Lesson observations have been demonised over the years and they suffer a terrible image problem fuelled by Ofsted horror stories, misguided school-led observations and teacher trepidation of senior managers.
But it is time to shake off these negatives and focus on how lesson observations when combined with video technology can be a force for good, positive growth and real change.
Lesson observations can bring out the worst in teachers who are fearful of ‘judgements’ which is why it is reassuring that Ofsted now don’t grade lessons.
It is also worth remembering that Ofsted are keen to dispel folklores surrounding inspections and in their guidance ‘Ofsted inspections: myths’, they remind us that,
Ofsted does not require schools to undertake a specified amount of lesson observation.
Lesson observation is actually a far more positive experience than it used to be and the odds are now firmly stacked in favour of the teacher. Video lesson observations aren’t clipboard menaces but efficient and supportive partnerships enabling teachers to time travel and get a true picture of reality which is critical for setting goals and monitoring self-progress.
Video marries autonomy and accountability without the spikes. This means video CPD doesn’t scratch or puncture but polishes and shines.
In fact, lesson observations using video are now the single most important aspect of professional development: CPD becomes VPD.
Videoing a lesson isn’t new but how videos are now used definitely is. Videoing is a simple enough process but without ethical standards and protocols, video can be disruptive and damaging.
When schools commit to a videoing resource then it isn’t just a matter of pressing record but ensuring that video enhances teaching, learning and assessment and is part of a healthy professional structure that will support immediate and long-lasting change.
Video is an integral part of CPD for teachers and when used with a clear focus it offers great opportunities for great learning and can transform professional practice – it is an incredibly powerful tool for learning.
What are you waiting for?
VPD is a must for any school and it is tempting to get cracking straight away but hold your horses. If we plunge into VPD too quickly then it could do more harm than good, backfire and interfere with learning and professional development. Poor decisions and incomplete execution will make a mess.
Before pressing record it is important that we stop, pause and consider some practical guidelines for introducing video:
7 Top Tips
1. Institute Confidence
The role of trust within professional development is paramount and getting people on board is crucial. If staff express mistrust about implementing VPD then don’t be surprised because videoing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
VPD is something you will have to sell to all staff and hard sell in some cases – getting others to feel psychologically safe can be tough but any new way of working is a delicate process of selling and persuading but without having everyone run for the hills.
If you have the trust of your staff already then your job will be a lot easier. Take a look at the benefits of VPD and refer to our previous blogs about why video observation leads the way and share these insights with staff.
2. Provide Choice
If you insist on video observations then resistance won’t be slow in showing its face. Participation in VPD isn’t compulsory so participation should be something offered as a matter of choice in order to foster professional development.
Teachers themselves will engage in a process when given meaningful choices – if the benefits of VPD are explained and shared with staff then there is every reason to believe that they will buy into it.
If people don’t want to be videoed then you can’t make them and their choice should be respected. To work as an effective tool for change, staff must be motivated to change and want to achieve their personal best.
3. Establish Boundaries
Videoing is a dynamic and complex process that is highly personal and highly emotive so clear boundaries need to be communicated so that staff feel psychologically safe. The key issue is who gets to see the video recordings, how the content is shared and how the content is discussed.
Staff need to have a say in whether they want others to see their lessons or not. Some staff will be willing to share with the rest of the staff and beyond whereas others will want a much smaller audience of one or two.
If you want to encourage others to participate in VPD and see the value of it as a growth tool, then you have got to do it yourself as well.
If you can walk the talk and share your experiences then you are more likely to build relationships and trust as you have common ground to run around in and share concerns, issues and feelings.
You could video a lesson or an assembly you lead or even record a staff meeting to ‘show and tell’ with your staff. You can then share with your team what you could do better and allow others to provide feedback.
5. Give it Purpose
Murky structures and systems complicate school life so establish with staff what the purpose of VPD actually is and keep it simple. VPD ultimately serves professional development but it enjoys different roles and functions. For example, some lesson observations focus purely on teaching, some on learning, some on assessment and then the many permutations between them.
Most schools will focus on the quality of teaching and learning, progress and achievement and behaviour and attitude of learners but each lesson observation has a specific focus.
As long as the purpose of a lesson observation is communicated to a member of staff in advance and staff realise that the focus is always on improvement impact and not on performance accountability, VPD will work as a healthy tool to shape a culture of learning.
6. Steady Start
There is no need to rush! If you can secure the participation of a few willing volunteers then you can, with their permission, use their recordings to discuss the merits of lesson observations using video.
Staff who are willing to share their experiences may make other staff reconsider and think again about engaging. Emphasise the fact that lesson observations are tools to use to coach ourselves and not for others to spy on us or make any sinister judgements!
7. Team Play
As VPD picks up speed, you may want to consider setting up a VPD team that can act as advisors and guides for the rest of the staff. These teachers can act as coaches, establish values and norms for behaviour and develop a learning process.
Importantly, these members of staff need to be trained observers and instructional coaches in order to support valid assessments and provide meaningful feedback and advice.
Trained staff will provide the context, the analysis and the narrative to turn raw observation into workable improvements.
Teachers find it difficult to get a real picture of their teaching because of the complexity of the classroom, habituation and confirmation bias but video-enhanced CPD can be the pogo-stick player and the fly on the wall so teachers can see the big picture and look at the minute details too.
Video accelerates growth, it can be done quickly and without much planning, it can be just a few minutes or a whole lesson.
The greatest challenge you will face is convincing staff that VPD has value but this achieved when set in the context of a supportive learning community focused on helping each other and not focussing on data gathering and top-down accountability.
Done well, VPD can contribute to high quality action research in a school and make real impact.
Lesson observations are here to stay whether a member of staff opts into VPD or not and it is difficult to envisage a dependable evaluation system that doesn’t include some observation.
Observations are a necessary part of school life and when done using video technology, we can rest assured that they offer far more reliability and validity than traditional old-fashioned live observations.
John Dabell writes for Lessonbox.