Can video make lesson observations easier?

Rob Aitken, edtech specialist at ONVU Learning, explains how video can be an effective observational tool

Teachers looking to firmly take charge of their CPD and consider ways of heading back to school after the break armed with greater self-awareness and ability, may want to reconsider their stance on lesson observation.

While many teachers may have had negative experiences of being observed, observation and reflection does form a valuable part of professional development, and need not be shunned.


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It remains true that with the right kind of positive observation and non-judgemental support, a teacher can improve their CPD by receiving concrete evidence of what really happens in their classroom, how they manage it, and how they utilise it to build on their own performance and ultimately provide the highest quality of education for their students.

Use video to gain a more objective data set

The Sutton Trust’s publication Developing teachers; improving professional development (2015) includes a number of case studies of the effective use of video. One, from Wallscourt Farm Academy in Bristol, involved lessons being filmed and viewed in pairs with colleagues so that each can learn from the other. The report explains how “observations and the resulting discussions are seen as a way of teachers supporting research into effective teaching.”

While many teachers may have had negative experiences of being observed, observation and reflection does form a valuable part of professional development, and need not be shunned.

Subject area sharing encourages best practice

Huntingdon School in York, as reported by Sutton Trust, offers two hours of continuing professional development every fortnight in addition to five teacher training days.

In the 19 two-hour sessions, teachers start off by watching and debating examples of practice on video. They then work in subject areas, focusing on the two or three departmental development priorities, one of which is chosen by individual members of the department as a performance management objective. Each teacher’s personal development is charted in a journal in which they record how they are working on their teaching.

It’s an effective way to consider different practices and gain insights from peers to leverage different life experiences and observational styles – and then objectively compare to the same recorded data.

Maintain a trove of the best practice evidence

Schools can collect video evidence over time to share with new staff, as part of CPD discussions within teams or departments, or as evidence of change for inspections.

Schools can collect video evidence over time to share with new staff, as part of CPD discussions within teams or departments, or as evidence of change for inspections.

At Aston University Engineering Academy in Birmingham, teachers often pass on positive clips of lessons to senior managers to show how they have successfully delivered new ideas or engaged classes.

By creating an awareness that your teaching could one day be used to educate others within the profession, sharing what ‘good, better, and best’ looks like becomes a matter of pride.

Give it a focus

When collecting clips to use in CPD sessions, consider how they would link to different aspects of teaching and learning. The EEF toolkit provides an evidence-based impact assessment of different areas of teaching and learning; outlining the cost, supporting evidence, and potential student impact. Focusing your CPD sessions in this manner helps make sure you gain the greatest possible benefit.

Quiet contemplation and personal reflection

CPD doesn’t have to involve other people – simply videoing and observing your own lessons can lead to professional growth with careful observation and rational analysis. Of course, the best practice is to use a methodology in order to constructively build self-reflection into a strong tool of precision and quality judgement.

CPD doesn’t have to involve other people – simply videoing and observing your own lessons can lead to professional growth with careful observation and rational analysis.

Different perspectives offer a route to better observational tools

Lesson observation footage isn’t just useful within schools – it can be shared widely (as long as the right protocols are followed, and permissions obtained). This might mean sharing footage with initial teacher training mentors in universities or teaching schools; with experts in areas such as SEN or behaviour within a trust; or with specialist coaches. Ensure coaching is delivered by experts, peers, and trusted teacher resources, and the new ways of observing will rapidly become part of every teacher’s CPD tool-kit.


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When undertaken with a thoughtful and positive approach lesson observation can become a useful tool for the NQT, which many an established teacher may not have believed in their early days. Using video eliminates the disruption caused by sit-in observations, and student and teacher behaviour remain unaffected by the presence of a physical observer. This allows for a much better quality of focused and relevant constructive feedback that can help the NQT take on genuinely helpful advice that contributes towards their own critical assessment of their performance. Discrete lesson observation has a serious impact on the way that teachers are able to develop their professional skills.