacher reflect on their lesson. For example, “What do you think the impact of x might be?” or “How might you have done that differently?” Keep your opinions to yourself unless they’re asked for. Resist the self-indulgent urge to share what you would have done.

  • Make it reciprocal: Didau argues that we learn more from observing others than from being observed. Therefore, providing teachers with the time to observe each other is one of the most powerful ways school leaders can support them.

  • Focus on instructional support: There’s a tendency for teachers to focus on improving the relatively ‘easy’ things, such as providing effective emotional support to students and behavior management. Once these things are under control, we’re content, and the harder task of focusing on instructional practice never really gets the attention it needs. Instead, teachers must deliberately practice the elements of great teaching. Lesson observation can be used as a tool to enable the guided practice of these instructional techniques.

  • Watch the teacher, not the kids: If we really want to provide instructional support, we need to observe what the teacher is doing. Focusing on student performance rather than learning encourages a focus on short term results rather than sustained progress on instructional quality.

There is often confusion between lesson observation as part of an accountability framework and observation for professional development. It’s essential to ensure there is a clear distinction between the two. When the context and purpose for teacher observations is unclear, the lines between accountability and professional growth can get blurred. This can permanently damage teachers’ trust and confidence in observation as a tool to help them improve. Accountability is important, but it must be done thoughtfully.

Professor Robert Coe, Director of the School of Education at Durham University, offers the following  advice on how lesson observation for accountability can be implemented effectively:

  • "Apply a critical research standard and the best existing knowledge to the process of developing, implementing and validating observation protocols.”

  • "Stop assuming that untrained observers can either make valid judgements or provide feedback that improves anything."

  • "Ensure that good evidence supports any uses or interpretations we make for observations.”

The shift from summative to formative evaluation has even influenced policy at Ofsted. In February 2014, Ofsted’s (former) National Director for Schools Mike Claddingbowl, made it clear that they would no longer be grading individual lessons during inspections. 

“Inspectors should NOT be arriving at judgements about individual lessons. They should NOT be telling teachers or the Headteacher that any individual lesson was RI, Good or Outstanding”. This acted as a catalyst for many schools to stop grading lesson observations in a bid to make the shift away from making summative judgements. Instead, they began conducting observations as part of a formative, developmental process.

In September 2017, at ResearchEd’s Annual Conference, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, reinforced this policy shift: “Ofsted is absolutely right not to grade individual lessons now, and it would be great if all schools would stop doing it as well.”

Use IRIS Connect to support your current CPD activities and elevate your teaching & learning quality: Request a demo

Digging your classroom observations out of the summative rut can be a challenge. It requires a cultural shift and a commitment from school leadership to focus on development rather than supervision. A good starting point is for the leadership team to assess how observations are currently used at their school.

Ask yourself these eight questions about lesson observation in your school:

  1. As part of the senior leadership, how do you feel about lesson observations at your school?
  2. Are your teachers confident in letting people observe their lessons?
  3. Are teacher observations always centred around performance management or are they also used for professional development?
  4. Does lesson observation feedback for teachers consist of tick boxes against criteria or a more contextualised, meaningful discussion?
  5. Do teachers get an opportunity to see great practice from around the school?
  6. Is there a fear of risk-taking or experimentation?
  7. Are there pockets of outstanding practice, but a difficulty in sharing this across the school?
  8. Are there opportunities for peer and self-review?

Let’s be honest, lesson observation is hard. It’s uncomfortable to reflect on ourselves and our performance -- especially when we’re seeing it on video. But that’s exactly why it’s so effective: observation provides us direct access to fundamental truths about what's happening in the classroom. Teachers can only improve if they confront these truths and make good decisions about them.

Helping teachers to embrace this challenge may require a cultural shift. Resources like this guide provide a starting point for helping teachers to understand why lesson observation is critical and to make that shift. But ultimately, teachers will adopt lesson observation when they see it actually improve their teaching

As Michael Fullan (2011) put it:  “…You can’t make people change, and rewards and punishment either don’t work or are short lived—the only thing that works is people’s intrinsic motivation, and you have to get at this indirectly… it is not inspiring visions, moral exhortation, or mounds of irrefutable evidence that convince people to change, it is the actual experience of being more effective that spurs them to repeat and build on the behavior”. 

Now that you’ve taken stock of how observations are being used at your school, it’s probably time to focus on a culture shift. Below are 10 suggestions for how to begin:

1. Create a shared vision for great teaching and learning 

How can a teacher make significant instructional changes when they don’t know what the changes actually look like? Giving teachers the opportunity to see great teaching in action is a powerful learning experience. Using video to build a bank of shared practice clips can help overcome the time and cost barriers of releasing teachers from lessons to observe one another.

💡 IRIS Connect customer? Create a Group in IRIS Connect, and ask your lead practitioners to share example clips from their lessons so that all of your teachers have access whenever they need it, wherever they are.

2. Provide opportunities for regular peer observation

Observations are excellent learning opportunities for both the teacher and the observer. When you’re the observer, you can see a colleague modelling a particular teaching strategy to gain a deeper understanding of the strategy. When the lesson is recorded, the IRIS Connect platform allows the observed teacher to make time-linked annotations to explain what they were thinking and the decisions they made, making the tacit explicit. When you’re the one being observed, you can request feedback and even coaching from your colleagues to help you to develop or refine your instructional strategies.

3. Consider cross-department 360 observations

Teachers in different departments often rarely cross paths in their day-to-day lives. Peer observation of a different subject specialist (and seeing your students in another setting) may unlock interesting insights and learning opportunities.

4. Ask your teachers what they want

Ask what your staff find valuable and what they don’t. What type of development opportunities do they need? Who would they like to observe and who would they value feedback or coaching from? Engaging teachers in decisions will create buy-in to the process and may avoid wasting time and money on activities that teachers don’t enjoy or find useful. IRIS Connect conducted an informal survey of 1,000 teachers to learn what professional development activities they would prioritise if they were in control of their own CPD. Ask your own teachers their opinions to see what they think.

5. Focus on specifics, not generalisations

Developmental teaching observations should look at specific teaching strategies or elements of a lesson rather than the lesson as a whole. For example, look only at questioning, feedback, wait time, or a specific student’s learning. This will ensure that the follow up discussion or feedback is focused on specific areas for improvement.

6. Take the opportunity to record and revisit

The effectiveness of feedback diminishes over time following a teacher observation. In the busy life of a teacher, it’s nearly impossible to accurately recall specifically what happened in a lesson last week. Recording lessons allows for contextualised feedback after the observation and provides an opportunity to revisit and learn from the experience time and time again, turning one lesson into multiple learning opportunities.

Please find more information about this below.

💡 IRIS Connect customer? Use time-stamped comments tool to add contextualised feedback to a lesson video and increase dialogue around teaching and learning.

7. Equip teachers with effective discussion points

Develop a set of questions that will keep post-observation discussions focused and helps the teacher dig deeper into teaching and learning. Read Headteacher Tom Sherrington’s blog on observing a sequence of lessons for some excellent question ideas.

💡 IRIS Connect customer? You could add these questions to a number of Forms and share them with your colleagues to help analyse their video reflections and gain a more objective insight into the teaching and learning.

8. Improve developmental feedback skills

Equip your staff with the tools and training necessary to provide effective developmental feedback. Objective-setting, focusing on specific observable behaviours, identifying next steps and putting the teacher’s development at the centre of observation and feedback are all vital. Hear Josh Roy's positive takeaways from his time spent undertaking many lesson observations and how feedback went from crippling critique to collaborative conversation. Read the section "Lesson observation feedback" below.

9. Enable self-observation

Observing yourself on video is like holding a mirror up to your teaching practice; it’s a very powerful tool for professional growth. Seeing yourself as your students see you provides important insights into your impact as a teacher. This deeper understanding makes conversations with colleagues about your teaching more productive. Read more about self-reflection.

10. Widen your professional learning network

Why restrict your teaching observations to the confines of your school? If you want to use observation for an opportunity to see truly new practices, then look beyond your school gates. Use your connections with other schools to share practice, observe and collaborate with teachers in other schools.
Check out these 4 tips to creating a PLC between schools by Quality Manager & Teaching Learning Senior Leader, Andrew Ball. This is especially relevant if you’re part of a Teaching School alliance or multi-academy trust.

To get a teacher’s perspective on lesson observation and feedback, we’ve asked guest blogger Josh Roy, a Teacher at Ernest Bevin, to share his thoughts on how it can be done in a thoughtful way that benefits the teacher.

feedback should be reconceptualised from the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ model to a collaborative and cumulative conversation.-1

“Having trained in a challenging environment, being deprived of meaningful (in-school) feedback for about two years, and being bombarded with observations from all possible sides, I feel I should be better placed than any to take criticism. Don’t get me wrong, I recognise that feedback is fundamental for my development as a teacher. But, I still can’t help the very human reaction that I believe exists in many of us, where negative feedback, however it’s dressed up (EBIs etc.), doesn’t exactly inspire motivation and joy.

In fact, in my short career, it seems no individual is entirely impervious to the feeling of impending doom caused by the inexorable lesson observation. From the perspective of a recently qualified teacher who’s gone through just about as much feedback as a teacher does in their career, feedback should be reconceptualised from the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ model to a collaborative and cumulative conversation.

What is this feeling and why does it affect teaching?

The observation feeling can erode the teacher’s creativity, and can be especially detrimental to less experienced teachers’ growth and development. Focus is placed on a brief moment in time within which you must either shoehorn all of your best tricks or recite, verbatim, your knowledge of your respective subject’s mark scheme. Feedback often slips into the natural ‘I would have done it like this’, which while well-intentioned, can only be a ‘quick-fix’ for a singular and isolated moment.

This discourages autonomy and steer teachers away from exploring what works best for them. This is particularly true when feedback is a solution that fits with the practice and style of the teacher giving the advice, not the teacher being observed; teaching is profoundly human and therefore individual. Providing feedback in this way, in response to ‘negatives/EBIs/etc.’, can efface an individual’s style and discourage critical and reflective practice. It can lead recipients of feedback to feel as if their wisdom is being challenged, and this can be taken personally because we work in one of the few professions where our personal values are so closely entwined with our professional ones.

When this has been acknowledged in how feedback is given it has not only improved my practice, but made me far more willing and confident in improving my practice. We all have something to bring, and observers too have the experience to help shape us into the best practitioners we can be. This can be better recognised through observation and feedback.

But how could this process go from critical to collaborative?

Teachers should not leave feedback thinking there is anything ‘inferior’ with their practice, but should be energised by the prospect of developing. It should not be conceptualised as a performative measure, where one judges the other, but a supportive one, where one collaborates with the other. 

The difference may seem pedantic, but for me the difference in how this kind of effective feedback made me feel, and subsequently respond, has been huge. After cumulative and collaborative conversation, the focus shifted from ‘what should you keep doing and what you should stop doing’, to ‘how can you evolve your practice continually to adapt to the ever-changing, and challenging, educational landscape in which we work?’

The best observers have devised supportively phrased questions based on their observations. Open conversation starters and points for discussion made it a joint, evenly footed process. Two aspects in particular have helped inspire a more motivated response:

Directly involve the practitioner in creating the solution
  • “What part of the activity could be altered to promote engagement?”
  • “At which point in the lesson do you think incorporating *insert specific strategy* would be most effective? Why?”
  • “How could this activity/lesson be slightly reframed to mesh more closely with the school’s ethos?”
Know the area you want to develop further based on, but not tied to, your own expertise
  • “In the past, I’ve found X useful; how could you adapt this/ try it out in your own way?”
  • “Research suggests that X is beneficial for *insert priority group*, how could you apply this to the way behaviour is managed in future?”
  • “That idea is good, but may be difficult to implement over time. I’ve found X works better over time - how can you adapt your idea as part of regular low-effort but high-impact practice?”

These examples are somewhat generalised and non-specific, but are exemplars of how the recipient, and what they bring to the profession, can be respected and uplifted as valuable.

Does this make lesson observations less ‘measurable’?

This method is simply a different framing of the process. It allows creative and critical reflection on all areas in which a teacher can develop – including allowing more space for maximising upon the teacher's individual strengths, rather than solely focusing on ‘fixing’ poor practice. In this way, teaching observation and feedback is reconceptualised as something that recognises and rewards constant development in all areas of a teacher’s individual practice within the parameters of the observer’s expertise.

Teachers can be moulded by the observer’s expertise, rather than confined to strategies that may not fit their teaching style and are not co-created in a teacher-observer space.

Feedback can be a supportive reminder that we are part of a profession that demands constant and creative evolution, and so we should evolve collaboratively.”

02_future-of-lesson-observations

 

There’s no question that lesson observation is a critical component of effective professional development. Although this is widely recognized, many schools are unable to provide opportunities for their teachers to participate because it’s so logistically challenging. Fortunately, cameras are now ubiquitous; we’ve all got a digital video recorder in our pocket, making recording lessons an easy solution.

Video-based lesson observations have significant advantages over traditional methods and can overcome many of the challenges that have plagued the lesson observation process for decades. And support for using video among educators is rapidly growing.

In a recent SmartBrief poll, 91% of teachers felt that simply filming their teaching practice would help them to improve, and 76% said they would be willing to select and submit a video for use in a formal observation.

This growing support isn’t just coming from teachers either. Eighty five percent of school leaders surveyed by SmartBrief said that using video for lesson observations would help them to provide teachers with more meaningful and actionable feedback.

Educators are seeing the huge potential that video has for helping them to push their practice to the next level and ultimately improve outcomes for learners. But exactly how is using video for lesson observations better than in-person observations?

  1. Acceptance - Teachers often struggle to accept feedback -- not because they don’t want it -- but because they don’t believe it’s accurate, reliable, or relevant. Video-based lesson observations provide evidence and a shared reference point for both teacher and observer, making feedback more objective, specific, and acceptable to the teacher.

  2. Validity - Validity refers to whether or not interpretations made from an observation are accurate. Video helps to remove much of the subjective nature of these interpretations. Although there may be differences of opinions about the implications of what’s in the video, it does provide an unambiguous record of what actually happened, as compared to traditional methods which rely on memory or notes. If there’s a question about what actually happened during the lesson, referring to the video can usually clear up any misconceptions.

  3. Accuracy - Most lesson observations don’t provide a full and clear picture of a teacher’s practice and classroom dynamics, and yet accuracy is key for providing relevant and actionable feedback. Video overcomes this by providing a more comprehensive view that can be paused and rewound. Plus, with more time to look at the intricacies of a lesson, the observer can explore beyond what they might have seen in real-time, when their attention was narrowly focused.

  4. Contextualised feedback - Traditionally, when teachers receive feedback from an observer, it’s hours or days after the lesson took place. This means the observed practice is often a faint memory and the feedback is inevitably broad and subjective. Video-based lesson observations allow the observer to make notes and comments directly within the video timeline. This makes them contextualized and specific, which are important elements of effective feedback.

  5. Perspective - According to Professor John Hattie, teachers only see and hear 20% of what’s happening during any given lesson. That means that when a teacher reflects on a lesson, they are only reflecting on 20% of it. Confirmation bias suggests that we are more likely to notice and remember things that confirm what we already believe to be true. Therefore it’s unlikely that the 20% teachers notice is where they need improvement. Video allows a teacher/observer to reflect on the entire lesson, but also to see it from the learners’ perspective. This is a game-changer for understanding teaching and learning through lesson observations.

  6. Time - It’s been recommended in the past that school leaders spend 25% of their time on observation and feedback. But with already high demands on educators’ time, this is almost impossible to realise without the right tools and support. Video-based lesson observations provide flexibility for observers to view and provide feedback on lessons at a time that suits them, increasing the number of opportunities as well as effectiveness.

  7. Location independence - Conducting lesson observations via video technology eliminates the need for being in the same classroom as teachers. This reduces potential distractions and disruptions to the teaching and learning that’s taking place, as well as providing opportunities for effective developmental lesson observations when teachers can’t physically be there..

The idea of being observed from the back of the classroom during a lesson terrifies many teachers. This is especially true for trainee teachers, who report they have a hard time handling their nerves and focusing on the lesson while being observed.

The seven benefits of video-based lesson observations outlined above also hold true in initial teacher training. However, in addition, video also offers a less intrusive approach than in-person observations. Simply letting the trainee place a recording device like a Smartphone or iPad in the classroom and sharing the recorded video gives the trainee a better sense of control, increases their confidence, and lets them focus on delivering a great lesson. They can also watch the video back themselves, reflect on their teaching, and potentially draw even more meaningful conclusions for their professional development.

Top Tip: Establishing the use of video with your trainees early on during micro-teaching sessions. Watching and analysing clips together with peers can increase their comfort in regularly videoing themselves and sets them off to a promising career as a reflective teacher. Find out more about supporting trainees through video in this case study.

IRIS Connect also enables lesson observations when teaching online. Our platform provides a screen capture tool that allows teachers to record their webcam and screens during their online lessons. Just like when recording using our mobile app, these recordings are automatically uploaded to the teacher’s private account on our web platform. From there, teachers can reflect on their lesson and then share the video with a colleague for feedback and developmental conversation.

Discover the power of video-based lesson observations with IRIS Connect: Request a demo

To get a teacher’s perspective on using video for lesson observation, we asked Stephen Campbell, Head of English at Kingswood School in Bath and future Deputy Head at Haileybury Imperial and Service College, to share his experiences.

“Of all of the assessments and measures that are applied to teachers, lesson observation is perhaps the one aspect that has come under the most scrutiny over the last few years. Much like the removal of National Curriculum levels as a measure of progress, the grading of lessons has been phased out as significant people have demonstrated its flaws.

As the Head of English at an Independent School, I have been fortunate in the extreme to have had both a team around me, and a supportive SLT. This circumstance has allowed my department to work through a suitable approach to lesson observation that we feel works well, and satisfies our shared intentions behind the process.

As an extension of this, I would like the opportunity to share the processes that we have been through, both to prompt similar discussions in similar departments, but also to open a dialogue and to have the opportunity to receive some helpful and supportive criticism.

I appreciate that we are on a journey and that we haven’t got everything right so far, but I am keen to improve and develop this approach.

Establishing a purpose

The first, and perhaps most important phase in establishing the purpose of lesson observation was to link it to CPD, by which I mean the opportunity to improve teaching. This is a lofty ideal, and one that is fraught with open questions, but I hope that the rationale for this becomes clear.

The recently published DfE guidelines on CPD shaped our early thinking, and we were focused on delivering CPD that allowed us to improve student outcomes. The idea of conducting our own research in a modest-sized department made up entirely of teachers seemed a little daunting, not to mention ethically questionable. However, the 2015 TDT review into ‘What Makes Great Teaching’ suggests that by simply considering lesson content and structure, there is a clear improvement to student outcomes.

Choosing a focus

Buoyed by the idea that thinking about getting better would make us get better, we set about designing a supportive structure around which to build a process of observations. We borrowed heavily from the ideas behind Lesson Study, which allowed us to consider observation as part of a fluid, collaborative process.

We also took the decision to focus on one aspect of teaching that would form part of this cycle of observation, in order to narrow the focus. Whilst there are some who question the validity of considering feedback, we felt that the EEF research into feedback provided us with a good starting point when deciding on a focus.

So, we had a focus – feedback – and the confidence to do some shared planning and evaluation. As mentioned earlier, I was hugely fortunate to be part of a team of teachers who wanted to improve, and this culture was absolutely key to the following stages.

Stumbling blocks

The barrier that we were facing as we started to plan and observe our shared lessons was the loss of replicability.

It has always been important to us that we could learn something concrete from an observation that we might be able to weave into our own teaching, yet the process that we were going through meant that the actual teaching phase was not stored or shared outside of those key observers.

Discovering video

By happy chance, my school had just invested in an IRIS Connect Discovery Kit; quickly, we requested and received training in its use. Again, I was keen to understand the empirical support behind the implementation of video recording software, having been subjected to it in a negative way during my PGCE.

The EEF has recently published a report that clearly states the benefits that such a process can have on improving teaching, and, crucially, on improving student outcomes.

Again, this research allowed me to present IRIS Connect to my department with confidence, as they trusted that there was a clear reason for using it.

What we achieved

The current situation, then, is that we now have a growing bank of short clips of activities or tasks that are focused on delivering high quality feedback experiences to students in the classroom. These range from whole class feedback to comparative judgement; from peer assessment strategies to guided learning tasks.

Crucially, these clips are safely stored somewhere that means that we can all access them through our IRIS Connect accounts, and they have been ‘vetted,’ or selected by peer observers as examples of effective teaching. Whilst we are not necessarily expert teachers yet, we all know what effective teaching looks like and I am confident in trusting my team to filter out examples of best practice.

IRIS Connect allows us to edit and comment on these clips, which means that I can see a teacher doing something and read about what is working and why from other members of the department. I am also able to see the resources used and really understand how to take each example and apply them to my own teaching.

The most valuable use of this has come through our end of year examination feedback. I asked the department to refrain from really marking scripts at all, in the traditional way of ‘marking’. Instead, I asked them to focus on the quality of the feedback given, which was to be built around the whole class re-teaching common mistakes or errors.

I was able to direct them all to several examples of what this looked like, as demonstrated by teachers they know and trust, along with comments and resources. This ensured that the quality of feedback that students’ received after their examinations was of the very highest.

Final thoughts

I am really proud of my department, Alex, Sarah, Juliette, Alice, Orla, Charlotte, and especially Sandra, for the way that they have worked on this process. Whilst I don’t have any absolute data yet to prove that what we have done, we do feel that what we are doing works. It is wonderful to be a part of a team that is looking at improving their teaching every single day.”

 

It’s clear that video technology provides a better, more efficient way to conduct lesson observations. But, what impact could it have on other areas of teachers continuing professional development? Read this blog - What every SLT should know about using video for CPD

“Through IRIS Connect we’ve been able to revolutionise access to observations because we haven’t needed to organise cover or even watch entire lessons. So, it’s really helped to free up time. By recording lessons we're able to use our own classrooms as the context and stimulus for people reflecting on their own practice or each others, so it's a hundred times more relevant and useful." - Williams Goldsmith, Latymer Upper School

Interested to find out more?

If you’d like to find out more about IRIS Connect and how our solution can help you to get the most out of your lesson observations and provide high qualitative CPD for your teachers, get in touch!

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Sources

  • Hanushek, Eric A., John F. Kain, and Steven G. Rivkin. 1998. “Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement.” New York: National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 6691
  • https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/regions/west/relwestFiles/pdf/REL-West-4-2-3-4-Literacy-Improvement-Partnership-Inquiry-Cycles-Infographics-508.pdf
  • Kane, Thomas J., and Douglas O. Staiger. 2008. “Estimating Teacher Impacts on Student Achievement: An Experimental Evaluation.” New York: National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 14607
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