From the magazine: A third eye on teaching and learning

Classroom technology is advancing rapidly and there’s a growing focus on using it to support and enhance learning and teaching. One development that’s gaining traction is the use of video as a tool to engage staff, students, leaders and parents in novel ways.

How can this technology drive school improvement by facilitating lesson observations and self-evaluation?

The moving image has captured the imagination of audiences for decades – from the silver screen to the classroom projector. Video is a powerful tool often used in the classroom by teachers to enhance lessons for students; however, it is now being recognised for the role it can play in the professional development of teachers – using recorded lessons to improve teaching methods through peer-observation and reflection protocols.

Aligning teachers’ developmental needs with CPD

Shavington Primary School, Crewe, is a mixed school with 212 students and part of the Learning for Life Partnership Multi Academy Trust; it is also in the top six North West primary schools for progress in academic results. This level of excellence has led Shavington to prepare to become a teaching school and to initiate a project aimed at revitalising teachers’ professional development.

“My goal was to implement a nonjudgemental system that didn’t just give negative feedback but helped teachers to self-coach, giving them the ability to be reflective of themselves and their impact on students,” executive headteacher Dan Thomas explains. Video technology plays a large part in this, facilitating effective peer-observation and giving ample opportunity for self-review. “The only way to achieve effective, non-threatening self-review is to use discreet video technology,” Dan says, explaining that it enables both ‘live’ and retrospective viewing and puts CPD back into the hands of teachers.

Putting the ‘self’ back into ‘self-review’

Introducing cameras to the classroom will be seen by some as intrusive and can bring up questions of trust. However, it needs to be viewed as a progressive tool that can provide a comprehensive overview of a teacher’s classroom methodologies. “We all remember that lesson that didn’t go to plan; the one where students appeared distracted or the technology stopped working,” says Andy Goff, vice president at ONVU Learning. “If this was the lesson observed that month or term the recommended CPD would be unlikely to relate to that teacher’s true needs or talents.” Addressing the bigger picture – rather than what might be an isolated issue – will be more constructive for a teacher, highlighting the areas they excel in and pinpointing the areas in which they need support. “Additionally, when we consider lesson observations from Ofsted inspectors, external consultants or peers, we all recognise the ‘Hawthorne Effect’; teachers and students rarely operate naturally while they are being watched,” Andy continues, suggesting that a video observation will allow for more accurate analysis of lessons.

Taking into account teachers’ workload and suppressed budgets, Andy says that CPD needs to become more personal. Identifying needs in a timely and efficient manner can be a challenge and that’s where video technology can play a central role by capturing, storing and enabling staff to share the most complete video representation of classrooms and the lessons taught in them. “The technology is very discrete and, as such, does not impose itself onto the lessons being taught; teachers and students forget that it is there and so normal lessons are captured which then have the most value to inform personalised CPD for the teacher when self-review is carried out” Andy explains. Teachers are given autonomy over their professional growth and development as the technology allows them to select the lessons they wish to review and reflect on – rather than rely on what is randomly captured. This, Andy says, supports engagement, provides significant efficiencies, minimises the cost of training and has a long-term positive impact on professional satisfaction.

Driving self-improvement: ‘align methodology’

Identifying your strengths and your weaknesses can be difficult – it’s one of the most difficult questions to answer on the spot. To understand both you need to be able to self-review effectively. Dr Sean Warren is a former teacher whose drive for self-improvement resulted in him becoming a practitioner-researcher; he now helps teachers understand what to look for to better analyse their teaching. His approach, the ‘align methodology’, is essentially constructive and non-judgemental and focuses on identifying and interrogating those moments which did, or might have, amplified learning. “My primary task as an observer is to attune, not to evaluate,” he explains. “With video technology, if the teacher is in agreement, I am able to observe a lesson live from another location though, more often than not, I view it retrospectively.”

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What is the align methodology in practice? Dr Warren shares the example of recent video review which enabled a teacher to observe herself providing support for one pupil while also seeing what she did after she had moved on to help others. In this instance, it became apparent to the teacher that her practice could be improved if she returned to the individual to ensure her advice had been implemented. “The depth of analysis which has emerged through recent video trialling gives me great encouragement that this approach to CPD can empower teachers to maximise collaborative projects and become learners again,” Dr Warren says. Video observations enable increased flexibility; not only can observations be fitted into or around a busy school-day schedule, reviewing a recorded lesson allows teachers to pause and reflect on specific moments and to receive, or seek, the support they feel they need.

Dan Thomas, executive headteacher at Shavington Primary School, shares some practical advice for schools planning to invest in video technology:

  • Ideally, the technology should have great scheduling capability so that lessons are simply captured and stored efficiently.
  • Looking at various technologies on the market, I recommend using a camera with 360-degree coverage. It’s hard to fully review a lesson when you can’t see certain parts of the class or the reactions and behaviour of specific students.
  • Start with one teacher to champion the technology. This person’s adoption of the process and their positive feedback to other teachers is important in the successful roll out across the school.
  • Ensure you gather advice on related data-protection regulations from your supplier.
  • Invest in training for your teachers; it’s important that they learn how to effectively self-review.
  • It is easy to review a lesson and feel that it went relatively well; without the insight of what to look out for a lot of potential teacher development opportunities can be lost.

This article featured in the April issue of Education ExecutiveSubscribe now to keep up-to-date with the latest in school business management and leadership.

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