Innovating lesson observation and teacher development at Shavington Primary

Dan Thomas

Dan Thomas trained to be a primary school teacher at the University of the West of England, qualifying in 2001. Since then he has worked across the primary and secondary sectors focussing on innovation and teaching and learning in a variety of leadership positions. Dan has worked as a senior leader in a federation of secondary schools as well as working for the SSAT. More recently he has worked as an interim Headteacher in South Wales and been the Headteacher and then the Executive Headteacher at Shavington Primary School, moving to being Executive Headteacher for the Learning for Life Partnership which includes both Shavington and Wheelock primary schools.

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No teachers like being observed when they are teaching; when it comes to schools positioning cameras in classrooms for lesson observations, teachers naturally feel in the spotlight and under pressure. Assessing children is one thing, but while all teachers want professional development, no one is comfortable being reviewed and assessed themselves.

At Shavington Primary School, where I’m executive headteacher, we were reviewing the effectiveness of the monitoring cycle, including lesson observation. It was clear that it served a purpose, but it was not effective in providing professional development for teachers, and didn’t have impact on teaching and learning. It was no more than a ‘snapshot’ where teachers feel they are being judged. One issue that we needed to overcome was how to carry out observations of teaching so that we could look at a range of evidence and provide valuable feedback.

Even schools who video teachers’ lessons are often faced with the question of whether this creates the ‘Hawthorne Effect’.

Having abnormal items such as video cameras and other people in the classroom not only changes the behaviour of the children, but of the member of staff as well, meaning that what was being observed was not the normal experience for the children. Ideally, if we are going to improve the quality of teaching and learning when nobody is watching, we need to gather evidence of what the usual experience is and give opportunities to reflect on how things can be improved and effective practice can be shared. The ideal solution, therefore, was to have lessons videoed on an ongoing basis so that awareness, and any associated Hawthorne Effect, are largely negated.

Selecting lessons at random for review when, for example, that very lesson may not have"It was no more than a ‘snapshot’ where teachers feel they are being judged." gone to plan was not the answer. I knew that teachers would feel concerned by this as the feelings around observation is that of being judged, rather than to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

Having looked at a number of options including autonomous cameras, or iPads, fitted to tripods in the middle of the classroom that follow the teacher as they move around the room, I felt that these could be distracting for both the teacher and pupils. Setup time can be prohibitive, the buzz as the tripod moves distracting, not to mention the wires bringing health and safety issues. None of these options, I felt, would give a true reflection of the experience on a daily basis in the classroom.

A moving object positioned prominently in the middle, or fairly central to the room, and above head height to ensure lines of sight is common.

Other schools have mentioned that with autonomous - or even multiple static cameras - it is difficult to see the subjects that you really want to watch. In some installations, air conditioning sized units are attached to the ceiling and are incredibly invasive to the teaching environment.

I was then shown the 360o camera by Screen Library. The camera gives a 360o view of the classroom, offering more to the ‘self-reviewing’ teacher or assessor than if they'd been physically in the classroom with the teacher. We installed the camera into a ceiling tile so that it was hardly noticeable, but could still record activity in the majority of the room.

The complete ‘Lesson Capture’ system we installed consists of one Oncam 12mb Evolution-05 360° camera, mounted unobtrusively into the ceiling of the classroom, and a wall-mounted microphone. The video and audio is then recorded on the local Lesson Capture Unit from Screen Library. The video camera provides the necessary high-quality image detail and scope to navigate around the room to see all aspects of the classroom; panning and zooming as needed, to see the reactions of individual students to different parts of the lesson.

When working with our 360o degree cameras, all of the video captured is of the teaching day, and so even when reviewing footage after the event, it is possible to pan, zoom and set up different views as though all of the video was live.

The sound and video is both secure and easily accessible on the teacher’s PC so that they can review the captured lessons.

So we’d found the right technology, but we were still faced with a level of reluctance by teachers. I spent time discussing the methodology of use, and the fact that we wanted this to be about self-appraisal, and slowly they started to recognise the value as educators and professionals. While there was still reluctance to take"The camera records 360° video all of the time." part in a pilot project, I did get a volunteer to run the project.

The reality is that the teacher has the control of the footage; it’s stored securely and only used for CPD within the set mentoring methodology when the teacher releases it. This system is built on trust, and its only focus is to improve the quality of teaching and learning, not be used as a judgement tool.

In a significant pedagogical shift from the norm of timed set recordings, leading to ‘performances’ from the teacher and the students, the camera records 360° video all of the time, and enables live and retrospective viewing. Our teacher was then able to revisit the time slots of interest and then make them available to a remote coach, putting them in control of what is seen and what they would like to discuss.

There were no technical challenges in establishing and running the project. The solution has all of the necessary components to make it as standalone as possible and only requires a few simple settings from the school’s own IT support to get working. Technically, it has needed very little maintenance, and the installation itself took only 30 minutes in the classroom.

Comparing the solution with traditional methods of lesson observation, the system saves teachers’ time, removing the need to miss classes/hire in cover to sit in observations. Observations can be reviewed and scheduled out of the school day, reducing class cover expenses. But crucially, using the methodology in real life, the children and teacher behave naturally with no one putting on a performance, meaning trusted outcomes can be created.

Do you use such technology? Let us know below!

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