To improve, teachers need the chance to see good teaching. Recent research by Teach First suggested that observing skilled practice helps trainees become effective quickly (alongside several more important forms of support). Once the foundationsare laid however, the report suggested that, for a teacher to pursue excellence, the opportunity to examine great lessons is critical. This should be no surprise: it is analogous to the importance of showing students what great work looks like. But it does pose two major problems:
Problem 1: who?
There are many reasons why a teacher may not be able to see excellent teaching, for example:
- They may be the sole subject specialist in a school;
- They may be focusing on an aspect of their teaching (questioning, for example) or a phase (A Level) in which no colleague specialises;
- They may find that other schools, or indeed colleagues, aren’t receptive to visits.
Problem 2: when?
Even if a colleague in the next classroom is amenable to observation, a bigger problem presents itself: by definition, most teachers are teaching while most lessons are being taught. Even if a teacher sets aside the time from their two periods of PPA a week, (and I’d contend they should), they may find that block scheduling means all of their department are free at that point, or that they can only ever observe the lessons of one year group. Getting a whole day to see another school’s work is even less likely, if there are cover implications (although I think more could be done here).
A partial solution: video
Both problems are surmountable, but both inhibit regular observations of good teaching. Video can go some way to solve these issues – but it still poses problems. Footage produced for books like Teach Like a Champion and Teaching as Leadership provide well-chosen excerpts of many aspects of good teaching. But having used them in professional development and teacher training in Britain and Sweden, differences in context seem to loom large in many teachers’ minds: unfamiliar expressions and practices overshadow the underlying similarities and make it hard for teachers to benefit. While some schools are using services like Iris to great effect, their videos are usually restricted to use within those schools (great if you’re there, no use if your school isn’t taking this approach). And few classroom teachers have the time or the inclination to edit videos of their work, or parental or school permission to share videos more widely.
In my current role, I’m lucky enough to visit classrooms all around the country, and to see some fantastic teaching. In six months, I’ve visited all kinds of schools: some deemed ‘outstanding’ and others teetering on the brink of special measures; watched lessons in free schools, academies and maintained schools; seen classes ranging from Year 1 to Year 13. Sadly, I no longer travel light. Instead, I stumble around with an array of filming equipment:
For the last couple of years, Teach First has been using these videos to share the work of its teachers internally, and promote discussion about what great teaching looks like. We now want to take this a step further, providing a professional development resource which showcases the work of some of our teachers publicly. Our first blog posts allow teachers to:
- See maths mastery learning and in-the-moment Assessment for Learning in practice – (and visit Dani Quinn‘s classroom);
- Learn how Laura Towers keeps herself going through even the hardest days;
- Observe Laura Brocklebank and her teaching assistants working seamlessly – and find out how Laura achieved this;
- Discover how Sam Ripman and Nicky Jones use graded targets without undermining students’ ambitions;
- Study how Dani Quinn creates a culture of shared success in her maths department.
There’s no claim that these videos show perfect teaching: they portray the reality of day-to-day existence for our teachers. They’re not posed or set up: I find a corner to stand in with a camera and trust those I visit when they say (as they very often do) “I’ve not done anything special, it’s just an ordinary set of lessons today”. Nor do they represent a single ‘answer’ as to what good teaching is: one of the most fascinating things is how each teacher chooses techniques and strategies which fit their context and their students’ needs.
I hope that that this will provide a useful resource for professional development and mentoring. I wonder if it might be used to spark discussion at staff meetings and among groups of teachers seeking to improve. Each week during term time, we’ll add another video. Please let me know what you make of this and how you use it, and, if you have a Teach First teacher doing great work in your school, recommend that we visit them!
The Spotlight site is here.
FAQs about the project are here.