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How Lesson Observation Supports Great Teaching: A Detailed Guide

Posted by Rico Patzer - Last updated on November 14, 2022

teacher-development


Lesson observation underpins the very best professional development (PD). Watching others (and yourself) in action in the classroom can be a revelation. But, observations are widely disliked by teachers. Why? Because they’re often tied to performance evaluation - not learning. This needs to change!

In this guide we share everything you need to know about effective and empowering lesson observation. We’ll look at what the research says and how to shift the culture of observation in your school.

Scroll for a deep dive!

 

A Summary of Key Points

  • The most important school-based factor in student achievement is teaching quality.
     
  • Classroom observations underpin great professional learning experiences. Seeing what’s happening in the classroom makes self-reflection, coaching, mentoring and sharing practice more effective. 

  • But, the traditional observation process is focused on performance evaluation, not development. 70% of teachers say that this doesn’t give them the meaningful and actionable feedback they need to grow. 

  • ACTION: Make a distinction between observation as part of an accountability framework, and for professional development. 

  • ACTION: Assess the state of play of lesson observation in your school. We’ve suggested questions to consider below. 

  • ACTION: Shift your observation culture. We’ve shared 10 tips below. Here are three to get you started: 

    • Create a shared vision for T&L

    • Encourage peer observations

    • Focus on specifics rather than generalisations 

  • ACTION: Shift feedback from critique to collaborative conversation (read on for advice on how to do this)

  • ACTION: Use video to save time and make observations more flexible. Empower teachers to share short clips of their choosing with peers for discussion. 

💡 Want to start using video for developmental lesson observations? Learn more about IRIS Connect.

 

Toggle the sections below to get into the details…

The quality of teaching matters most

The most important school-based factor in student achievement is teaching quality. 

It’s 2-3 times more important than any other school factor (e.g. leadership, teacher collaboration or the curriculum).

The variation in student achievement resulting from teaching quality is as high as 20%.

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

To improve the quality of teaching, you need CPD that works

To impact student achievement, professional development needs to include specific building blocks. 

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) calls these “mechanisms”, and identified 14 of them in a recent meta-analysis. They categorised them in these four groups:

  1. Building knowledge
  2. Motivating teachers
  3. Developing teaching techniques
  4. Embedding practice. 

The EEF found that the more of these mechanisms PD included, the greater impact on student achievement. They also found evidence to suggest effective PD programmes might be more likely to include something from each category.

eef

Credit: Education Endowment Foundation

Unfortunately, teachers rarely get professional development that includes a range of these mechanisms. In a 2018 survey, only 38% of teachers in England agreed that ‘time and resources allocated to professional development are used in ways that enhance teachers’ instructional capabilities’. 

Many of the PD experiences outlined above have something in common: they need observation and feedback. 

Observations are powerful, when done well

Unfortunately in UK schools, lesson observation tends to be infrequent, inconsistent, and tied to performance evaluation. 

Many teachers only get feedback on their teaching through mandatory lesson observations. These are usually conducted by a headteacher or a member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). 

There’s a lot of data highlighting how ineffective these observations are. And, educators agree that they’re not working.

According to a SmartBrief poll:

The promise of observations

But - classroom observations, particularly with more than one observer, can provide teachers with the feedback they need to improve their teaching (Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project). 

Tom Kane, Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and leader of the MET project explains:

“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.” 

“This is not about accountability. It’s about providing the feedback every professional needs to strive towards excellence.” 

How to overcome the barriers

Staff shortages, schedules and logistics make it hard for schools to provide these experiences. This is where video makes 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 watch and provide detailed notes, embedded in the video, when their schedule allows. By removing the need to be in the same place at the same time, IRIS Connect makes lesson observation and feedback possible. 

It is possible 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 key to a range of professional learning experiences, including:

  • Self-reflection/self-observation
  • Providing feedback
  • Coaching (self-coaching, peer coaching and expert 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, including some form of observation will make the process richer and more effective.

The Cycle of Inquiry

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 colleagues. They can analyse what went well, sport opportunities to improve, and collaborate on a plan for next steps.

The problem with traditional, summative observations

You’ve all been there. Senior member of staff at the back of the classroom, with a clipboard.  

The format for lesson observation was traditionally focused on performance evaluation. The observer records subjective observations using unvalidated protocols. Doesn’t sound great does it?

There are a host of issues with this approach:

  • They’re anxiety inducing for the teacher 
  • Classroom dynamics are affected by the presence of an observer, particularly if it’s a member of SLT
  • They’re usually scheduled in, virtually ensuring that the lesson is not ‘typical’
  • The context limits the effectiveness of any feedback provided

Change is happening. There’s been an effort to make lesson observations more effective by focusing on teachers’ development instead of performance management. 

Tip: When observations are done for evaluation purposes (which is inevitable), they should be conducted by trained observers using standardised, validated rubrics.

Shifting to formative observations

Experienced educator and award winning blogger, David Didau, shares useful guidance for observations and how to give lesson observation feedback:

  • 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: 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 ‘easy’ things, such as providing effective emotional support to students and behaviour management. Once these are under control, we’re content. The harder task of focusing on instructional practice doesn’t get 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. This results in sustained progress on instructional quality, rather than short term results.

There is often confusion between lesson observation as part of an accountability framework and observation for professional development. 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.

It’s essential to ensure there is a clear distinction between the two. 

How to do lesson observations for accountability well

Professor Robert Coe, Director of the School of Education at Durham University, offers the following  advice:

  • "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 influenced policy at Ofsted. In 2014, they 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”. Mike Claddingbowl, Ofsted’s (former) National Director for Schools

This acted as a catalyst for many schools to stop grading lesson observations and 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 to assess how observations are currently used at your 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?
  4. Does lesson teacher observation feedback 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. And, 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 need a cultural shift. Resources like this guide provide a starting point for helping to see observation in a new light. But, the real shift will happen 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 behaviour”. 

10 suggestions for how to shift the culture of observation in your school:

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? 

Give teachers the opportunity to see great teaching in action - it’s a powerful learning experience. Use video to build a bank of shared practice clips to overcome the time and cost barriers of releasing teachers from lessons to observe one another.

💡 Have IRIS Connect? Create a Group in IRIS Connect. Ask your lead practitioners to share clips from their lessons so that all of your teachers can see them in action at any time. 
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 you’re being observed, you can request feedback and coaching from your colleagues to help you refine your instructional strategies.

💡 Have IRIS Connect? Add time-linked notes to explain your thinking and the decisions you made, making the tacit explicit.
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 may unlock interesting insights and learning opportunities. For example, seeing your students in another setting can give a different perspective.

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? Involving teachers in decisions will create buy-in to the process and will avoid wasting time and money on activities that teachers don’t find useful. 

We ran a survey of 1,000 teachers to learn what professional development activities they would prioritise if they were in control of their 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 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

Giving feedback to teachers after observation relies on the memory of the observer. The effectiveness of feedback diminishes over time following a teacher observation. In the busy life of a teacher, it’s near impossible to accurately recall exactly what happened in a lesson last week. Recording lessons allows for contextualised feedback at a convenient time. It 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.

💡 Have IRIS Connect? 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. These can help teachers dig deeper into teaching and learning. Read Headteacher Tom Sherrington’s blog on observing a sequence of lessons for some excellent question ideas.

💡 Have IRIS Connect? 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

Give your staff the tools and training needed to provide effective developmental feedback. This includes:

  • Objective-setting
  • Focusing on specific observable behaviours
  • Identifying next steps 
  • Putting the teacher’s development at the centre of observation 

Read how feedback went from crippling critique to collaborative conversation for Josh Roy in the "Lesson observation feedback" section below.

9. Enable self-observation

Observing yourself on video is like holding a mirror up to your teaching practice. 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 as 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 more widely.

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.

We asked Josh Roy, a Teacher at Ernest Bevin, to share his thoughts on how lesson observation and feedback 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.” - Josh Roy, Teacher at Ernest Bevin. 


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 critical to effective professional development. But logistical challenges mean that schools often struggle to give teachers opportunities to take part. 

Luckily, cameras are now ubiquitous. We all have a digital video recorder in our pocket, making recording lessons an easy solution.

Video-based lesson observations have major advantages over traditional methods. They 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.
  • 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. 

  • 85% of school leaders 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 improve outcomes for learners. 

So exactly how is using video for lesson observations better than in-person observations?

  1. Acceptance

    Teachers can struggle to accept feedback. This isn’t 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. They make feedback more objective, specific, and acceptable to the teacher.

  2. Validity

    Validity refers to whether interpretations made from an observation are accurate. Video observation helps to remove much of the subjective nature of these interpretations.

    Although there may be differences of opinion about the implications of what’s in the video, it does provide an unambiguous record of what actually happened. In contrast, traditional methods 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. Yet, accuracy is key for providing relevant and actionable feedback.

    Video observation provides a more comprehensive view that you can pause, and rewind. With more time to look at the intricacies of a lesson, the observer can explore beyond what they might have seen in real-time.

  4. Contextualised feedback

    With in-person observations, feedback is often hours or days after the lesson took place. It’s a 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 contextualised and specific - 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 thinks about 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 observations allow a teacher/observer to reflect on the entire lesson, and 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 to be in the same classroom as teachers. This reduces potential classroom distractions, and gives opportunities for developmental lesson observations for teachers that can't physically be there

An in-class observer can make the most confident teacher sweat. So, for trainees nerves and distraction can take over.

The seven benefits of video-based lesson observations above hold true in initial teacher training. In addition, video offers a less intrusive approach than in-person observations. 

For trainees, recording their lesson and sharing it for feedback gives a sense of control, increases their confidence, and lets them focus on delivering a great lesson. 

The bonus is that they can watch the video back, reflect on their teaching, and draw meaningful conclusions for their professional development.

Top Tip: Establish the use of video with your trainees early on during micro-teaching sessions. Get them to watch and analyse clips together with peers to increase their comfort in regularly videoing themselves which 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 so you can record your webcam and screens during online lessons. Just like when using our mobile recording app, they are automatically uploaded to your private account on the IRIS Connect platform. From there, you reflect on your lesson and then share the video with a colleague for feedback and discussion.

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

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!

Find out more

Sources

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  • 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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