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The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

John Dabell

Bringing video-based CPD into focus

Watching how we teach is a great way to revitalise lesson observation and feedback. John Dabell provides some advice for getting started.

We have witnessed a significant shift in our perception of lesson observations; from something to be feared to an opportunity to engage in open and productive dialogue.

Consider, for a moment, how the teachers of yesteryear would have adapted if they could have watched some of their lessons back...

If any of that felt familiar to you, you'll be glad to know that those days are over! 

To put it simply, video-based lesson observations are now the single most important aspect of effective professional development. ‘Drive-by’, high-pressure lesson observations are old-school.  

Video-based professional development (VPD) helps teachers claim back the classroom as a lucrative learning space, where they can improve their knowledge, understanding and skills through authentic working partnerships with their colleagues. Some schools have already made developmental video observation their modus operandi in an effort to encourage:

  • self-reflection
  • peer collaboration
  • virtual coaching
  • staff training video libraries.

St Bartholomew's CofE Primary School used lesson video to prompt a new level of professional dialogue, leading to 'the most enriching Insets in a long time'. You can read the headteacher's story on the Optimus Knowledge Centre.

Last year, two researchers at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge carried out an extensive meta-analysis of existing studies in order to determine the 'limitations and possibilities' of video-based CPD.

Although they acknowledge that more work needs to be done in assessing the impact of video on classroom practice, it was 'a consistent finding [that] video is effective when used as part of teacher professional development' (Major and Watson, 2017).

‘Leveraging video for learning’ is something that the Centre for Education Policy Research at Harvard University has also advocated in the United States. As part of their Best Foot Forward project, they have produced practical guidance on using video to support professional development.

The benefits of VPD

Teachers can find it difficult to record anything but a snapshot of their teaching because they are too caught up in the moment. Recording and watching video can help you to view things with a much wider lens, as it were.

To look more closely at the established benefits of using video, I turn to the Insight Education Group. Along with Smartbrief they produced a report, ‘A game changer: Using video to achieve high performance in the classroom’ (2015), which notes that VPD can allow teachers to:

  • communicate more effectively with each other about their goals (and the best way to achieve them)
  • give and receive personalised support specific to a teacher’s expertise and content area
  • create a common language between observers and teachers
  • form more effective professional learning communities (PLCs)
  • reflect on their own classroom practice when watching their colleagues at work.

Getting started

You may already be using video to guide your CPD in some capacity, which is great. Nevertheless, there are some teachers who may be looking to move on from live observations.

If you count yourself among them, here are some tips for getting started.

Choose a suitable length. A video can be anything from a few minutes to the entirety of a lesson, but if you’re serious about capturing the smaller details as well as the bigger picture, I’d recommend no more than 12 minutes.

Be introspective. The most important question for you to keep asking, whether you’re studying your own teaching or a colleague’s, is ‘How can we get better?’ Invest heavily in the conversations you have in response to the videos.

Watch and rewatch. A hallmark of a good film is that you can watch it more than once and notice something new each time. Likewise, you’re unlikely to spot all the nuances in your teaching in one go.

Do, view, study, adjust. This should be your motto. The key word is ‘adjust’, inasmuch as you should not be afraid to try something new, on the basis of what you observe your colleagues doing well and what you can adapt to your own lessons.

Form a video learning team (VLT). Working in a VLT will allow you to take on a broader range of perspectives on the nuances of your own pedagogy, and ultimately lead to more productive ‘co-coaching’.

John Hattie synthesised over 800 meta-analyses on the techniques that have the greatest impact on school improvement, and found that organising teachers into teams is a good way to go.

Of course, the beauty of video is that you don’t need to huddle around one laptop to make a VLT work – you can watch and share remotely too.

View things differently

As the quality and accessibility of video recording continues apace, never has there been a better time for teachers to rethink the way they observe lessons. As the Best Foot Forward project found, video can make observations more helpful and fair to teachers and less burdensome for senior leaders.

Let’s turn the camera on to collective wisdom and frame-by-frame analysis, not rigid accountability and data drivel.

More from Optimus

'Serious potential': David Weston on the benefits of lesson study

Reducing the distance: are MOOCs the future of CPD?

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