Professional development

Are you ready for your close up?

Natalie Jim-Lead Practitioner 

“What am I doing? Why do I keep saying “ok”? Is my voice really that high pitch? Please stop saying “ok”. Did I miss that student with their hand up? For goodness sake stop saying “ok!”

As I prised my fingers from my eyes and watched my first ever recorded lesson observation, I went through the typical emotions most people feel when watching themselves on camera. However, once the embarrassment had diminished and I had stopped cringing, it dawned on me that here was a tool that was going to have a transformational effect on my teaching.

When the idea of using a camera in the classroom is first mentioned, most people start to imagine a 1984 ‘Big Brother is watching you’ scenario. They fear that the camera is going to capture all their flaws as a teaching practitioner and then force them to re-live it by watching it!

When I first heard of the IRIS system, my reaction was probably typical of what many felt at the thought of an ‘all-seeing’ eye watching me.

IRIS describes itself as a ‘video based learning platform’, designed to ‘enable better teacher reflection.’ Big claims are made on their website about the impact of using the system including the stat that 64% of schools regularly using IRIS improved by at least one Ofsted grade in their last inspection cycle compared to the national average of 42.5%. This system was seemingly a coaching tool that could be controlled by an observer, or the observed; it could capture a lesson to then allow for greater reflection – to actually see the lesson from a different point of view.

But my question was: could it work at Sarah Bonnell?

When we launched IRIS to all teaching staff, we made it very explicit that this was a coaching tool, unconnected with performance management targets. All footage filmed on the system would be completely private and confidential – you only share footage you want to and you don’t even need to do that if you just want to self-reflect. This also negated issues regarding the filming of students- the platform is secure and not available for public viewing.

When I first used IRIS in my drama studio, I was soon a convert to this new pair of eyes. I wanted to focus on the impact of group work and how to encourage less passengers – an issue picked up from a previous lesson observation. It was fascinating to see my classroom from this perspective. After getting over the initial sensation of watching myself, I almost forgot I was the teacher I was watching as my focus was drawn to the learners’ behaviour.

It was fascinating to zoom into  the interaction between the learners and how they responded to the tasks in the lesson. Students who I thought were engaged at the time were clearly not as engaged as I had been led to believe. I watched in astonishment as a student who had been on her feet and making all the right gestures to look engaged was, in fact, being directed by others.

This encouraged me to reflect on the strategies I could have implemented in the task that could have addressed this such as: giving students specific jobs or a focus during the task, the group dynamics and the pace of the activity. It felt very empowering to be able to view the lesson in a safe and developmental way knowing quite specifically what could be done to tweak my practice to elicit a better outcome for students.

In my role as Lead Practitioner for Teaching and Learning, I have used IRIS to support the development of others. In terms of feedback from other users of the system it has been overwhelmingly positive.

One user when asked for feedback said:

I have used Iris for both self and peer observations and found both experiences useful. When using IRIS for self-reflection, it has enabled me to identify areas of my teaching practice that I wish to focus on- for example the amount of pause time I give after posing questions. Something else I identified when watching back the recording was that my movement around the classroom was limited to certain areas and tables. This was done subconsciously and until I used IRIS, I was unaware that this was the case and since then I have become more aware of my movement around the room.”

There is still a job to be done to continue to grow the use of the system in the school and there is obviously a significant investment of time and money to bring in a system like this – but in terms of opening up professional development and self-reflection there really in no other tool like it.

Why not try it and see for yourself?