The Camera Never Lies

This post was written by Jon Tait @TeamTait.

Filming lesson observations to provide high quality reflection

In recent years, lesson observations have been seen by many as every teacher’s enemy, striking fear into the heart of even the most experienced of teachers. For far too long, the very thought of being watched by someone whilst you do your job has been an increasingly uncomfortable thought for a large proportion of the teaching profession. Even though we talk about the observation being developmental and the feedback being constructive and supportive, a teacher being observed rarely remembers all the micro sections of the lesson well enough to go back and significantly adjust their performance based on a short feedback meeting.

So how can we change this process? How can the experience lead to more reflective practitioners, significantly improved performance and better outcomes for our students? Modern advances in digital technology can now play a huge part in moving this process forward to one that goes some way to achieving the above desired outcomes.

Having all lesson observations filmed is a great way to significantly improve this process. This is now very easy to achieve and whatever your budget is as a school, you can find a solution to fit your need. You can go from a big budget solution of high-end portable HD classroom cameras that can zoom in, pan, and be driven remotely via any computer in the building; to a low budget solution of using mobile devices such as mobile phones and tablets held in tripods or mounts to record lessons.

Here are some reasons why filming lesson observations might be beneficial for your school’s staff development or teaching and learning programme:

Getting past the initial cringe

Once you get past the initial cringe of hearing your own voice and watching yourself on camera, you begin to see the incredible power of self-analysing your own performance. Nothing is more powerful than watching yourself back and beginning to pick up on your own strengths and areas for development. This is one of the best ways to become a truly reflective practitioner and I would advise every teacher to try this if they haven’t done it before.

You see what you miss

When you are in full flow at the front of the classroom or when you are providing individual support with your students, you never really see the whole picture in your classroom. Watching your lesson back without the pressure of having to deliver the lesson, suddenly enables you to see far more things than you ever do inside the classroom. You start to become much more aware of off task behavior and body language that paints an interesting picture of engagement and progress.

Pick up on habits

We all have our own habits, some of which we probably aren’t aware of until they are pointed out to us. Watching yourself teach can identify certain words or phrases that you constantly use. You may also pick up on certain places in the classroom that you always stand in or teach from and possibly students who you always target for questioning.

Feedback next day

If used correctly as part of a high quality lesson observation programme, feedback should be given the next day. This enables the teacher to watch their lesson back on the night and then self-evaluate their own performance via the same criteria as the observer is using. This should lead to a far more professional conversation the next day during the feedback meeting. The question that is usually asked ‘How did you think it went’? will then be able to be answered in a far more thoughtful and measured manner, having had the benefit of watching the lesson back along with the lesson criteria in front of them. When you can get a teacher to accurately identify their own strengths and areas for development from a lesson observation, it has to be a far more effective programme.

Focus points

As your staff become more familiar with filming lesson observations, they may begin to request the camera at various points throughout the year, not for official observation purposes, but just to focus on one area of their practice. Watching a lesson back for the first time can be quite daunting for a lot of inexperienced teachers due to the amount of things going on in the lesson. However, if you have a clear focus of what you are looking for eg. questioning, then it enables you to zoom in on this one area without being distracted by everything else going on.

Share with colleague and discuss

If you are feeling confident and supported by a colleague, a great way of using the lesson film effectively is for you to watch the lesson back with a trusted colleague. Sharing lesson film with each other, or sitting together to watch each other’s lessons can be a very powerful way of not only receiving accurate constructive criticism, but also a way of picking up examples of good practice from each other.

Cloud based storage, watch at home in own time

Most digital solutions on the market have a cloud based storage system with their products, meaning that staff don’t have to watch their lessons back in school time and in offices where other staff may be. You can watch the film at home in your own time and in private if you wish, removing any concerns you may have on keeping the lesson film private.

Use for professional development

As a school, if you identify lesson segments that you feel are examples of outstanding practice, you may want to ask the member of staff if you can use that exert as a clip to share with other staff in future professional development sessions. We can all access example lesson videos from various national sources, but having clips from your own staff, teaching your own students can be so much more powerful and authentic.

The key to making this work is to be clear to staff that they have complete ownership of the film and it is not used for any judgemental or performance reasons. As the observer of the lesson you do not need to see the film because you observed the lesson first hand. The film is merely for the teacher to watch back, at which point it can be deleted by them afterwards if they so choose.

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