Video-mediated coaching: your new CPD tool

Why restrict the recording of lessons to trainees and recently qualified teachers? Hanna Miller sets out how voluntary video-mediated coaching has improved reflective practice across her trust
17th January 2020, 12:04am
Video Built The Cpd Star


Video-mediated coaching: your new CPD tool

You spot the small red light at the back of the classroom and your nerves simmer. You try not to let anyone notice, try to carry on. But it’s tough being watched. Even if, ultimately, you might be the only one watching. And even if it was you who put the camera there in the first place.

Recording lessons is not a new thing: people have done it for various reasons for as long as the capability to record a lesson has been available. It’s particularly popular to develop trainee teachers. But a trust-wide initiative to record lessons of all teachers for CPD? That’s arguably pushing things a little further. Yet it is exactly what we are aiming for and, so far, it’s had a remarkably positive impact.

In the words of Dylan Wiliam: “Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better” (Wiliam, 2015). One way that we can commit to drive improvements at every level of teaching is to provide better-quality CPD opportunities.

The Department for Education standards (2016) suggest that CPD needs to be focused on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes; should include collaboration and expert challenge; and should be sustained over time. Most of us who have been actively engaged in CPD would probably also add that it needs to be developmental, regardless of career stage, and actionable in terms of meeting the needs of both individual and institutional goals.

Video has been found to be a useful component of CPD. Kosiorek and Lewis (2018) proclaim the benefits of video-mediated coaching to not only develop teacher practice, but also support teachers in reflection. Opportunities for this tend to be plentiful for trainees and newly or recently qualified teachers. Some schools have opted for the big camera at the back recording like it’s going on the 6pm news; some have learning labs with earpieces included for live commentary; and some are exploring technology such as Iris and Swivl. The benefits of recording lessons and discussing the footage afterwards is clear in much of the recent literature on it.

But if this is the case, why is this right usually reserved primarily for trainee or recently qualified teachers? When does the point arrive where we no longer “need” to take part in activities like this? When is it that we become dependent on our own highly subjective recollections of lessons? This is something we need to positively challenge.

Camera, action

Lesson observation is often the tool of appraisal for more senior teachers. We knew the power of lesson observation in developing practice when feedback was formative (O’Leary, 2016) and supportive, but we couldn’t always provide the time within the school day to drop in on colleagues’ lessons.

So, we needed to find a way to capture snippets of lessons. Video was the answer.

Some of the snippets would be used to support the development of more inexperienced staff members - they provide models that can add clarity and visually explain, for example, what is meant when you suggest to a teacher that student responses can be developed using prompting or probing questions. Showing them this in action, rather than just telling them, can often get the message over much more quickly and accurately.

But we wanted the snippets to be a mirror for teachers, too. We wanted them to use video for reflection on what they were doing and how they were doing it. To encourage this, we enabled staff to self-identify effective practice and possible areas for development in their own teaching (they could also do this with a peer if they wished).

In my case, I focused initially on recording snippets of my lessons where I was explaining a new concept to the students - recording my input, my models, the terminology I used to explain, my questions to check for understanding and so on. I then watched it back, looking specifically at my clarity and conciseness. And then I sought out any marginal gains that I could make.

I found that the video enabled me to maintain focus on the details I’d targeted beforehand, and ensure I was discussing reality and not some partial recollection - it was an objective record.

Many other teachers found the process useful, too. To facilitate this further, bespoke crib sheets were designed to enable more consistent “self-assessment”. Each focuses on a particular area of teaching and explains what the research suggests should be looked for as effective practice if you are focusing on those areas in the footage.

After some time, it became very apparent that the teachers working with a peer to reflect on the videos reaped much better results from the process - more reliable, accurate and consistent gains were being made. So, we developed “critical friend cycles” - a form of “communal constructivism” whereby teacher and coach collectively discuss, analyse and deconstruct the observed practice (Leask and Younie, 2006).

Teachers engaging in this process were encouraged to select their partner to peer-review - someone they trusted to have an honest conversation about how to develop their teaching. Interestingly, many chose colleagues who were more experienced but not within their own curriculum areas. It seemed that their selection was based more on improving practice through critical discussion than having friends chat over a video - something we might have experienced if the process had been made compulsory.

These relationships are not specifically coaching nor mentoring, but an informal, trusting relationship focused purely on developing teaching practice. Discussions are centred on strengths and possible areas for development/missed opportunities that might support students. The marginal gains in development might be made in an area that is already effective or one that is not yet effective.

What it is not is a deficit-model programme. There is no link to accountability measures, either, and all recorded lessons stay on the teacher’s own online portal. If they wish to share the footage more widely, they enter a trust-wide portal where leaders from across the trust, with consent, can view and use the footage.

The benefits of the approach are multiple:

  • We now have an objective measure to show how far a teacher has come using comparable “concrete data” - it’s not feedback based on the opinion of one observer.
  • Staff who were recorded felt more motivated to work on their targets and accountable for their own development. They spoke of their “professional responsibility” to refine/develop/improve.
  • For more experienced teachers, the discussions focused more on “teaching dilemmas” - “what would you do” type questions and problem-solving discussions - valuing the expertise from colleagues.
  • From the perspective of the CPD leader, it is cost-effective - we are identifying teacher misconceptions more quickly and engaging more staff in discussing what effective teaching looks like.

Of course, there were, and are, still challenges. For example, some videos could go unwatched, so we encouraged staff to review their footage within a week.

Another issue was that, to begin with, the process of reviewing and discussing was quite unstructured with a “say what you see” approach. The crib sheet was quickly developed to support the discussions.

But, on the whole, those engaging in the process are identifying incremental gains that are further improving their practice. In many fields outside of education, people pore over video footage to find ways to improve practice, especially the world of sport. Reviewing footage allows you to reflect in a way that you wouldn’t be able to do while teaching, and it is this that we must remind more reluctant staff of: it’s not a judgement, it’s another pair of eyes.

In the future, I hope this will contribute to improved planning, better discussions about teaching and more effective teaching for more of our staff so that we create better outcomes for all of our students. I also hope to encourage more people to hold up the mirror and build a bank of shared effective practice that models what effective teaching looks like and guides colleagues through the reasons for its effectiveness - which is most important of all.

Although sometimes it might seem painful to view yourself as you really are, the sign of a true reflective practitioner is one who can hold up the mirror to themselves.

Hanna Miller is assistant head for teaching and learning across the Thinking Schools Academy Trust. She tweets @notesfromthebun

This article originally appeared in the 17 January 2020 issue under the headline “Video built the CPD star”

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